January 14 – Heightened speculation that former Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino could take over at Barcelona have been well and truly quashed with the appointment of Quique Setien to replace the sacked Ernesto Valverde.
The Catalan giants have turned to Setien, who put Real Betis on the map, to take over from Valverde until 30 June, 2022.
Valverde led Barcelona to successive La Liga titles in 2018 and 2019 but such are Barca’s high standards that he has come under intensive scrutiny this season for a dip in performance levels even though the club leads La Liga on goal difference at the halfway point of the campaign and are in the knockout stage of the Champions League.
In fact, he is the first Barca coach to be fired in the middle of a season since Louis van Gaal lost his job in January 2003. But then Barca were sitting 12th in the standings.
Reports in Spain said the decision was taken partly to reflect the fact that Valverde had failed to win the Champions League, suffering shock eliminations by AS Roma in 2018 and Liverpool in 2019 after taking a three-goal lead in each tie. A 3-2 defeat by Atletico Madrid in last week’s Spanish Super Cup semi-finals appeared to speed up his exit.
Setien, 61, coached Real Betis last season but left by mutual consent after leading the club to a 10th-place finish. Former Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez was apparently the front-runner to replace Valverde, according to Spanish reports, but did not accept the role. Likewise Dutch national coach Ronald Koeman.
Pochettino, despite being mentioned in English media reports as being linked with the job, does not appear to have been in the frame, perhaps because he played for Barca’s rivals Espanol and has always said he would never manage Barca.
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