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Published on June 1st, 2017 | by Paco Polit

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Ernesto Valverde – the quiet man taming the Barcelona beast

Ernesto Valverde arrives at the Camp Nou with a packed managerial resume, but with few knowing much of what lies beneath the new Barca boss

I was lucky enough to work quite closely to Ernesto Valverde in his short stint as Valencia’s manager in the 2012-2013 season. As a journalist, ‘Txingurri’ (Basque word for ‘ant’, his player nickname due to his small complexion) was one of the most understanding coaches I’d ever met at that point.

At the same time, we soon discovered that behind his affable façade there was an extremely calculating mind. And that’s not criticism, absolutely not.

Valverde’s long journey to becoming FC Barcelona’s new manager has had its fair path of ups and downs, although there are some aspects that never change regarding his squads: versatile players that he can mold into his desired tactical display, trust and confidence placed onto midfield players, a 1-4-3-3 formation and quick breaks with the ball once his pressing has had an effect on the rival side.

However, we’re here to talk about the man himself. His time at Athletic Club is regarded as quite successful: after all, the Bilbao side won at last another cup after three decades of hunger (2015’s Spanish Supercup). And he did wonders with a limited squad, due to Athletic’s tradition of signing Basque-only players. He landed there in summer 2013 after half a season in Valencia, where he landed after another stint in Greece (Olympiakos). Espanyol and Villarreal have also been trained by the Spanish manager.

My experience with Valverde draws some parallels with other current coaches who possess that unique ability to calm down any storm inside a locker room. When ‘Txingurri’ set foot inside Valencia CF, the club was going through both internal and external turmoil after a wobbly beginning of season. Mauricio Pellegrino (yes, this year’s miracle manager in Alavés) had been sacked days before, and the new coach had a humungous task at hand.

And then, he began working his magic. He didn’t do anything especial; in fact, he excelled at placing every little piece of the jigsaw into its place. No shouting, no tough words, no show in front of the cameras. Players with Valverde regained the lost confidence after he placed trust upon them. Ever Banega and Dani Parejo were the best examples: they had been having an awful season, and Valverde’s magic touch and a couple of little changes in the tactical display transformed them into two ‘beast-mode’ midfielders until the end of the season.

Under ‘Txingurri’, Valencia played some of the most effective, A-to-B, straightforward football the club has seen since Rafa Benítez left in 2004. A disappointing season was soon turned around and, win after win, the Champions League suddenly didn’t seem that far away. In fact, Valencia would’ve qualified that year fourth spot if a scandalous refereeing by Clos Gómez on Sevilla’s turf hadn’t knocked down the team in the last match of the season.

But is football knowledge enough to succeed in FC Barcelona? Of course not. Guiding Barça’s boat with a steady pulse requires much more than that. Empathy and complicity with top players, such as Neymar Junior or Luis Suárez. A deep understanding of the inner workings of a huge club. Controlling the message delivered to the media. The relations with the ever-changing media themselves, strained after Luis Enrique’s short-but-exhausting four-year period.

And, of course, keeping Lionel Messi a happy man.

Valverde’s personality is quite different to Luis Enrique’s, at least according to their public statements. Whereas Barça’s former manager has had his fair share of clashes with the media, rude answering and overall impoliteness with journalists, ‘Txingurri’ is the exact opposite. I believe I saw him lose his temper maybe once in the six months he was in Valencia, and even then he managed to keep it low-profile. Ernesto is quite comprehensive towards the media’s role in the current football world, even if he actually detests doing interviews (he had to have something in common with ‘Lucho’, after all).

In a context of huge necessity within FC Barcelona, with trials and investigations pestering a Board which has been (allegedly) less than irreproachable in some of the deals over the last five years and fans clamoring for big changes in order to bounce back and win the Champions League again, ‘Txingurri’ might be the ideal man to perform the task.

He has the proper knowledge and plenty of experience; in fact, much more experience than Luis Enrique or Pep Guardiola, the last two coaches who strived and achieved excellence in Camp Nou. And his method, stripped away from any bells and whistles, will be as silent and discrete as a laborious ‘ant’ working towards a larger goal.

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About the Author

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Paco Polit is a Valencia-based journalist with over ten years experience reporting La Liga, covering both Valencia CF and Levante’s news, signings, ups and downs. Madrid and Barcelona are huge, indeed, but the Spanish La Liga is much, much more: regarded as the top football competition in the world, he enjoys explaining why to every reader from abroad.



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