Koeman puts his job on the line by taking a stand
The coach, who read a statement asking for time, could be sacked in case of defeat in Cadiz
Sant Joan DespíRonald Koeman entered the press room of the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper with reading glasses and serious expression. He does not usually carry them when he speaks to the press. But in the run-up to the game against Cádiz, the Dutch coach decided not to take any questions from journalists and read a statement in which he asked for time to continue working. The speech surprised the Barça directors, as much for the fact itself as for his words: he came to say that winning the Champions League is a utopia and that if the team finishes in the top four in La Liga, the season can be considered good. A speech far removed from those usually made by Joan Laporta, who was aware of Koeman's decision just a few minutes before. Despite the fact that in circles close to the president the tone of the message was defined as "defeatist", Koeman's presence on the bench at the Cádiz stadium is guaranteed. However, if he loses at Mirandilla as he did last year, he may not make it to Sunday's game against Levante.
Reading the speech was a unilateral decision by the coach, who explained it only to four people in his inner circle after seeing how in the last hours the decision to look for a replacement for him was leaked to the press. Or to hear how people close to president Laporta, as Enric Masip, spoke of his future. The former handball player, in declarations to the programme Onze on Esport3, criticised him for having justified the defeat against Bayern with the famous expression "it is what it is". According to Masip, when you go out to play with Barça "you always have to want to win", an argument that means that Koeman's discourse is far removed from the path that a board of directors determined to recover the enthusiasm of the fans wants to take. Fed up with feeling questioned, the coach defiantly hit back with a statement written by himself.
After training, the Dutchman also informed the captains of his decision. They understood it, even though they warned him that it would tighten the noose even further. Koeman's idea also caught the club's communication professionals by surprise, who had everything ready for what was to be the second press conference with journalists in the room since March 2020. The communication department tried to convince Koeman to take questions as well, but the coach was very clear that he wanted to focus solely on the statement. "The club is in a rebuilding situation. The financial situation of the club is linked to the sporting performances and vice versa. This means that we, as a squad, have to rebuild the football team without being able to make big financial investments. This takes time. Today's young talents can become world stars in a couple of years. The good thing about rebuilding the team is that the youngsters will be given opportunities like Xavi and Iniesta had in their time. That takes patience", he explained. "Also, to finish high in La Liga would be a success. European football is a great school for great talent. In the Champions League you can't expect miracles. You have to approach the defeat against Bayern from this point of view", he added in a speech that allowed him to dodge questions from the press. Koeman knew perfectly well where the questions would head to, now that the club's sports management makes the final list of candidates to take his place if he fails in the coming games. In fact, the speech of the run-up against Cadiz can be interpreted as a defiant act of the technician, who refuses to surrender. Or as his epitaph if he loses his job in a few hours, if he cannot break the small streak of two official matches without winning, against Bayern in the Champions League and Granada.
Laporta responds from Andalusia
"It is necessary that the process in which we find ourselves receives all the support. Both in words and in deeds. We have to support the process we are starting. I know that the press recognises this process. It is not the first time in history that something like this has happened. We are counting on your support in difficult times", added Koeman, pulling on his black horn-rimmed glasses that were sliding down his nose. "We, as staff and players, are very happy with the support from the fans as in the match against Granada at home". The club were not aware that Koeman would read this statement at a press conference, despite the fact that shortly before the Dutchman had made his intention known to president Laporta, who was in Palos de la Frontera (Huelva) at an event with supporters, that he intended to do so.
At first, the president did not respond to the coach's message, but at night, from Andalusia, he improvised a press conference to scold Koeman: "We learned [of Koeman's intentions] a little earlier. We've tried through communication, and I've been told so, to get him to answer questions, because it's not that complicated. We're in a time that really isn't easy and perhaps this situation that we're going through has led him to do this, and I think that if he has decided to do this, it's because he had to, but I don't think it was necessary". In the same intervention from Palos de la Frontera, Laporta made a lukewarm defense of Koeman: "He is the coach of Barça and we, as long as this is so, will give him all the support, although it will depend on the results and the game, as we have always said".
Koeman asks for time but knows he is running out of it. The name of the Belgian coach, Robert Martinez, appears as a prominent figure in a list of possible signings that also includes Xavi Hernandez, despite the fact that Laporta does not see the former player, currently coach of Al-Sadd, as a clear possibility of joining the club. Yesterday, from Belgium, Martínez did not respond to a question about a possible move to Barça. With Jordi Cruyff dropping off the shortlist, other names that have been considered in recent hours are those of Ajax coach Erik ten Hag and Albert Capellas, the Catalan who coached the Denmark U21 team. If Barça fail in Cadiz, one of them could receive an offer very soon to take the place Koeman is clinging on to. Now it's all in the hands of the players. If they don't improve their image, Koeman is doomed.