Barcelona FC sacked their coach Ronald Koeman after a 1-0 loss to Rayo Vallecano in La Liga on Wednesday. Koeman has been with Barca for one year and has faced difficult circumstances with the recent departure of Lionel Messi and the club’s financial woes. Ronald Koeman has spent the last year fighting a lot of controversy with the club, not least the issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has for nearly the last two years led to matches being played without fans, dampening the morale of the players. On top of COVID-19, La Liga introduced new financial fair-play laws that culminated in the departure of the club’s long-time ace, Lionel Messi, and other crucial players such as Antoine Griezmann. Griezmann was loaned out to Atletico Madrid. Barca are currently ninth in La Liga Standings and third in their UCL group.
The Odds had been Stacked Against Ronald Koeman and Barcelona All Along
Barcelona are at an inflection point, we are afraid, with the club facing numerous crises and have been at a crossroad for a while now. The club has for the first time in a long time seemed likely to fall off the top four in La Liga and consequently, could lose a chance to head to the next UEFA Champions League. With their current poor performance and results, they might even not make the last 16 in the current UCL, leave alone qualify for the next.
Such uncertainty, coupled with poor performance, and back-to-back losses are what led to the sacking of Koeman, a manager who had the odds stacked against him from the onset. Barca is a huge club. It is a talent and financial powerhouse but has for the first time been seen to wane. The club is performing so poorly that clubs that would previously cower at the thought of facing Barca on the pitch are now walking all over it.
Stringent La Liga Financial Laws
The new financial laws imposed by La Liga were a big blow to the club and other huge clubs in the league such as Real Madrid. The laws restrict the sums that clubs can invest in acquiring talent and paying players' wages. As such, even huge La Liga clubs that can afford the best talent in the world have their hands tied in terms of what players they can buy and the wages they are allowed to pay them.
The effects of these new laws were particularly hard-hitting for Barcelona as they meant that the club could no longer pay Messi what he would normally earn, prompting his departure. Even more, the new financial rules are so stringent that Barcelona could not keep Messi even as a free agent. Messi, expressing his passion to stay, had even offered to play for the club for free but the regulations would not allow it. Many have said that he was crucial to the soul of the club and his departure was the worst crisis the club has faced. A Barca without Messi, to the fans especially, is an opera without the tenor.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
Compounded by the damage done by the new La Liga regulations, Barca had also been grappling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly when it comes to the restrictions imposed to reduce the spread of the virus. Chief among these were restrictions barring fans from attending matches once matches were resumed, leading to matches being played in fan-less and empty stadiums. For any players of any level, not having fans in the stands is a huge blow to their morale and the players may feel discouraged by the lack of cheers, comradery, and overall excitement that comes with playing football in a fan-packed stadium.
The situation at the time could be likened to playing underwater and many players and clubs suffered low morale and waning motivation, on top of already struggling to ensure compliance with COVID-19 testing and quarantine measures. Some players were infected by the virus, endangering their lives, while other players and to be honest, all players, were affected. The fans also lost their freedom to attend games and were stuck in their homes and reduced to watching matches on television.
Wrong Man, Wrong Time
Ronald Koeman was a manager who arrived at Barca at the worst possible time in the history of the club. His role in Barcelona was an arduous one and even as he did all he could to fight the circumstances, he was a man whose job was hanging on a string. The numerous losses at home and away in both La Liga and the Champions League and the club’s poor performance only exacerbated the difficulty of his role and heaped more pressure on him. His lack of quickly taking hold of the situation and facing the figurative bull also didn’t help.
Koeman’s strategies and approaches were not effective fast enough and the club’s management just couldn’t wait for his future or long-term tactical success. Koeman had immense pressure from the club’s management, various leagues, and games, and also the fans. Pressure from fans could be seen a few days back when his car was blocked by fans as he was leaving the stadium, with many of them hitting his car while hurling insults and showing indifference. Koeman, in our view, was just in the wrong club at the wrong time even as he is one of the most experienced and qualified coaches in Spanish football.
Koeman Already Replaced by a Caretaker Coach Awaiting a Permanent Replacement
As we speak, Koeman has already been replaced by a caretaker coach, just one day after he was sacked. He is likely to be permanently replaced by either Xavi Hernandez or Roberto Martinez. Hernandez is a former Barca player who is currently coaching a club in Qatar. Roberto is the current Netherlands coach and a well-experienced tactician. Even so, speculations are that Xavi Hernandez is most likely to replace Koeman as Barca manager, but it remains to be seen.
What the future holds for Ronald Koeman is unclear but we are sure that one of the second-tier clubs in La Liga would be lucky to have him. He remains a well-qualified and experienced manager and is likely to have a successful career in Spanish or even global football if he chooses to coach a team from another country or continent.
Will Barcelona Be Better Now that Koeman has Left?
Even with the departure of Koeman and his replacement, Barcelona will not be better for it immediately. The team is facing numerous crises and it will take time for them to get back on their feet. For instance, the club has been undergoing financial difficulties, culminating in over $1 billion in debt, and will have difficulty acquiring key talent. Barca will need to align to and navigate the new financial rules in La Liga in the shortest time possible. More importantly, it will face the huge challenge of trying to salvage whatever it can in both La Liga and the UCL, in time to post decent results in both leagues. The latter will prove to be quite the nearly insurmountable task given the current competition in both leagues.
Mounting Competition in both La Liga and the UEFA Champions League
Clubs such as Real Madrid and Juventus will be keen to give Barcelona a run for their money in both leagues with others such as Chelsea and Liverpool already dominating the UEFA Champions League. We wish Barca all the best, but we are not holding our breath that they’ll do well in either of the leagues. The competition is very stiff and any club that is already doing poorly will need a miracle to get to the top four in both leagues.
What Young Talent Could Mean for Barca
We are, however, crossing our fingers that their young players such as Ansu Fati, will come to their rescue. Clubs that invest in talent right from the football academy have been seen to do well as their young talent posits positive change, and introduces new talent to the club. Regardless, it takes a lot of time and investment to get a player from the academy all the way to the first team.
Such players also need the character and courage to compete on the big stage, something that is often not particularly tied to how well they are trained. However, when a club is able to nurture talent over time, through its academy, then it is likely to discover very talented players as was the case with Lionel Messi. Messi was trained all the way from Barca’s academy to now being arguably the best player in the world today.