Football Features

Next Barcelona manager? The four favourites if Koeman gets replaced

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 12:17, 4 October 2021

Ronald Koeman may very well be in the final weeks of his reign as Barcelona manager.

Obviously Joan Laporta gave Koeman a very public backing just prior to the Blaugrana being ritually humiliated in a tactically bizarre and spiritually empty performance against Atlético Madrid, but that loss combined with the trouncing taken from Benfica that leaves them with the very real possibility of missing out on Champions League qualification, surely changes matters.

Moreover, Laporta is the same man who said publicly that Messi would stay, before letting him leave. And then said publicly that Emerson Royal would stay, before letting him leave. So perhaps he’s going for the trifecta with Ronald Koeman?

The fact that the Dutch coach has been speaking in public about how the Blaugrana don’t have what it takes to compete with the very best sides is also telling. That kind of brazen negativity about one’s own team is usually a sign that things are near an end.

So, what are the options for Barcelona if they do change managers? We’ve had a look at the four favourites to replace Koeman (according to odds from William Hill), assessing the pros and cons of appointing them.

So with that, here are the five options for Barcelona’s managerial position.

Xavi

Pros: There is more than a touch of destiny about Xavi taking the Barcelona job. Pep Guardiola was Johan Cruyff’s on-pitch general and then later became a supreme Barcelona manager. So of course it follows that Xavi, Guardiola’s on-pitch general, should take that same path. Out in Qatar, Xavi has been showcasing the potency of his coaching philosophy by turning Al-Sadd into a powerhouse, winning two of the last three titles in impeccable, Barcelona-esque, style. Xavi knows the club inside out, he knows the culture back to front, he knows the system of play (in fact, he was the system of play). There can be no better choice for Barcelona manager.

Cons: Can lightning strike twice? Everything on paper is screaming for Xavi to be coach, but while he’s done well so far in his short managerial career, it is only Al-Sadd. He’s not managed in Europe, not dealt with superstars and, unlike Guardiola, he only ever played for Barcelona (and Al-Sadd), skipping spells abroad like Pep had under Carlo Mazzone, Fabio Capello and Juanma Lillo that were so important for his education. Yes, Xavi is perfect for Barcelona on paper, but football isn’t played on paper, is it?

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Roberto Martinez

Pros: He’s Catalan, so already speaks both languages required. Furthermore he’s known for having a defined system (3-4-2-1) and style of play that mostly aligns with Barcelona’s values. The club already has most of the players needed to execute his tactical vision and he has shown himself capable of applying it to superstars (Belgium) as well as journeymen (Wigan). He’d also probably bring Thierry Henry along, and who doesn’t love Titi?

Cons: While Martinez has transposed his way of playing onto the Belgian squad, it remains to be seen if he could do it at club level given he famously failed to elevate Everton beyond their station. And while his FA Cup win with Wigan remains a truly legendary moment, the fact that he has won nothing with both Belgium and the Toffees must be a concern. Moreover he is contracted to the Belgian national side until after the 2022 World Cup.

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Antonio Conte

Pros: Conte knows how to get it done. The fearsome Italian is fantastic at getting teams to buy into his tactics and way of playing. His sides are ferocious on the break. His understanding of fitness and physical health would elevate many Blaugrana players to another level and extend the careers of the club’s veterans too. Success, as in winning a league title, is almost a guarantee.

Cons: Winning one league title isn’t really enough at a club like Barcelona, and what’s worse is that Conte has a relentlessly short-term outlook. He stocks his sides with physically-developed veterans and has little trust for youngsters, which doesn’t chime with the importance of La Masia at Barcelona. Moreover, he is notoriously temperamental and likely to quit if he doesn’t get his way in terms of squad recruitment. He doesn’t speak the language, which is an issue given how focused on new concepts he would be. And finally, Conte has the same major weakness as Barcelona in that he routinely underperforms in the Champions League.

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Erik ten Hag

Pros: He’s young and he’s from Ajax, which instantly makes him a stylistic fit at the Camp Nou. His Ajax side came achingly close to making the 2019 Champions League final playing a wonderful brand of attacking football built around Frenkie de Jong. He knows how to maximise talent in lesser players and how to get stars to thrive, and he enjoys developing youngsters; so it’s easy to see him connecting with every element of this Barcelona squad, especially as he’s won the Eredivisie twice so would have that proven mentality as a winner.

Cons: Despite what you may think, Ten Hag’s Ajax don’t really play a Cruyffian style of football. It’s good football, for sure, but the seamless link that usually exists for the Ajax-to-Barcelona pipeline might be a little rockier for Ten Hag, whose style is more direct. Furthermore, the way Ajax have collapsed in Europe in every season he’s coached them indicates that, like Conte, even if he leads them to domestic glory, perhaps he wouldn’t be able to fix Barcelona’s biggest footballing issue.

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