A different kind of plan

Ernesto Valverde, at the Juventus-Barcelona game in Turin on Wednesday.
Ernesto Valverde, at the Juventus-Barcelona game in Turin on Wednesday. / EFE
  • Barça's manager Valverde has put purpose before fancy football

He's about as far away from Pep Guardiola as you can get but Ernesto Valverde deserves equal plaudits for the mini-revolution he's leading at Barcelona.

Whereas Pep has taken his “man from GQ” image to the touchline of Manchester along with his stylish brand of football, Ernesto dresses like a bank manager and approaches his role in an efficient manner.

After watching both Barça and Manchester City last weekend I had to concede (to my City supporting wife) that the English club have now taken over the Catalans' claim to be the team playing the sexiest football in Europe.

These days the buzz-word at the Camp Nou is functionality and the approach from the man in the suit is rational.

This is a season in Spain that resembles the season in England when Leicester won the league. Real Madrid and Atlético aren't firing fully, allowing Valencia to break the usual dominance. If it weren't for the practicality of Valverde they would be doing a full-Leicester!

So full credit to the new Barcelona manager. His detractors will say his form of football is far less eye-catching than his predecessors. He can point to top spot and making it to the knock-out stages of the Champions League with a group game to spare. It's all going according to plan; it's just a different kind of plan.

Guardiola and Luis Enrique held the title of coach, Valverde is having to operate as an old school manager. Behind the scenes there's boardroom unrest, yet he manages to operate unaffected. Neymar was sold without a marquee replacement yet he's managed. The Philippe Coutinho saga left him a player short and Ousmane Dembélé has made just cameo appearances in the grand scheme of things, yet he's managed without either of them. His strength is finding solutions to problems.

Luis Suárez looks sluggish and is half the player of recent seasons. I'd argue that if he was offered back to Liverpool, his old club would decline as they have more fleet-footed young players mastering a similar role.

Lionel Messi appears to have signed a contract yet appears to be reluctant to pose for a photo with the president who is increasingly unpopular.

Despite the Suárez and Messi issue, Valverde continues to harness the pair until the Uruguayan has keyhole surgery on his wobbly knee and the Argentinian breaks Manchester City hearts by admitting he's staying until 2021.

So flair is sacrificed for purposefulness. The key player in recent weeks had been the goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen. He's saved 23 of the last 24 shots which equates to a 96% save rate; that's the kind of accountancy that means Valverde can sleep soundly at night.