Football

The Warm-Up: Mes que un undignified mess – Valverde out at Barca

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Ernesto Valverde, head coach of FC Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Inter and FC Barcelona at Giuseppe Meazza Stadium on December 10, 2019 in Milan, Italy

Image credit: Getty Images

ByNick Miller
14/01/2020 at 08:28 | Updated 14/01/2020 at 08:53

They may think themselves as somehow more morally pure than the rest, but Barcelona can bungle a sacking with the best of them...

TUESDAY’S BIG STORIES

Mes que un winning two titles in two seasons: Ernesto Valverde is toast

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Ernesto Valverde has always seemed like a decent sort. Quiet, fairly undemonstrative, but with that modest air of authority that has led him to be Barcelona manager at one of the most dominant periods in their history. He has won La Liga in both of his two seasons, nearly going unbeaten in the first when they didn’t lose until the penultimate game, a tonto 5-4 defeat at Levante.

But he’s out at Barcelona, the club handling his departure with the typical grace that big clubs often do in these circumstances: by making it clear he was out but not actually delivering the final blow until late on Monday. All throughout Monday cars went in and out of the Barca training ground, and the Nou Camp; press conferences and statements were rumoured, but did not come; Valverde took training as a dead man walking; his job had been offered to at least two former Barcelona players – Xavi and Ronald Koeman – who both turned it down.

Ultimately, they never forgave him for the collapse against Liverpool in last season’s Champions League. There were some other factors, but that seemed to be the core one. In an odd way the decent thing to do would have been to get rid then, to recognise that the relationship was permanently scuppered and there wasn’t really anything that could fix it. But no. They’ve limped on to this point and, despite Barca being top of La Liga, Valverde has to go.

For a little while, it looked like Mauricio Pochettino would be the replacement, but presumably then everyone remembered that he has always said the two teams he could never now manage are Barcelona and Arsenal, and once said he would rather work on a farm in Argentina than work for them.

No. Having been turned down by those who see it’s a thankless task, Quique Setien is the man, the former Real Betis manager who, aptly enough, was the man who last beat Barca at the Nou Camp. Good luck, Quique.

Is Kane out for the season, or is this Jose being Jose?

There’s an idea that Jose Mourinho is a Machiavellian genius who carefully considers every single word he says and the impact that it will have. Each barb is delicately chosen for the maximum impact, and he knows exactly what he’s doing.

But perhaps he’s not actually like that. Perhaps he just occasionally says stuff with no real thought to what it might mean or the effect it might have.

His comments about Harry Kane yesterday, for example. Were these words chosen with care, or did he just toss them off in his pre-FA Cup replay press conference? “We try the best we can,” Mourinho said when asked about Kane’s injury, previously billed as keeping him out until April. “News on Harry we don’t have, and if you ask me every time we come here the answer will be the same. We expect him to be out until mid-April, end of April, May, next season, I don’t know.”

Naturally, panic set in among some, particularly after Tottenham’s Kane-less performance against Liverpool at the weekend – not so much at the idea that they couldn’t cope without their centre-forward, but at the prospect of how Mourinho will tell his team to play without him. And then there’s England, who without Kane are a different prospect entirely.

But then again, maybe it’s just Jose being Jose.

IN OTHER NEWS

Oli McBurnie has been warned by the FA for making what they deemed “obscene gestures” towards Cardiff City fans after he was filmed making, well, obscene gestures while enjoying himself with the Swansea fans during the weekend’s derby. Now, McBurnie is very far from being a saint, as a previous drink driving charge will confirm. But surely we can overlook a few fruity hand gestures which ultimately didn’t mean a single thing, no?

HEROES AND ZEROS

Hero: Francesco Totti

It is the Warm-Up’s very pleasant duty to report that Francesco Totti has still got it.

Zeroes: Sunderland

Sunderland, as a football club, as an institution, are in such a mess that they can’t even announce a free transfer without putting their foot very firmly in it, as their tweet welcoming Kyle Lafferty showed on Monday. As you can see, the tweet in question referenced a chant from his Rangers days that itself made reference to a sectarian chant, so is probably not the best thing to be sending out there from an official club account. The tweet was rapidly deleted.

HAT TIP

Barcelona’s ex-manager took training on Monday morning, if only because he was not the ex-manager just yet. Besides, someone somewhere had to act with a little dignity. And what if it didn’t happen? He was certainly not about to make the decision for them, so Ernesto Valverde drove into San Joan Despí not long after 8am. At 11 he was out on the training pitch as normal, players gathered in a circle around him, which was one way to say: “Goodbye … probably.” By the time he drove out again he knew it was likely to be for the last time. But not because they had actually told him.

Sid Lowe breaks down what a mess Barcelona made of binning Ernesto Valverde.

RETRO CORNER

It’s a very happy 49th birthday to former Greece goalkeeper and football’s premier George Clooney lookalike Antonios Nikopolidas, which affords us the opportunity to look at the Euro 2004 final in which his team beat hosts Portugal. This clip also features – if you like this sort of thing – Cristiano Ronaldo in floods of tears, and a truly rubbish trophy lift at the end by Greek captain Theo Zagorakis who, incidentally, is now an MEP. You learn all sorts by reading the Warm-Up.

COMING UP

For all those who didn’t quite nail it the first time around – some FA Cup replays, featuring Tottenham vs Middlesbrough, Newcastle vs Rochdale and Shrewsbury vs Bristol City, the winners of which will play Liverpool.

Tomorrow’s Warm-Up will be brought to you by the gentle hands of Ben Snowball…

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