Quique Setien was meant to restore Barcelona’s identity, writes Graham Ruthven, but he already looks a beaten man. What chance did he have when he was forced to compromise at every turn?
There was an image posted to Twitter just after the second cooling break of the match at Camp Nou on Tuesday night that depicted what many suspect about the Barcelona dressing room at this moment.
While Atletico Madrid were huddled tightly around Diego Simeone, taking in every word the Argentine had to say while taking on water, Barca’s players were spread across the pitch. Quique Setien wasn’t even talking. Lionel Messi was staring into the distance.
The rumblings were there before the events of the last few days, but back-to-back draws to Celta Vigo and Atleti have turned them into a crescendo. Setien was only appointed Barcelona manager in January, but he already looks as good as finished at the Camp Nou. The hasty, slapdash process of firing Ernesto Valverde and hiring his replacement midway through the season was never likely to produce instant results, but the 61-year-old hasn’t changed Barca’s course in any way.
Setien’s Barcelona team and Valverde’s are indistinguishable. The issues the latter suffered from towards the end of his three-year tenure have carried over. Barcelona’s team is an ageing one unable to press high with the vigour they used to. Their transfer strategy remains scattergun, underlined by this week’s signing of 30-year-old Miralem Pjanic from Juventus. They are just as reliant on Messi as ever.
Quique Setien fails to rouse his troops
Image credit: Getty Images
January’s appointment of Setien, a football thinker and idealist of the purest form, was meant to represent a reclaiming of Barcelona’s identity. Of their soul. Many bemoaned the pragmatism of Valverde, arguing that he’d diluted the famed values of the Catalan club. In retrospect, it appears that pragmatism may have been the only thing holding back Barcelona from the full blown crisis they are now nearing.
Everything about Barca looks broken at the moment. From the coach, to the players to the directors, there is a disconnect between every area of the club. Right now, though, the focus is primarily on Setien, a man increasingly seen as the wrong man for the job. A man whose team is lacking in so many different ways.
Quique Setien insists he still has the dressing room
Have we ever truly seen Setien’s team, though? Go back to the former Real Betis and Las Palmas’ first three games as Barcelona boss and his ideas seemed rather bold. Setien played a back three for games against Granada, Ibiza and Valencia before ditching his trademark shape after defeat at the Mestalla.
Antoine Griezmann and Messi started as a front two in Setien’s Barcelona bow against Granada, hinting at how the new manager envisaged the pair working together. This was to be a false dawn for Griezmann, however, with Luis Suarez introduced back into the line-up soon enough as Messi’s favoured partner.
Lionel Messi reacts during Barcelona v Atletico
Image credit: Getty Images
Setien has been forced to compromise at almost every turn. His back three quickly became an orthodox back four, with the 4-3-3 shape Barcelona have used for years going all the way back to the Pep Guardiola days returning. Messi was soon back in his roaming right-sided role rather than in the ‘False Nine’ position Setien initially wanted to deploy him in.
Some reports in the Catalan press have claimed figures within the Camp Nou have bent Setien’s ear with advice that in effect are more like demands. Advice that Suarez must play, that Sergio Busquets should anchor the midfield no matter what, that Messi mustn’t be laden with too much in the way of tactical instruction.
Now, there is so little scope for experimentation and adaptation that Setien has stopped even trying to shoehorn Griezmann into a team that has no role for the Frenchman and a system that isn’t his. "It’s difficult to put Griezmann on without destabilising the team," the Barcelona boss shrugged after Tuesday’s draw with Atleti having only introduced the Frenchman in stoppage time against his former club.
He had the look of a beaten man. Worse than that, a compromised man. A coach whose ideas haven’t been given the chance to take root and likely never will be. If a coach as principled as Setien, hired initially on the basis of his footballing outlook, can be worn down in such a way in the space of just a few months, what chance does anyone else have of success at Barcelona right now?