Ronald Koeman’s dismissal finally ends Barcelona’s marriage of convenience

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Ronald Koeman’s dismissal finally ends Barcelona’s marriage of convenience


Rayo Vallecano scored and the final countdown began. Barcelona’s last goal conceded under Ronald Koeman was greeted by booming Europe around Vallecas. “I made a mistake,” said Sergio Busquets. “I slept and they stole my wallet. It’s my fault. But it wasn’t just him and he wasn’t the one paying. He was caught, Gérard Piqué beaten, Jordi Alba absent and Lionel Messi in Paris. Radamel Falcao scored, someone touched the game, 14,297 fans joined in, scarves twirling and Rayo was on his way to victory. Koeman was just on his way, and for real this time.

Barcelona hadn’t been beaten by Rayo in 19 years and hadn’t been so bad since in La Liga in 34, not statistically. Defeated 1-0 by the smallest club in first, it was their fourth away game: they won none and scored a goal. They had lost twice in three days and five times this season, slipping to ninth place. Sitting in the tiny press room under the western end of the pitch, Koeman was asked if that could mean being sacked. “I don’t know,” he said, sounding like a man who did. If only because he has known it for some time.

Everyone knew it was going to happen, but not necessarily now. Chronicle of an announced death, the only thing we deplore about Koeman’s departure is that it was late. Sitting in the dressing room of directors Joan Laporta, the president who considered his coach their the coach, another inherited problem, had seen enough. Barcelona left Vallecas and headed north to Barajas to return home. Calls were made and by the time they landed it was done. The Dutchman had been informed of the decision on board. It had been exactly a year since the previous president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, finally resigned.

The official announcement was made at 12:17 am in Barcelona. The statement was short and cold, and made no mention of his replacement, although conversations started with Xavi Hernández. Koeman left the club’s training ground at 1:18 am, intending to return to say goodbye the following afternoon. Laporta had already left with football director Mateu Alemany and sporting vice-president Rafael Yuste. There was still a lot to do and fast – they have two games in the next five days – but the first step had been taken. It had taken a long time and yet it had also been rushed, not planned. Not now, anyway.

Laporta was elected president in March and his manifesto did not identify a manager to him, his campaign was built on a promise: to keep Lionel Messi. If the Copa del Rey victory and Barcelona’s ability to get back into the title race brought them together momentarily, the way they blew it up, losing to Granada and drawing Levante, put them apart again. one of the other. This defeat, according to Laporta, was unacceptable and this summer the president told his coach it would take a fortnight to try to find a replacement. If he couldn’t, then Koeman could continue.

He could not. Laporta was looking for candidates in Germany but had neither the money nor the plan to promise them, and so on. And so on. Koeman was backed in the market as Barcelona could do anything given their € 1.35 billion debts – Memphis Depay, Eric García and especially Luuk De Jong were players he wanted – but the doubts never went away.

Summer rookies Memphis Depay and Luuk de Jong were wanted by Ronald Koeman, but the team continued to struggle. Photographie : Bagu Blanco/Pressinphoto/REX/Shutterstock

After the defeat to Benfica in the Champions League, Laporta again tried to find an alternative, even advising that a dismissal was imminent, but again he failed. Jordi Cruyff had encouraged him to be patient – not least because Cruyff didn’t want to be forced to intervene – but the cost of Koeman’s replacement and the lack of an alternative were even greater. Now there is one. Recently crowned Qatar Cup winner Xavi is available. Laporta’s initial reluctance to turn to him, an inexperienced young manager who had been a key figure to his electoral rival Víctor Font, was also overcome by the circumstances.

Koeman had always known that circumstances were holding him here, that it was a marriage of convenience and that Laporta had little love for him. More and more, he had said it publicly too, the conflict out in the open. “I have ears and eyes,” he had said, fully aware that he was constantly undermined.

In a statement of 2 minutes 49 seconds, he called for support “in word and deed”, and again reaffirmed his position. In short, he didn’t have much to work with. Realism was a running theme, although it sounded a lot like an excuse and pessimism didn’t help. When he asked, “What do you want us to do, play get get get get? Not only was it inflammatory, the answer was obvious: well, yes.

Barcelona President Joan Laporta delivered a speech last Saturday. Photograph: Alberto Estévez / EPA

All of this has opened up bigger fault lines with the club. “What I don’t like is a conformist attitude, a certain defeatism; that cannot be allowed at Barcelona, ​​”insisted Laporta, but he would allow it, at least temporarily, as he had no alternative. After the loss at Atlético, Koeman revealed that the president called him and supported him. They would move forward together. An attempt has been made to establish a united front. Club cameras showed them kissing on the training ground, all smiles. The tension was taken out of the press conferences.

“He deserves a margin of confidence,” said Laporta. ” He is very Barcelona player. ” Not: we like his work. Not: we know he will succeed. Not: we are in the same boat. Suite: he scored at Wembley, remember?


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Looking at what was happening on the pitch, that limited confidence was dwindling every day, the hope that they could hang on a little longer, that there wouldn’t be too much damage. Koeman was proud of his drive to pass on the children, and his long-term legacy may well be revealed in Gavi, Nico and Pedri. But the results were mediocre and, despite his protests, so were the performances. His recurring insistence that Barcelona had played well failed to convince; in fact, it made matters worse, no sign that he accepted responsibility or identified their ailments. If the problem wasn’t him – and his speech on realism is quite right, Barcelona’s decline much deeper – he wasn’t the solution either.

“It’s amazing that we lost this,” he told Vallecas, but it wasn’t. Not that night or the previous nights either. Barcelona had missed a penalty, but it was their only shot on target. And when Falcao scored, the final countdown began.

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