BARCELONA HAVE appointed Ernesto Valverde as their head coach on a two-year deal, with an option for a third.
Former Barca forward Valverde announced last week that he was leaving Athletic Bilbao after four years in charge.
He replaces Luis Enrique, who revealed in March that he would leave the club – who finished second in La Liga – at the end of his three-year contract.
Enrique led Barcelona to the treble in his first season, the domestic double in 2016 and the Copa del Rey this year.
They beat Alaves 3-1 in Sunday’s final – his last match in charge.
Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu praised 53-year-old Valverde’s “ability, judgement, knowledge and experience”, adding: “He promotes young players and he plays the Barca way.”
Valverde has the credentials to be successful. He is an experienced and intelligent coach with good organisational and communication skills, implementing a fast-paced style of play which earned the regular approval of the most important figure in the club’s history, his former manager Johan Cruyff.
Apart from Athletic Bilbao, he has also managed Villarreal, Valencia and Barça’s city rivals Espanyol in a varied coaching career that included two years in Greece with Olympiakos.
Valverde also had a two-year spell as a Barcelona player in the late 1980s and will now return to the Camp Nou after a 27-year absence.
Despite those plus points, however, Valverde will receive little more than a lukewarm welcome from many fans, who are sceptical of his abilities to master the internal politics inherent at such a huge club.
There are fears that his understated personality will see him become a ‘yes man’ to an increasingly unpopular board of directors, lacking the strength of character to reinvigorate a team who have been treading water for too long.
When Luis Enrique announced his decision to resign, a poll over the identity of the new coach by newspaper Mundo Deportivo saw Valverde receive just 8.4% of the votes (Jorge Sampaoli came first), so it’s clear his arrival is not being universally acclaimed.
It doesn’t help that his final season in Bilbao yielded a pretty disappointing seventh-place finish and an embarrassing Europa League exit against Cypriot minnows Apoel Nicosia.
If he doesn’t make a good start, patience will be in short supply.