Barcelona have appointed Ernesto Valverde as their head coach on a two-year deal. Valverde, who was born in the Spanish region of Extremadura but raised in the Basque Country, started his playing career as a forward with local sides Alaves and Sestao, before spending two years with Espanyol.
He joined Barcelona in 1988, at the age of 24, and scored eight goals in 22 matches in two injury-hit seasons with the club. From there he went to Athletic Bilbao, the club his career is most strongly linked with, scoring 44 goals in 170 matches over six years. He ended his playing career with one season at Mallorca. He was capped once for Spain, playing 19 minutes at the end of a Euro 92 qualifier against Iceland.
Immediately after his 1997 retirement, he moved back to Athletic as a youth-team coach, eventually becoming first-team boss in the 2003-04 season. After leading them to fifth and ninth place in two seasons in charge, he left the club.
A year later he took over Espanyol and led them to the Uefa Cup final in his first of two seasons as manager. He then went to Olympiakos, leading them to a Greek league and cup double, before leaving for a year at Valencia.
Valverde went back to Olympiakos for another two seasons, winning the league twice and the cup once before leaving again. After returning to Athletic in 2013, he said: “Sequels are never any good. Well, the Godfather II was quite good.”
In his first season back at the club – who can only sign players with links to the Basque region – he led them to fourth place in La Liga and a Champions League spot. There were top-seven finishes for the next three seasons, including seventh this term, and a run to the 2014-15 Copa del Rey final. They beat Barcelona 5-1 on aggregate in the 2015 Spanish Super Cup. 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’s presentation as Barca’s new coach will take place on Thursday. His task is to instil a convincing collective structure into a team too often over-reliant on Lionel Messi recently, and especially to address the defensive vulnerabilities which saw Barca concede 10 goals in this season’s Champions League trips to Juventus, PSG and Manchester City.
And 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.