PETE JENSON: Ronald Koeman got off to an awful start at Barcelona by ditching Lionel Messi’s best mate Luis Suarez… but with the Argentine’s departure and a complete financial meltdown, could ANYONE have made it work?
- Barcelona sacked Ronald Koeman after Wednesday’s defeat to Rayo Vallecano
- The Dutchman was always facing something of an uphill battle at the Nou Camp
- Yet he didn’t help himself with his ruthless offloading of Luis Suarez last summer
- Lionel Messi’s sudden departure in the summer meant the end was always nigh
- Amid financial crisis and a change of president, Koeman faced an impossible job
When Ronald Koeman took over Barcelona at the start of last season his first job was to ring up Luis Suarez and tell him he wasn’t part of his plans. The club was cost cutting – just a summer away from complete financial meltdown.
Koeman knew he was losing an important player but he did the deed, as requested by the man who had just hired him, club president Josep Bartomeu. And so it began.
There was a Copa del Rey to celebrate last season but Bartomeu was ousted and replaced by Joan Laporta. And Lionel Messi left this summer with Antoine Griezmann not far behind him.
Ronald Koeman has been sacked by Barcelona after their defeat by Rayo Vallecano in LaLiga
The Dutchman’s first job was the ruthless ditching of Lionel Messi’s best mate Luis Suarez
Just as the squad deteriorated over time so did results and performances under Koeman and it all finished with him being sacked on the plane back from another defeat.
The flight from Madrid to Barcelona is short but president Laporta and his directors didn’t need long to agree on something they probably now feel they should have done in the summer.
Laporta never wanted Koeman in the first place but he was unable to find a suitable coach to step in last summer or the financial wriggle room that would enable the club to find the £10.1m (€12m) pay-off.
Koeman registered less than two points per game during his tine in charge – stats by SofaScore
Worse than your boss not wanting you is your boss telling the whole world he doesn’t want you. It was an open secret that Koeman stayed in charge last summer because no one better could be found.
Without Laporta’s support he, at least, needed the club’s supporters to back him but they demand a certain type of football and Koeman never came close to producing it. He was a pragmatist at a football institution where the philosophy is set in stone and you have to stick to it regardless of resources.
Last season he fixed the team’s tendency to concede from almost every counter attack by moving to three centre backs with wing backs.
The change helped Barca win the Cup and get themselves in a great position to win the league. Had he delivered the double he might have been forgiven for straying from 4-3-3 but his team blew-up in the run-in, leaving the scorned Suarez to get the goal on the last day of the season that gave Atletico the title.
In the summer it was clear the team needed to work on playing the Barcelona way. But pre-season was again treacherous territory for the coach.
Josep Bartomeu was replaced by Joan Laporta as president but fortunes have not changed
He knew the club’s economic plight meant anyone could leave. The players were all aware they could be sold if the right offer came in – it was hardly the environment to build from.
At least it seemed Messi was not going to be one of those leaving. Laporta had won the election convincing supporters the Argentine was staying. His friend Sergio Aguero was brought in as a sweetener and it seemed the club’s saviour would be Koeman’s saviour as the new campaign began. Not so.
With Messi gone Barcelona flapped around on deadline day trying to bring in more free transfers. Koeman had wanted Georginio Wijnaldum from Liverpool but lost him to PSG.
He also lost Ilaix Moriba, who he had blooded the previous season and who offered the same midfield power. No midfielder was brought in and the attack was further trimmed back with Antoine Griezmann moving to Atletico. Barcelona signed Luuk de Jong as the window was closing.
Messi was Koeman’s saviour but even the Argentine great departed in a shock turn of events
Koeman lost Ilaix Moriba, who he had blooded the previous season and who offered power
It’s been said that Koeman ‘asked for De Jong’. He was told ‘De Jong or nothing’ seems closer to the truth. Either way he began the season with a much worse squad than the previous campaign.
On the first day of the new post-Messi era, Barcelona were superb beating Real Sociedad at the Nou Camp – but that was as good as it got.
With Ansu Fati recovering slowly from a serious knee injury and Ousmane Dembele permanently unavailable, striking options were not great and made worse by Aguero beginning the season injured and Martin Braithwaite, who scored twice on the opening day, also being ruled out long term.
Koeman could at least point to Memphis Depay as someone who he had requested the club sign and who was delivering.
Sergio Aguero, signed on a free transfer in the summer, has only recently been available
Memphis Depay missed a penalty for Barca in the loss to Rayo, Koeman’s final game in charge
The free agent from Lyon began the campaign brilliantly scoring a spectacular first goal for the club in Barcelona’s first away game of the season.
But that remains the last goal Barcelona have scored on the road. Memphis’ form fizzled out. He gave the ball away on Sunday as Real Madrid scored the first goal and he missed the penalty last night that might have got Barcelona out of trouble against Rayo Vallecano.
Full-back Sergino Dest is another Koeman recruit. He missed from five-yards last night and blazed over from slightly further out with the goal gaping on Sunday.
Frenkie de Jong was another of Koeman’s compatriots and someone he was expected to get the best out of. But De Jong’s form has also been on the slide leaving Sergio Busquets struggling in midfield.
Full back Sergino Dest is another Koeman recruit – he missed a huge change on Wednesday
For a while Koeman could point to the players he had urged the club to sign as being his successes but that was no longer the case at the end.
He could also point to the way he had brought through Pedri, Gavi and Nico, who look like the future of Barcelona’s midfield. But the club’s supporters don’t want that midfield in Koeman’s hands, not when someone like Xavi can take over and work with them instead.
His epitaph at the club will be ‘it is what it is’, said after the club were beaten by Bayern in their first Champions League game.
Even if it was true, it didn’t need to be said out loud.
He leaves the club in mid-table and heading out of the Champions League at the moment
And while it might explain a defeat to Bayern, it couldn’t justify one to Benfica and certainly not to Rayo who had not beaten Barcelona for 19 years.
He leaves the club in mid-table and heading out of the Champions League unless results improve.
As a player he will always be the man who scored the goal that won Barcelona’s first European Cup. As a coach he was leading them out of Europe and into the wilderness. They need saving, and it had long been evident, for him that was an impossible job.
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