surinenglish

A LOOK AT LA LIGA

Style over substance

Quique Setién with the Barcelona shirt at Tuesday's unveiling.
Quique Setién with the Barcelona shirt at Tuesday's unveiling. / EFE
  • Quique Setién is the surprise replacement for Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach but his abrasive style, compared to his predecessor's pragmatism, is sure to win him some fans

One day, Quique Setién was staring peacefully at the cows in Cantabria; the next, he was herding thoroughbreds in Catalonia.

He's left behind the calm life in northern Spain to enter the eye of a storm in Barcelona, as a surprise replacement for Ernesto Valverde.

If you go by the laws of logic, it appears cruel to remove Valverde. He's won La Liga for the past two seasons and the club sit at the top of the table at the time of his departure.

People are getting very excited about Liverpool getting to January unbeaten in the league; well, in his first season it took 34 rounds for a club to defeat Valverde's Barcelona. It was May and he was preparing his players for the Copa del Rey Final, which they won.

He followed up the double by winning the league again last season, reached the cup final and made it to the Champions League semi-final.

The biggest stain on his CV is the Champions League. In 2018 Barça beat Roma convincingly in the first lea of the quarter final yet collapsed in the return. A year later, the same happened against Liverpool at the semi-final stage. After that, he was doomed.

It hit me when I watched El Clásico. The Barcelona performance screamed of pragmatism, his watchword. It was safe football, reliant on Lionel Messi igniting the event.

Behind the scenes they have been working on finding a replacement. A delegation went to Qatar to woo Xavi Hernández back, but he diplomatically declined. Ronald Koeman, another legendary player, was also sounded out but he's still committed to leading the Netherlands.

So the call was made to Setién, who'd won admirers with the graceful football he developed at Las Palmas and Real Betis. He took the Canary Islanders from the relegation zone to 11th place before making his excuses and leaving. His two years at Real Betis won him many admirers for his abrasive approach.

So, it's out with Valverde's substance and in with the style of the veteran. Aged 61, Setién will be La Liga's oldest coach. His mandate is to use all his experience to bring some brashness back to the Camp Nou.

Valverde's approach was affecting the brand. Barcelona is renowned for fleeting football, tiki-taka rather than tolerance. The directive is to restore the verve, beat Real Madrid and give academy graduates a chance.

He's making the right noises about playing attractive football, allowing Riqui Puig an opportunity and he's won two of his last three games at the Bernabéu.

He'll have to manage without Luis Suárez for the first four months of his tenure, ease Ousmane Dembélé back into the team and find a way to utilise the talents of Arthur Melo and Frenkie De Jong.

Valverde and Setién bumped into each other as the outgoing coach picked up his things from the training ground. A gentleman, he left with his head held high but maybe a word in his successor's ear that they'll never be happy until the cows come home!