The answer to who is the FC Barcelona coach is someone who is facing arguably the highest pressure in Europe.
Of late, more often than we are used to, the term “Barcelona new coach” has been in the news.
Sacking of coaches during the league season is not foreign to football clubs in Europe.
We already did an exhaustive look into that here.
However, even teams like Bayern, Arsenal, and Spurs, who do not have such reputation, have changed managers mid-season.
This article looks at how FC Barcelona coaches have evolved tactically.
We start with Frank Rijkaard and analyse each manager until the recently sacked Quique Setién.
But first, we cannot discuss this without considering the sage Johan Cruyff (1947-2016).
Cruyff was the manager that won Barcelona its first European Cup (today’s UEFA Champions League).
Cules officially consider him the founding father of the now-famous Barça-Ajax school of football (also known as ‘Barçajax school’).
His brain was the womb birthing the beautiful footballing philosophy tiki-taka and its predominant style of play.
La Masia, Barça’s youth academy and talent factory, is among Cruyff’s lasting legacy.
It is the brainchild of Cruyff.
Pep Guardiola had this to say about him:
“Johan Cruyff painted the chapel, and Barcelona coaches since have merely restored or improved it.”
This article will examine Cryuff’s impact on every Barcelona coach in the past seventeen years.
Also, we will explore their use of La-Masia, their approach to games tactically, and their results.
It is a long one, let’s ride.
Let’s start with Frank Rijkaard
In June 2003, Les Cules employed Frank Rijkaard as the new FC Barcelona coach at the time.
Cryuff coached him during his playing days at Ajax.
Also, it was Ajax that he developed his coaching philosophy, hence, prompting his appointment by Barcelona.
Before his appointment, the team had failed to win any laurels in four years. In fact, they had just finished sixth in the league.
The Barcelona head coach position is a hard job. At the point when Rijkaard took over, it was not a job to envy.
During his period as manager, Barcelona won back to back La-Liga titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.
Also, they won the Champions League for only the second time in their history the following season.
It was their first Champions League trophy since 1992 when Cryuff was the coach.
Frank Rijkaard’s essential philosophy was to guide his team towards playing beautiful attacking football as a cohesive unit.
This vision prompted players like Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Giuly, Edgar Davies, Deco, Henry, Abidal, Zambrotta, amongst others, to join the Club.
Rijkaard also continued the La Masia tradition as initiated by Cryuff.
Puyol, Xavi, Valdes, Iniesta, and even Messi were mainstays in Rijkaard’s team.
The coach trained his players to press high up the pitch and work hard for their goals with Cryuff’s imprint evident on the team.
The forward trident, comprising of Messi/Giuly, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o pressed the opponents’ defenders whenever they didn’t have the ball.
Deco and Xavi pulled strings from midfield, with Edmilson in front of the Blaugrana back four.
Rijkaard lost his job in May 2008 after going barren for two seasons.
Barça fans remember him for the stability that he brought in the post Van Gaal era.
FC Barcelona Head Coach: Josep ‘Pep‘ Guardiola
Josep Guardiola, one of the most notable players in Barcelona’s history, took over as first-team manager on the 17th of June 2008.
He was part of the Barcelona team coached by Cryuff that won the European Cup in 1992, and like his predecessor, it was evident in his coaching philosophy.
Pep’s Barça loved to keep obsessive hold of the ball.
They would patiently combine short passes till the opponent had a lapse in concentration.
Pep also had the luxury of Messi in his prime.
Perhaps the greatest ever to kick a ball, Messi would unlock defences with convenience and win games on his own on numerous occasions.
Guardiola also made bold decisions that stood the test of time.
He offloaded key players like Ronaldinho and Deco, instead favouring La Masia talents like Pedro and Iniesta.
Christian Tello, Martin Montoya, Isaac Cuenca, Bojan Krkic, Thiago Alcantara all got minutes under Pep.
His trust in the La Masia led him to sign La Masia products like Pique and Fabregas that had left Spain to ply their trade in England.
Some opine that Pep is one of the foremost managers behind the demise of the number 10 role.
Here’s a look at Barcelona’s tiki-taka under Pep Guardiola:
He won the club world cup in 2009, which confirmed him as the only manager to have won the sextuple in history.
Francesc “Tito” Vilanova Bayó (the 17th of September 1968 – the 25th of April 2014)
The answer to the question who is FC Barcelona coach may as well be someone who identifies with La Masia.
To continue the La Masia tradition and Cryuff philosophy, Barça decided to promote Guardiola’s assistant Tito Vilanova.
Familiar with the La Masia, Tito had worked with Pep first as assistant coach of Barcelona B and then at first-team level.
Though his tenure was shortlived, as the FC Barcelona head coach, he was able to continue the Club’s tradition.
He made history when he fielded a full 11 of La Masia graduates, a testament to the great work happening at the academy.
On the 19th of December 2012, Barcelona announced Vilanova was suffering from parotid gland cancer for the second time.
Vilanova underwent surgery on the 20th of December, subsequently undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment for about six weeks.
Assistant Jordi Roura took over as coach, with Tito returning to the bench in late March 2013.
On the 19th of July 2013, Vilanova resigned as Barcelona manager as he suffered a relapse once again.
He stated that the related illness was not compatible with the status of a professional manager.
He passed on the 25th of April 2014, due to complications at the age of 45.
Barcelona won the league with a record of 100 points, equaling the total achieved by Real Madrid in 2011-12.
Besides, his side set a new scoring record of 115 goals in 38 matches as they finished 15 points ahead of runners-up Real Madrid.
Unfortunately, his team was infamously knocked out by Bayern in the UCL with seven unreplied goals over two legs.
The Next New Barcelona Head Coach: Daniel “Tata” Martino
From Tito to Tata, this was a strange decision.
The Argentine believed to have been appointed based on Messi’s influence became Barcelona’s coach on the 26th of July, 2013.
The point of confusion: he had zero history in European football.
His appointment was the first drift away from Cryuff and his ideas.
Under Tata, the Catalans had less possession than their opponents for the first time in 317 competitive games.
Barça also scored more goals from counter-attacks than the previous five seasons.
Tata’s Barça made an excellent start to the season, beating Atlético Madrid to take the Spanish Super Cup.
They put together the best-ever start to a league season at the Club, with straight wins in the first eight games, scoring 28 goals and permitting just 6.
The results were great, but due to fans’ complaints, Tata attempted to revert the popular Barça style.
Unfortunately, with injuries to key players like Valdés, Piqué, Alba, Neymar, and Messi, the team’s overall performance dropped.
They lost the Copa del Rey to Real Madrid and entered the last La Liga game with a win enough to seal the title at the Camp Nou.
After a goal up in the first half, Tata’s side eventually slumped to defeat.
Eventual champions Atletico pegged them back and took the necessary point to deny Barça the title.
Atlético equally dashed Martino’s European ambitions, knocking them out in the last 8.
After a single season, Martino left the Club, having seen glory cruelly seized from him in his last game.
He described his time at Barça as a failure and definitely should have done better.
A Succesful Barcelona Coach: Luis “Lucho” Enrique
Nobody from Madrid likes to hear this name.
He joined Barcelona on a free transfer from Real Madrid in the summer of 1996.
Furthermore, he went on to have a successful career at Les Cules.
His appointment was a sort of back to basics for the Barcelona administration.
Having played under Cryuff during his spell as Barcelona coach, Enrique was a core disciple of the sage.
He even vowed at Cryuff’s memorial to continue copying and improving his style of attacking football.
Enrique arrived at the Club as a coach in May 2014 after leaving Celta Vigo.
Enrique gave debuts to eight La Masia graduates with Alena on loan to Betis, the only one still around the squad.
After his stint with La Masia, Enrique decided to try his luck outside Spain with Roma, where he did not do too well.
His team got knocked out in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League.
Also, they finished seventh place in the league.
Enrique joined Celta Vigo and finished ninth place where he received applause for a job well done.
The 2014/15 season, his first as FC Barcelona coach, was the sporting highlight.
Luis Enrique’s Success As Barcelona Head Coach
The Asturian infected the Blaugrana squad, with a competitive Spirit.
It proved decisive as they recorded the domestic treble for the second time in the Club’s history.
Barça claimed the La-Liga title by two points from second-placed Real Madrid.
In the Copa del Rey, they thrashed Athletic Club 3-1 in the final at Camp Nou.
Finally, they saw off Juventus in the Champion’s League final also by a 3-1 scoreline.
The following season the successes did not stop; this time, it was a double.
The league was won superbly while the Copa del Rey arrived after a 2-0 victory in extra-time over rivals Sevilla.
Finally, in the 2016/17 season, Barça won the Copa del Rey again with a 3-1 win over Alavés, his last game in charge.
The league title slipped away, but his team set a new record in scoring 116 goals in 38 matches over the league season.
Lucho is remembered for his management of Messi, Suarez, and Neymar (MSN).
Very few coaches can manage three individualistic players and bring out the best from them.
Even Cryuff was quoted saying:
“I can’t see how Barça intends to continue playing the same way, with a keen focus on team play if Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez are in the side.
The three of them are too individual.
In signing Suarez, the Club shows a preference for individual genius over a team that plays great football.”
In the end, Luis Enrique’s time enjoyed his time as Barça’s manager with a fantastic record of nine trophies from a possible thirteen.
Valverde was appointed as Barcelona’s coach in the summer of 2017.
This came after four seasons with Athletico Bilbao.
Having been coached by Cryuff as a player, he was expected to follow the Club’s pattern, tradition, and footballing philosophy.
Valverde’s tenure started turbulently.
From Neymar forcing a move to the humiliation received from Real Madrid in the Super Cup, Valverde would have wished for a better start.
However, his team rose from their ruins and went on to do the domestic double defeating Sevilla in the Copa Del Rey final.
Valverde gave 13 La Masia graduates their debuts with Ansu Fati, and Ruqui Puig actively involved with the first team to date.
Valverde was unlucky with signings.
From Dembele’s inability to stay fit to the signing of Paulinho and to Coutinho and Griezmann unable to justify their transfer fees.
Indeed, Barcelona was woeful in the market under Valverde.
Unlike the free flow attacking football expected of any Barça side, Valverde preferred a conservative approach.
He would often play around a seemingly 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1.
Hence, he could not offer the consistent identity for which the Club was recognized.
He would instead protect a lead than an attempt to hurt the opponent furthermore.
He cared too much about the opponent’s set-up for the quality he had in his side.
This prompted the signings of Vidal and Paulinho, preferring to settle for physicality over technique.
Even while he was getting results, Barca fans never ceased to complain.
To them, he was not the answer they wanted to the question, who is FC Barcelona head coach.
They had gotten used to Cryuff’s imprint and did not want a change.
In his first season in charge, his team was on its way to make history by going unbeaten in La Liga.
But, Valverde dropped Messi to lose the 37th league game to Levante 5-4.
For all Valverde’s achievements in the La Liga, he never figured it out in Europe.
Twice his team was knocked out disgracefully after comfortable 1st leg victories versus Roma and Liverpool.
After a 4-1 thumping of Roma at Camp Nou, Barcelona lost 3-0 at the Stadio Olimpico.
Similarly, a year later, they had a 3-0 win over Liverpool in the first leg.
However, Barcelona found a way to lose 4-0 at Anfield as Liverpool denied them the Champions League final ticket.
It was the beginning of the end for Valverde.
It became a matter of when not if he will get the sack.
The Fall of Ernesto Valverde
Although Barcelona retained the La Liga title, they were denied a fifth consecutive cup success.
They lost 2-1 in the Copa Del Rey final to Valencia.
Barça ended the first half of the present campaign as league leaders – level on points with Real Madrid.
Also, they had a place assured in the last 16 of the Champions League.
It was still not enough to convince the board.
He was sacked after the team was knocked out of the revamped Spanish Super Cup in the semi-finals against Atlético Madrid.
Who is FC Barcelona New Coach: Quique Setién
A disgraceful defeat to Bayern in the Champions League’s quarter-finals summarizes what has been an abysmal period as Barca manager.
Relentless, resilient & utterly resplendent. Bayern Munich offer a performance that’s reminiscent of the phrase “German Machine”.
Barça have been humiliated for the 3rd season running in the UCL — far cry from the domineering spirit of Catalonia.
— CrossAndNod (@cross_andnod) August 14, 2020
Appointed January 2020, Setién has struggled to impart any sort of identity on this Barça side.
The 61-year-old is a confessed disciple of Johan Cruyff, but Cryuff’s team’s identity has eluded this Barça side.
While he took over the job with a point lead over rivals Real Madrid, they eventually lost the league by five points post-lockdown.
In his first game in charge, Setién went out with a back three, one which he had earned popularity for at Real Betis.
But, a shabby and disoriented first three games prompted him to shelve his plans.
He started by losing the dressing room due to disagreements between players.
There were significant injuries to key players, and “the decline of Messi” means Setién’s tenure has been a mess.
A Look at Quique Setién’s Barça
Setién’s Barça struggles to create chances and is not excellent at defending either.
Andre Ter Stegen is their second-best player this season only after a declining Lionel Messi.
Alternating between a 4-4-2 diamond and a 4-3-3, the performance and results are a far cry from the Barcelona we expect.
Setién’s comments and body-language towards the La Masia is also one that has got the fans concerned.
He has said that the talents at the La Masia are not ready to take a step up yet.
Also, he has said that the aged players on the pitch are better than what is in La Masia.
This is even with their steady poor performances.
Even with the new five substitutes permission, only Ansu Fati, and Riqui Puig get substantial game-time.
This is not good enough for an ageing side.
It’s not good enough for the FC Barcelona head coach.
Setién’s comment on Griezmann is one to bother fans also.
The coach stated that it is challenging to play the Frenchman without destabilizing the team.
This is a significant source of concern for a player that costs €120 million.
With Barça going trophyless for the first time since 2008 with Rijkaard, Setién may have coached his last game for Barça.
A sack in a few days would not be shocking.
What’s Next For The FC Barcelona Head Coach Position?
While Barcelona has grown and become a European giant, success looks like it will become a thing of the past soon.
Messi’s departure is imminent, while age is not on the side of the squad.
Busquets, Alba, Messi, Vidal, Rakitic, Pique, and Suarez, who are all key players in the side, are on the plus side of thirty.
This has led to a significant lack of pace and the general decline in the squad.
They struggle to counter-attack, press high, and even win second balls.
The squad is deeply flawed and lacks depth, and in all honesty, no coach should bear the brunt.
This means Barcelona has to make wiser decisions in the transfer market as they look into the La Masia.
Strange decisions like letting a 23-year-old Authur leave for a 30-year-old Pjanic have to stop.
Buying big names without a clear project in mind is also one that has to stop.
Coutinho, who excelled in the ‘number 10’ position all his life, is a wasteful purchase for a team that has not played with a number 10 consistently since 2008.
His inability to adapt is not abnormal.
Griezmann strived in a supporting striker role in a 4-4-2 diamond at Athletico Madrid, one not used at Barcelona.
Hence, he may prove to be an unnecessary purchase.
Barça’s Tactical Evolution: Conclusion
Setién’s complaints are valid.
Barça requires a gradual squad overhaul while they integrate talents from the La Masia.
Lastly, everybody wants to be associated with Cryuff.
If the intention remains to maintain Cryuff’s legacy, the board needs to do its due diligence and research before employing any coach.
The margin for error is little now.
Another slight mistake may see the fall of another European giant to a Europa League giant or even worse, the AC Milan of Spain.
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