The hard work begins now

Ernesto Valverde was officially presented on Thursday.
Ernesto Valverde was officially presented on Thursday. / EFE
  • New Barça boss Ernesto Valverde has a lot of recruiting to do this summer

The worst kept secret in Spanish football became a reality when Ernesto Valverde was confirmed as the new manager of Barcelona this week and the commendations have flowed in.

He’s been described as a deep-thinking, footballing philosopher returning to the club where he played two decades ago - the perfect fit.

I can’t disagree that he is one of football’s gentlemen, a fine coach with an impressive CV. He’s won the Greek League with Olympiakos, structured Athletic Bilbao into a club capable of beating Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup and he even took Espanyol to the UEFA Cup final.

It is a résumé that is very similar to that of Rafa Benítez when he joined Real Madrid or Bobby Robson at Barcelona. Both took on clubs going through a transition and their stays were not defined by their ability to coach but the men in suits behind the scenes.

Valverde is the statesman who will transmit calm and organisation when the truth is that, within the walls of the Camp Nou, there is a need for reconstruction and harmony. The past and previous presidents are at each other’s throats; there hasn’t been a graduate from the famed academy since Sergi Roberto; and last summer’s transfers were largely a waste of money.

Ander Herrera worked with Valverde at Athletic.

Ander Herrera worked with Valverde at Athletic. / EFE

If his only job was to man-manage the team and get the tactics right, then he’s the man.

This is more like the less-publicised spells at Villarreal, where he didn’t last long after replacing Manuel Pellegrini, and Valencia, where he worked for just one season.

The success or failure of Barcelona will not be defined by Valverde’s craft and experience but what tools he’s given to work with. He inherits the most enviable strike force in the world, backed up by Gerard Piqué and the crux of a team that has been a real force in Spain and beyond for several years.

The problem is that Barça have to change their tack. They have to invest in fledgling talent and plenty of it. They are six, seven, maybe nine players short of keeping up with their eternal rivals, Real Madrid. Nine is the magic number of changes that Zinedine Zidane could make between games. If Luis Enrique tinkered at all, then his team lost its equilibrium.

My knowledge of world football isn’t vast enough to make mass suggestions. It’s clear that the midfield needs reinforcing. Ander Herrera has been linked with the blaugrana, Philipe Coutinho is strongly rumoured to be on the radar, and I think Dele Alli could further his career in the colours of Barcelona.

This won’t make me popular with fans of Manchester United, Liverpool or Spurs, but that is the level of player and quality of club they need to raid. It would be a contrast to last summer, when the signings were largely back-up players who made no impact at all.

Luis Enrique saw the writing on the wall and he’s left on a high of winning the Copa Del Rey. His successor will be smiling from the pages of newspapers and TV screens but, after that, not for long, as there is some serious work ahead.