Ronald Koeman is heading towards the exit door at Barcelona - that much is clear. How and when the split happens? That's another matter altogether.
There are few things in football as utterly fascinating as watching a public rift between a club and a manager. It might be a major distraction both for the board the coach, but in a morbid sense it gets the public hooked. It’s like watching a train crash in slow motion; much as you want to, you cannot take your eyes off the sight. The not-yet-official-but-inevitable split between FC Barcelona and Ronald Koeman is similarly fascinating.
The fued between the manager and Barcelona president Joan Laporta has reached a fever pitch. Barcelona’s 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League was the catalyst for rumblings of discomfort.
Yet it was the 1-1 draw with Granada that really brought out the pitchforks and daggers. Koeman, in a desperate bid to get a goal, threw on Ronald Araujo and Gerard Pique. As strikers. No, really. He then instructed his wingers and full-backs to aim cross after a cross at the two.
FC Barcelona, the club that epitomised Johan Cruyff’s ‘Total Football’, reduced to playing route-one football against oppositon currently in the relegation zone. Oh the horror.
But wait, there’s more. Koeman, in what seems like a bid to alienate everyone, pulled off the most bizarre press conference in recent memory on Wednesday (September 22). He arrived, read out a pre-prepared statement, and left taking absolutely no questions from the media.
Perhaps this was a way to give zero fodder to a Catalan media hounding for blood. It is well known that many journalists in the region are close to Laporta and would happily do his bidding. But it still felt weird.
In normal circumstances, Koeman would be out of a job by this point in time. But, as we will soon see, normal and Barcelona don’t exactly go hand in hand.
The main reason Ronald Koeman is no longer updating his CV in search of new work is down to money. Or, an absolute lack of it in Barcelona’s coffers.
See, it’s little secret at this point that Barcelona are broke as a joke. And Koeman is in the final year of his two-year deal. Therefore, to fire him would require the club to pay him a handsome bit of compensation – money the club don’t have.
But wait, there’s more! As it turns out, former president Josep Bartomeu, whose lavish spending spiralled Barca towards this current crisis, left the new regime a final goodbye present to deal with.
When Quique Setien lost the job at Barcelona, Bartomeu turned to Koeman. There was only one issue – Koeman was then the Netherlands manager and the club would have to pay the Dutch federation a compensation fee of six million euros to buy out his contract.
Barcelona didn’t have the money, so Koeman decided to pay it himself – on one condition. If his contract was not renewed at the end of the two-year deal, Barcelona would reimburse him that money.
To make matters worse, a report in the Catalan TV channel TV3 said that in order to fire Koeman, the club would have to pay him a compensation of 12 million euros.
So, to sum things up: Barcelona have a coach they don’t want in Koeman. If they fire him, they have to come up with a 12 million euro pay-off. If they choose to wait till the end of his deal, they would have to pay him 6 million euros – but also potentially miss out on silverware or worse, on a Champions League spot.
With such inspired management at board level, is it any wonder they’re in a financial crisis?
In a word, no. But there are several reasons why Koeman was never a long-term solution for the club and merely a stop-gap.
The first is, of course, his managerial career. His most memorable stints in recent memory were at Southampton and Everton, although the latter spell ended after a massive summer outlay saw them hovering above the relegation zone in the 2017-18 season.
Koeman’s biggest success was leading Southampton to seventh and Everton to a Europa League spot in 2017. And while that might seem decent, the truth is he’s had more misses than hits.
Spells at Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, AZ Alkmaar, Benfica and even Valencia ended in massive disappointment. But arguably his main undoing has been his staunch departure away from Barca’s Cruyff-ian ideals.
Now, to be fair, every manager since Pep Guardiola has moved from the dominant tiki-taka style of old. Hell, Guardiola himself has updated his playing systems many times since then. The key, however, is that the ideals of Cruyff’s Total Football are still visible in the way Pep sets up his teams.
Koeman is, by his own admission, not trying to play silky smooth football but to get results. He would argue that he doesn’t have the players to consistently employ that style of play – and he would be right, to a degree.
However, with the kind of players at his disposal, playing route-one football with two centre-backs up front was bound to annoy even the non-purists in the Barcelona fanbase. And, perhaps more importantly, the president who swore by Cruyff’s advice and football ideals.
As such, one way or another, Koeman will be a former Barcelona manager at some point in time. When that day arrives and what the fallout from it will be? That’s anybody’s guess at this point.