A LOOK AT LA LIGA
It was following a pretty routine pre-match interview, you know the kind, "There's no easy games in the Premier League... blah, blah..." when I brought up the subject of Barcelona.
I wasn't even talking about the football club, Ronald Koeman had just returned from the city and my son was studying there. His eyes lit up and his mood changed immensely. The conversation about all things Barcelona was far more animated than the football interview.
I suppose scoring the club's first European Cup winning goal does make the blood flow faster when Barcelona is brought up. So, when a few questioned his wisdom for leaving the role as Netherlands manager to return to Catalonia, I cast my mind back to that day and the reaction to a mere mention of the city.
On the face of things, it's an irrational decision. He's a national hero after turning around the Dutch team, taking them to the Nations League Final and once more making them a feared force. He's about to walk into a job that's only likely to last until the spring elections and takes on an absolute mess of a team.
It shows his heart is ruling his head. He's rekindling his first love and dreaming of the long past romantic days. But this isn't the Dream Team, it's the Nou Nightmare.
A once dominant force has been allowed to grow old together. For years Gerard Piqué, Sergi Busquets, Luis Suárez and Jordi Alba have been the spine of the team; now there are noises being made about them becoming liabilities.
I've written here that Ernesto Valverde's ability to win back-to-back titles with a misshapen bunch was underestimated. The seriousness became apparent when Quique Setién oversaw the 2-8 Bayern humiliation and was promptly dismissed.
Koeman's task parallels taking over the ageing Netherlands team that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. He needed to transition from the influence of old timers Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder to the promise of Virgil van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong.
It was a smooth evolution as two years later he led them to the Nations League final with a style of football associated with the Oranje Army.
At the Nou Camp he needs to oversee a revolution. The team is far too dependent on the mood of Lionel Messi, recent signings have failed and the team sheet is far too familiar. He can't buy his way out of trouble as it is reported they have lost 300 million euros in the past season. On top of this, the supply line of players from the famed La Masia academy has dried up.
With the season just a few weeks away he must act quickly to assert his influence. Personally I don't think there will be an upheaval. I suspect he will learn from Zinedine Zidane who patiently realigned Real Madrid by utilising the veterans.
Koeman can identify with the senior stars, assert authority and has the club at heart. It must be in his heart as no top coach in his right mind would take on the task in the current circumstances.
Good luck Ronald, you are going to need it.