Ernesto Valverde has been appointed first team coach at FC Barcelona, signing a two-year contract with the option of a third year.
Valverde, the best option out of a handful of candidates
Valverde’s name was been linked with the Barça job for several weeks. The Catalan club had studied a number of candidates – including coaches who, like Valverde, had spent time at the club as players such as Ronald Koeman and Eusebio Sacristán. The former was ruled out as Barça’s Technical Department felt the team needed a native coach, while Eusebio is perfectly happy in San Sebastián and recently committed to another two years with Real Sociedad who he guided to next season’s Europa League.
Valverde spent time at Barcelona as a player
Valverde’s profile and background is perfect for Barcelona. He spent two seasons at the club during the late 80s as a striker – playing alongside Robert and Eusebio, but ongoing injury problems hampered his progress and he left the club in 1990 after making just 22 appearances and scoring eight goals.
Nicknamed El Txingurri (the Basque word for ‘ant’), Cáceres-born Valverde began his managerial career at Athletic Club in 2003, and guided the team to a fifth-place finish and a qualification for the UEFA Cup in his first season in Bilbao and reaching the Copa del Rey semi-finals the following year.
Managerial career takes off in Bilbao
Internal problems at Athletic prompted his departure in 2005 and after taking a year off, he returned to take the reins at Espanyol and steered the side to the UEFA Cup final in May 2007 – an all-Spanish affair which the Pericos lost in the penalty shoot-out to Sevilla. He enjoyed two successful stints with Olympiacos, winning a Superleague and Cup double in 2009 – a feat he repeated in 2012 before leaving Athens for personal reasons at the end of the campaign.
He was brought in to revive Valencia as Mauricio Pellegrino’s replacement in December 2012 and transformed the team’s fortunes, leaving the side fifth in the final standings and directly qualified for the following year’s Europa League group stage. After that he returned to Bilbao where his leadership skills and tactical vision had an instant impact – Athletic, who had finished the previous season in the middle order, qualified for the Champions League Play-Offs where they beat Napoli to advance to the group stage. He took Athletic to Europe in all of the following three seasons and the 2015 Copa del Rey final which they lost, ironically, to Barcelona. As Barça legend said Xavi over a decade ago: “Valverde’s teams play attractive football. They like to have possession of the ball and they play it around properly”.