When Joan Laporta was elected Barcelona president in March, one of the first things he did was make it clear that Ronald Koeman was not in his long-term plans.
Six months later, he suggested he was set to extend the Dutch manager’s contract for another year.
But six months and two weeks later, it now looks like the only thing keeping Koeman at work is the fact that he would receive a huge reward. And that he is the center of attention – useful to the board in times of crisis.
What the hell could have happened to cause Laporta’s lack of balanced thinking?
Unsurprisingly, money has a lot to do with it, or in Barcelona’s case, the lack of money.
Let’s not mince words here. Barcelona is thin, potless, brassic, broke. Finances dictate a lot of what is decided.
But the situation becomes so tense between the president and the manager that the club are looking for alternatives and, depending on the next results, they might have to use a big chunk of their little savings to get rid of a manager who doesn’t follow the official line. because he feels betrayed.
Roberto Martinez, who wants to continue with Belgium at least until the end of the League of Nations campaign, is among the candidates to replace him.
So how did we come to this?
Laporta and Koeman met before the start of this season. At lunch, Laporta asked the Dutchman to give him 14 days to decide whether or not the club will continue to have him as their manager or, to put it a little differently, 14 days to see if he can find someone who will fit him. would please. work more than him.
Koeman’s agent, Rob Jansen, summed it up perfectly: “Imagine: I want to marry you, but I have doubts. Give me two weeks to find a better partner. If I can’t find the right person, we’ll get married anyway!
He couldn’t, of course. Laporta was not keen on bringing in Barca midfielder legend Xavi at the time and had absolutely no chance of having Julian Nagelsmann, whom Laporta admires due to his love of detail and his methods. modern. He was never going to go for Barcelona over Bayern Munich, having already made a deal with the Bavarians.
Instead, what we have now is a marriage of inconveniences – and it’s fair to say that since then the two haven’t exactly walked hand in hand until sunset to enjoy a life of marital happiness.
The situation inherited from the previous regime means that the club now finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Koeman would have settled for a one-year contract. Former President Josep Maria Bartomeu – in his wisdom – offered him two. Pretty bad, but it was just getting started.
The Dutch manager had a permanent contract as the Netherlands coach which meant Barcelona had to pay almost € 6million to release him. Except they didn’t have it, so Koeman decided to pay the fees himself in August 2020, but only after agreeing that he would be refunded the full amount if he didn’t get a third season at the club. .
And it’s getting worse and worse. Barcelona will have to pay even more if they are sacked in the meantime. Last week, TV3 announced that high severance pay – totaling around € 12 million – was on the table.
In other words, Koeman gets paid handsomely (and roughly the same amount) if he does the job, gets laid off, or his contract is renewed. Another terrible legacy of the Bartomeu era.
Logically, one would have thought this would be the perfect time to close the hatches and try to make the most of a bad job. This, however, is the ego-fueled world that is FC Barcelona; normal rules do not apply.
While he knew getting rid of Koeman was going to require putting his hand very deep into what are currently very shallow pockets, Laporta changed tack a few weeks ago by summoning reporters for an unofficial briefing on what was going to happen with the coach.
He told them he was ready to renew Koeman’s contract, but only on the condition that he returned to Barcelona’s possession-based style of football, still used a 4-3-3 formation and chose Samuel Umtiti and Riqui Puig more often on the starting line. -up.
Laporta’s attempt to establish himself not only as the man responsible for the club’s financial decisions but also, apparently, as responsible for footballing philosophy and the manager’s future is a further sign of a club living in the confusion.
It’s good to say Barcelona have to play Cruyff’s way, but it hasn’t been decided within the club exactly what that means now, football is faster and more physical. Koeman troubleshoots, is not an ideologue, and has no desire to start this debate.
It didn’t take long for the manager to hear about this briefing from journalists, not least because a group of Barcelona journalists were never going to keep a bomb of these proportions to themselves just because the president had told them it was ‘was unofficial. And Laporta would have known.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Laporta could have demeaned Koeman more or shown him less respect. The manager was not a happy man.
From that moment on, Koeman took every opportunity to remind anyone who was willing to listen that his belief is that he is the person who is doing everything he can to get Barcelona out of their current plight.
He’s the one who has done everything the club has asked him to do since arriving, including overseeing the brutal elimination of many of the club’s legends – Luis Suarez was thrown into a phone call that was widely believed to have lasted less than 90 seconds.
It was Koeman who was told he was going to have to deal with the loss of Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann (a departure completed on the last day of the transfer window) and it was the Dutchman who also followed the wishes of the club by placing enormous importance on the young players who go through the system.
Koeman was quick to point out that he had no less than four teenagers on the pitch at the end of last week’s Champions League loss to Bayern. Yusuf Demir (18), Alex Balde and Gavi (17 each) then joined 18-year-old Pedri on the pitch, with El Mundo Deportivo declaring at the final whistle that the Barcelona squad looked like a children’s nursery.
The average age of the 11 against Granada in La Liga in the next game was 24, with seven Under-21s used.
Of course, what he fails to mention is that his actions are the result of necessity rather than inspired innovation and that he was the first to seek reinforcements from the club (Georginio Wjinaldum, for example ) on arrival.
While the youngsters have been heavily praised for their efforts against Bayern, the reality is that they only appeared when the game was effectively lost, which does not suggest that Koeman is considering a policy of faith in youth as a solution to their problems.
Koeman, who has eight injured senior players including Ousmane Dembele, Sergio Aguero and Ansu Fati (himself only 18), insists he will use youngsters. Fans seem ready to come to terms with this even if the players aren’t ready to lead a team like Barcelona as they represent a brighter future than seeing the usual faces.
The situation is tense and – with varying degrees of hypocrisy on both sides – the rope is tight to the breaking point. Laporta is fed up with putting out all the fires that continue to emerge around the club every time Koeman opens his mouth, while the Dutchman, protected by a bulletproof contract, probably thinks “as you sow, you will reap too. “, and only by simply resisting adding the phrase:” Come on, fire me! “
For now, he will continue to do his own thing.
After the game against Bayern, Laporta met with a few key managers to discuss what could be done because he was so upset. Koeman had chosen a side to avoid losing badly rather than aiming for victory. For the first time in the history of the Champions League, Barcelona did not frame a single shot.
After the game, Koeman made no attempt to hide this fact. “If we played more openly, the loss would have been greater,” he said.
And it’s this lack of a fight and this level of acceptance from people like Koeman and defenseman Gerard Pique, who shrug their shoulders and come out with phrases like ‘this is what it is’, that distracts Laporta. This is why the two men will never be able to sing from the same score.
The damage limitation at home in the Champions League against any club – even mighty Bayern – is anathema, a humiliating white flag for Laporta.
Koeman will say that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and that he does his best with what is available. His side are unbeaten in the league, with two wins and two draws placing them seventh, six points behind defending champions Atletico Madrid with two games down.
But against Granada on Monday, when they managed to draw 1-1 at the last breath, a team containing the creative talents of Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto and Frenkie de Jong in the midfield gathered 54 crosses, positive proof that ‘ in Koeman, Barcelona have a manager who doesn’t totally believe in the style of the club.
So, although they don’t get along, are poles apart from the philosophy of football, have a relationship that becomes more and more toxic with each passing day and they continuously shoot each other, the two men will probably be forced to continue working together.
But make no mistake, if Laporta had the money, as well as anyone ready, willing and able to replace Koeman, the Dutchman would be toast.
In this battle between where Barcelona should be (Laporta’s dream) and the realities of life that determine where they really are (Koeman), it’s hard to see how it can have anything akin to a happy ending.