Substance must follow style as third-choice Setien takes the Barcelona hotseat
Quique Setien was reportedly Barcelona’s third choice to replace Ernesto Valverde. Now he’s in the hotseat, the 61-year-old must prove that substance can follow style at the Nou Camp.
With Barcelona top of La Liga on the day Valverde made way for Setien, the new head coach finds himself immediately in a precarious position.
It’s a privileged one, certainly, but Setien must maintain this position as he looks to implement his style and methods on Barcelona’s squad.
Such pressure is ordinary at a club of Barcelona’s stature, but it increases given Setien’s lack of silverware before taking the hotseat.
Setien's managerial timeline
- Racing Santander 2001–2002
- Poli Ejido 2003
- Equatorial Guinea 2006
- Logrones 2007–2008
- Lugo 2009–2015
- Las Palmas 2015–2017
- Betis 2017–2019
- Barcelona 2020–
And as if an empty cabinet was not enough, Setien must also come to terms with being Barcelona’s third choice behind Xavi and Ronald Koeman.
However, this is a self-confessed student of Johan Cruyff who received praise from Barcelona’s players before he even managed them.
It should be a match made in heaven, right?
The chess-playing student of Cruyff
“I have a motto, that I will never change my way of seeing things,” Setien told the Independent last year.
“Sometimes, how I feel about football, it doesn’t matter if a team wins or loses. What attracts me to a match is whether the teams play well, that there are footballers, that it goes beyond the result.
" I’m a romantic, I like the football. I’m a spectator, and I don’t buy a ticket to watch a team stay stuck in their half waiting for a 0-0 or a counter-attack."
This vision was unearthed when playing against Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona in the late 1980s.
"I remember when Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona came along,” Setien told The Coaches' Voice last year.
"You played against them, and you spent the whole match running after the ball. I said to myself: ‘This is what I like. I would like to be in this team, and know why this is happening.’
Dutch former FC Barcelona coach Johan Cruyff gives instructions to his former "Dream Team" players (L-R) Bulgarian Hristo Stoichkov, Dutch players Ronald Koeman and Richard Witchge during a trainning session at FC Barcelona's trainning grounds March 9Reuters
"How can you get a team to have the ball permanently, so that the opponent is running after it for the whole match?
"From then on, I started to make sense of what I had felt throughout life, through my career.
"I started to really watch football. To analyse it. To understand what I felt, and what I wanted to put into practice when I became a coach."
Setien bullishly stuck with his methods. It guided Lugo to the second division in 2012, steered Las Palmas away from relegation in 2016, and helped Betis finish sixth in his first season in 2017-18.
And it was one game a season later which could well have had a bearing on Setien’s appointment this week.
The man who masterminded Betis’ win at Barcelona
Barcelona were outplayed on their own turf when Setien’s Betis visited the Nou Camp in November 2018.
Betis ran out 4-3 winners, recording eight shots on target to Barcelona’s five, pressing high, playing out from the back, and ultimately proving clinical on the counter.
It was a positivity seldom seen from visitors to the Nou Camp, and it prompted Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets to give Setien a signed shirt reading:
"To Quique, with appreciation and admiration for your way of seeing football. A hug"
It was a gesture which prompted Setien to Barcelona rumours to start rolling more than 12 months before it actually came to fruition.
The promise of implementing a more attractive style will be music to the Barcelona players’ ears – a point perhaps highlighted by Frenkie de Jong’s now deleted tweet just moments after Valverde was sacked.
Style won’t matter if trophies don’t follow
With Barcelona top of La Liga, and Valverde having steered them to the past two titles, it is clear the club’s hierarchy no longer want to win any old way.
This was showcased by their pursuit of Xavi and Ronald Koeman before eventually landing on Setien, who must now prove his approach at Betis can be translated to a side chasing silverware domestically and in Europe.
The club have not been as ruthless as rivals Real Madrid in terms of dismissals, Valverde was their first sacking in 17 years, but it goes without saying that Setien’s job will be under threat in six months should they fail to win at least La Liga.
The Champions League is the obvious target, and while Valverde will still be wondering what could have been after collapses at Anfield and Stadio Olimpico, Setien will know his mission is to safely navigate past Napoli in the last 16 before tackling any opposition they may face in the quarters.
A difficult task awaits Setien, but you can be sure he’ll do it his way.