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With Messi In His Prime, Barca’s Search For The Right Manager Is Vital

With Luis Enrique leaving at the end of the season, the question still remains: who will be Barcelona’s next manager?

It’s been more than a month since Barcelona manager Luis Enrique announced that he would not be renewing his contract (which expires after this season). At this moment, Barcelona sit three points behind Real Madrid in La Liga (Real also have a game in hand), they’ve been dumped from the Champions League by Juventus but they could give Enrique the perfect sendoff by winning the Copa del Rey title. 

While the club continues to fight for two trophies, the search for the team’s next manager is still ongoing and uncertain. Before Enrique announced his decision, rumors had linked Ernesto Valverde (Athletic Bilbao), Jorge Sampaoli (Sevilla), Eusebio Sacristán (Real Sociedad), Ronald Koeman (Everton) and Laurent Blanc to the job, with Ernesto Valverde considered the frontrunner. 

However, since Enrique’s decision was made public, another name looks to have taken center stage: Enrique’s assistant Juan Carlos Unzué. Even Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta have lent public support to his hiring. Regardless, Barcelona’s coaching search still continues and it looks like we won’t see a decision for at least another couple of weeks. 

Barcelona preferably want to hire a “Barcelona Man” to coach the side — a manager who was either a former Barcelona player or served as an assistant manager. If they can’t find this Barca Man, then they’ll look for somebody whose style matches the club’s culture. In other words, somebody who wants to play beautiful, attractive, possession-based football.  

The question is which one of these managers would be the best fit for Barcelona? First things first, in what areas do Barcelona need to improve on for next season? 

Barcelona already have three of the best attackers in the world, top class midfielders and a great defense. Despite all this, Barcelona have gotten completely manhandled this season in midfield, and they’ve leaked their fair share of goals. 

This was all obvious in their recent defeats to Malaga and Juventus. Barcelona will obviously make some important signings to improve the team, but they need a manager who is tactically sound, who will make the defense better and accomplish this all while playing an attractive style of football.  

Potential Barcelona Managers 

Ernesto Valverde | Athletic Bilbao (Barcelona player from 1988-90)

His resume may display him as a bit of a journey man, having had short stints with some notable La Liga clubs and Greek side Olympiacos, but don’t let that fool you. He’s a well respected manager in Spain whose sides are known for being tactically organized and defensively strong. 

He took Espanyol to the UEFA Cup final (now the Europa League) in 2007 and has done a magnificent job in his second stint with Athletic Bilbao. Under Valverde, Athletic qualified for the Champions League, reached the 2014-15 Copa del Rey Final and have been in a European competition each season since he’s been in charge. These are great achievements for a team that’s known for only signing Basque players. 

As a player, he only played two seasons for Barcelona and didn’t leave much of an impact, but that will still qualify him as a Barcelona Man. In addition, his contract expires at the end of this season and all signs point to him leaving Athletic Bilbao.   

Eusebio Sacristán | Real Sociedad (Barcelona player 1988-95 and Barcelona B coach 2011-15)

Eusebio Sacristan played for seven seasons at Barca and was an important player in Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona dream team. As a manager, Barcelona B did finish third in Spain’s second division under Eusebio, but then he went on to get fired the following season after a poor run of results. 

Since November 2015, Eusebio been the manager of Real Sociedad, where he’s done a great job. Real Sociedad finished 9th last season and are currently sitting in Europa League positions while playing a good style of football.

However, any chance of Eusebio becoming Barcelona’s next manager seems to have passed after he renewed his contract with the Basque side until 2019.   

Laurent Blanc | No Current Club (Barcelona player 1996-97) 

Blanc was a World Cup winner with France in 1998 and a former Barcelona player. He may have only managed three teams in his managerial career, but he has an impressive resume. While coaching Bordeaux, he won a Ligue 1 title and took them to the Champions League quarterfinals in 2009-10. 

He also went on to manage the French national team and won another three Ligue 1 titles with PSG. However, he’s also had a few notable failures as a manager. France went out in the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 to Spain after finishing second in their group because of an embarrassing loss against Sweden. 

At PSG, the club failed to reach the Champions League semifinals and Blanc was relieved of his duties at the end of last season. Regardless, he has had some great success as a manager and is currently without a team.   

Ronald Koeman | Everton (Barcelona player 1989-95 and assistant 1998-00)  

A Barcelona legend from Johan Cruyff’s dream team, he’s fondly remembered for scoring the game-winning goal that brought Barcelona their first ever European triumph. He was successful in his coaching stints in Holland and has done a fantastic job since arriving in the Premier League. 

Southampton finished in Europa League positions in his two seasons with the Saints, and he currently has Everton in position to play Europa League football next season. Everton have played a good style of football this season, as evidenced by their 4-0 hammering of Manchester City. 

However, even though his stock is growing in England, his managerial career isn’t too fondly remembered in Spain; just ask Valencia fans what they think of Koeman. In half a season with Valencia, he won the 2007-08 Copa del Rey, but the club struggled with relegation the entire season and Los Che fans crucified him after excluding three of Valencia’s most influential players (David Albelda, Santiago Canizares, and Miguel Angel Angulo) from the squad. 

Regardless, he still has a good resume and has done well almost everywhere he’s managed. Despite all this, it will be hard to get him out of Everton after just arriving at the Merseyside club last summer.     

Jorge Sampaoli | Sevilla

Sampaoli has no previous ties to Barcelona as a player or manager, but his style of football does match what the Barca board look for in a manager. Sevilla may be Sampaoli’s first European coaching experience, but he’s done a great job since taking over last summer. 

Sevilla currently sit in a Champions League position and have been playing a very attractive style of football. He’s also said that he would love to coach Lionel Messi one day. 

However, he still has only one year of European football experience and Barcelona is a much larger club than Sevilla. Sevilla’s form over the second half of the season, and their elimination in the round of 16 to Leicester, does not play in his favor.

Juan Carlos Unzué | Barcelona Assistant (Barcelona player 1988-90 and assistant 2014-17)

The most interesting name of them all. Unzue was a former Barcelona player and he’s currently Enrique’s assistant. The negatives of Unzué are that he has very limited coaching experience. He’s only had two head coaching jobs (both in second division) and there is not much that sticks out. 

He was in charge of CD Numancia for one season and was hired and fired by Racing Santander in the same summer. The positives, on the other hand, are that it would be a continuation of Enrique’s work, which has brought eight titles in two seasons. However, promoting an assistant to head coach has not always worked out.  

Who Will Be Barcelona’s Next Head Coach?

Other names like Jürgen Klopp, Mauricio Pochettino and Massimiliano Allegri have also been linked to Barcelona. However, it would difficult to sign one of them with Klopp committed to Liverpool, Pochettino’s Espanyol past and his Tottenham project and Allegri’s philosophy not matching that of Barcelona. 

As of right now, it looks like the favorites for the position are Ernesto Valverde and Juan Carlos Unzué. Soon enough, we’ll all know who Barcelona’s next head coach is.