Barcelona have sacked manager Ernesto Valverde and replaced him with the former Real Betis coach Quique Setién. Valverde, who had been in charge since the summer of 2017, becomes the first manager at the club to be sacked mid-season since Louis Van Gaal seventeen years ago.
He leaves with Barcelona through to the knock-out phase of the Champions League as group winners and top of La Liga, which they have won for each of the last two years. He had six months left on his contract, plus the option for another year after that. Setién has been given a two-and-a-half year contract until June 2022.
After days of openly pursuing replacements, Valverde was finally informed of the club’s intentions on Monday evening. During that time Xavi Hernández and Ronald Koeman, both of whom had expressed their desire to coach the club in the future, turned down the opportunity to take over with immediate effect.
Despite his sacking being an open secret by then, Valverde took charge of the morning training session as normal. He with the president after that, a board meeting followed on Monday evening and a statement was finally released after 11pm local time.
The club president Josep Maria Bartomeu and the sporting director Eric Abidal will hold a press conference on Tuesday where Setién is set to be presented.
Valverde won two league titles and the Copa del Rey during his two years in charge but there was criticism of the way his side played and second-leg Champions League defeats at Roma and Liverpool, when three-goal first leg leads were lost in calamitous fashion, weighed heavily.
It surprised many when Valverde signed a new contract last February and when he continued beyond the summer but at that point he enjoyed the backing of the president. That changed when Barcelona were defeated 3-2 by Atlético Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup in Jeddah on Thursday, having been 2-1 up with nine minutes remaining. He had been booed by Saudi Barcelona fans throughout the game.
Abidal and the club’s CEO Òscar Grau travelled to Qatar following that defeat and offered the post to Xavi, but he turned it down, sparking an accelerated search for a replacement. Although that was played out in public, Barcelona backed into a corner, Valverde had still not been formally told by early Monday evening.
In the end, Setien has been chosen as the man to replace him. Former coach of Las Palmas and Real Betis, Setien is committed to a “Barcelona” style based on possession and technique, a professed admirer of Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi, and once said he would have cut off his finger to play for Johan Cruyff.