UNPOPULAR OPINION: THERE’S POSITIVES TO THE KOEMAN REIGN
M.RAYYAN JEHANGIR RAJA | 3rd January 2021
It is becoming the norm to see fans of the game’s biggest clubs being left like they can no longer identify with the club they grew up supporting because of how it is run. Clubs are repeatedly becoming victims to falls of grace that seem to be brought on as a direct result of self-sabotage. If its Arsenal and Manchester United fans in England that stand out as the prime examples in this wave of supporters lashing out at lacklustre performances and the incessant incompetence at hand, Barcelona fans aren’t quite there yet but they aren’t far off either.
Culés were left reeling after an 8-2 whipping at the hands of Bayern put an end to the disappointing 2019-20 season. More than the result, it was a rude reminder of how one club is run like they demand world domination and another that is basically a circus. With former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu front and centre of the chaos that has seen the club fall like a pack of cards, he had one last card to play.
After the Lionel Messi situation , the final roll of the dice was to see if a club legend like Ronald Koeman could put out some of the fires at the Camp Nou.
The Dutchman’s thunderous strike in the European Cup final against Sampdoria at Wembley in 1992 remains unforgettable poignant in Barça’s history. But his managerial career has been something of a rollercoaster ride until now to say the least.
Koeman showed signs of building something worth taking note of whilst managing the Oranje. However, one can’t say the same about his tenures at Everton and Southampton. Koeman was never a prototype Barcelona manager in the first place and with all his struggles, the media and culés alike have constantly berated the Dutch gaffer. However, I feel that despite popular opinion, there have been some obvious standouts during the Dutch boss’ ongoing tenure that need to be shed light on.
Blooding in the youth
Koeman has assembled a roster of some of the finest youngsters in Europe. The most obvious case of the Dutchman’s excellent work in this department is that of Pedri Gonzalez. The 18-year old was bought by Barcelona in 2020 as a consequence of some fantastic scouting work and even the most enthusiastic fans couldn’t have predicted the magnitude of impact the diminutive maestro has made since arriving at the Catalan capital. When you watch the lad play, you can’t help but get excited by the prospects the future might hold.
The youngster had a promising season for Las Palmas in the second division last year where he shone every now. His rise has been Dele Alli-esque, from being unknown to unstoppable.
Koeman clearly trusts him and has provided him with ample playtime. As a result, Pedri has managed to become one of the brightest talents in Europe, securing a starting spot ahead of the club’s record signing, Phillipe Coutinho and has built a budding connection with Messi on the pitch. All before his 18th birthday.
Much like Pedri, Ansu Fati has been a total revelation under the Dutch boss.
The Spanish international became the club’s 2nd highest goal-scorer this season before a knee injury halted his stunning ascent. Óscar Mingueza is another rough diamond that not only debuted this season, but has now become a regular feature in the Blaugrana defence. When a player as iconic as Gerard Piqué calls it a day, it’ll be worth its weight in gold to have a player who has age and experience on his day when it’s his time to fully take over. Much like how Man United are reaping the rewards of Louis van Gaal taking a punt at Marcus Rashford, this could be Ronald Koeman doing the very the same for Barça.
Sergiño Dest’s signing was another one that was met with raised eyebrows. However, ever since the American stepped foot in Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper (Barcelona’s training ground), he has showed no signs of slowing down.
Summing things up, the fans demanded the squad needed a rejig in the form of bright, young players taking the mantel. Koeman is fulfilling that wish and with aplomb.
Slowly but surely, he’s fixing Barça’s attack
One of the biggest complaints fans had with Koeman’s predecessor Quique Setién was the lack of attacking intent in the team. The team kept passing the ball aimlessly and simply failed to execute that killer pass all too often. However under Koeman, the side is constantly trying to attack and creates chance upon chance. Ever since his appointment at the club, the Dutch coach has employed a 4-2-3-1 system at Barcelona, which he also used in his term as the Netherlands boss.
While it is far from the traditional 4-3-3 system that has become the identity of the Blaugrana’s in recent years, the new system is clearly yielding results. In fact, Barcelona have scored 29 goals in La Liga so far, which is the most scored by a team in the competition this season. However, defensive issues continue the haunt the club, causing the team to frequently drop crucial points.
Even so, the team is much more enjoyable to watch when compared to Quique Setién’s side and while it is not even close to the levels of the Pep Guardiola side of 2011, it’s not the worst start.
The former Oranje coach’s tenure has unluckily overlapped with the whole Messi saga. The Argentine is understandably struggling after failing to move away from his boyhood club and is evidently reeling from the effects of the summer saga. Even under previous managers such as the likes of Luis Enrique and Pep Guardiola, whenever the magician hit a rough patch, the entire team struggled. Surely the attack will flourish as soon as Messi regains his usual form.
Even though the team continues to huff and puff against a low block, Koeman’s gung-ho philosophy is a massive leap from an attacking standpoint considering the past few years, and it could be a huge step towards fixing Barça’s attack.
Griezmann and Alba look the part again
While Jordi Alba and Antoine Griezmann have had two very different careers, it is no secret that both of them have really struggled in recent times. Griezmann had a very under-par 2019/20 season following his €120 million move from Atleti, and Alba also had a season to forget, performing miles below his usual standards. However under Ronald Koeman, both of these players seem to be reborn.
Sure, the Frenchman still needs to improve, but you only need to watch him to know he is still the opposite of the underconfident and frustrating Griezmann we saw last season. Instead, he is getting more and more involved in the build-up, looks confident on the ball and is showing signs of him returning back to the heights he reached at the Rojiblancos. If he manages to sharpen his finishing touch, the Grizou of old will once again become a force to be reckoned with.
While the jury is still in two minds about Griezmann, there is no doubt Alba is silencing his critics game by game with his stellar start to the season. While he still leaves much to be desired defensively, the European champion is once again proving his tenacity going forward, providing genuine width that Barcelona had clearly been lacking.
Providing 7 assists in 18 appearances across all competitions this season, the stats read extremely well and further solidify the argument that this is nothing less than a campaign of revival for the Spaniard. The journey Koeman has shared with Alba is a beautiful one as the Dutchman was instantly drawn to the young lad and promoted him to the Valencia first-team. In 2020, the affinity continues.
It’s been a while since a Barcelona boss has had a clear vision
It’s become clear from his early days as a manager that Ronald Koeman is a man who has a clear vision on what he wants to do and how he wants to do it. He backs his philosophy and gives fans the impression that the last thing he’s going to do is fall on his sword. As a Barcelona fan, one has to consider this refreshing, seeing how managers like Valverde and Setién sat back and let Bartomeu and his board make all the sporting-related decisions themselves. This led to some major mishaps in the transfer market with signings such as Griezmann and Coutinho and even to some extent Pjanic joining the club’s ranks.
These gaffers clearly had no clear idea on how to use them in the XI and the more you watched them in action, the more these moves seemed like marketing tools and nothing else. Koeman however has had clear ideas and arrived at the club demanding the likes of Sergiño Dest, Memphis Depay, Gini Wijnaldum and Eric Garcia. Of course, the club is in a horrific position financially and as a result, only Dest could become a done deal (who has done brilliantly so far).
Despite the club being inept during the transfer window, the former Everton tactician has continued to implement his ideology week in, week out. It has become clear that had he gotten the signings he had demanded, this system could have fared so much better.
Considering the fact that the board did not grant him the signings that he needed to implement his system, can fans really scapegoat him if his ideas weren’t backed?
Look, the fact still remains that Koeman is far from an ideal coach for Football Club Barcelona. However, it isn’t all doom and gloom, and as always, to see the Dutchman excel, we have to see if the newly elected board will fulfil its promises or play its part in paving the road towards this great club’s demise.