Magic or mediocre?

The pressure is increasing on the Barça boss.
The pressure is increasing on the Barça boss. / EFE
  • Ernesto Valverde has led Barcelona to the top of the table both home and abroad, but that hasn't stopped the speculation over his job

Ernesto Valverde's honeymoon is well and truly over and he's going through a period of domestic uncertainty that will decide whether he'll get a divorce from Barcelona Football Club.

If you judge by appearances in league tables, all is fine and dandy. The Catalans are La Liga leaders and top a Champions League group that also includes Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan.

Under Valverde's guidance Barcelona have claimed the title in two successive years and lost only two games in Europe. When he cites those facts he has a strong case to stay but that hasn't stopped the writers filling their pens with poisoned ink.

The opinions are that Valverde is no longer taking the club forwards and the criticism is that they're regressing under his leadership.

For the Spanish football papers everything is black and white. They are either lauding the success of Barcelona or speculating who should be the new manager.

They're suggesting a South American manager or the coach who was drummed out of Everton just over a year ago as a potential replacement right now.

Marcelo Gallardi is making a name for himself as the boss at River Plate and the Spanish press do love a little bit of mystique. It's a little like the time Gerardo Martino was recruited - and he lasted just a season.

Ronald Koeman hasn't been shy to publicise the fact that he has a clause in his Netherlands national team contract which would allow him to leave for one club only.

He was quoted as saying: "I can safely say that I will not leave the Dutch national team for anyone else. I have said often enough that [Barcelona] is my dream club."

In other words: "Come and get me!"

Valverde's position is certainly under scrutiny. They may be top of the tables but they have the ninth best away record - the 1-3 defeat at Levante was their third loss of the season on their travels.

Also, he's never succeeded in Europe. It's true, he's only lost two games in Europe but both were disastrous defeats, to Roma and Liverpool respectively, and they left long-lasting scars.

Barcelona periodically change managers but it's rare that they do so mid-season. Some may compare the situation to Bayern Munich who sacked Niko Kovač but they were four points off the top of the table and lost embarrassingly to Eintracht Frankfurt, 5-1.

The last time they swapped during a season was back in 2003 when Louis van Gaal's second spell was curtailed. Back then they were thinking about Koeman but when Johan Cruyff approached Ajax he was told that there would be a compensation payment and Cruyff sternly stated that "Barcelona don't pay to sign coaches".

I predict that Valverde will see out the season and if he's not close to winning the Champions League then he will be replaced. His successor needs to have some stardust and recent success. It could be Koeman if he does well at the Euros, or even Roberto Martínez who is a proud Catalan and is handling the stars of Belgium with great competence.

For now though it's still 'situation not vacant'.