Barcalona is arguably the biggest club in the world. Yet, in recent years, the club has detoriarated to a shell of its former glory. However, a new age has arrived at the Catalan club, as Ronald Koeman looks to lead them to their former spot in Europe’s most feared.
The Dutchman had come in as a surprise and supposedly stop-gap replacement for Quique Setien, who had a short and absolutely dreadful spell as head coach at Barca. The first team had just let slip of the title to rivals Real Madrid, lost 8–2 to Bayern, and there were rumours that Messi was ready to call it quits at the Camp Nou. On top of that, the club had a presidential election coming up, and was neck deep in debt. Despite all this, he has steadied a ship that was sinking (fast), while also giving the fans something to celebrate about by winning the Copa Del Rey. So how is it that the manager who was sacked at Everton after spending 150 million pounds has gone on to win the Copa Del Rey with meagre financial backing at arguably the biggest club in the world?
The Catalan club has not had a long term manager at the club since Pep Guardiola’s departure from the club, with Tito, Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde all having relatively short spells managing the club despite their respective success. Moreover, they had one of the worst presidents of all time, Josep Bartomeu, in charge at the club. The man had many achievements, from making 3 tripled figure signings (who all underwhelmed at the club till Koeman arrived), spending huge money on average players and then selling them for lower fees to further sink Barca in debt, to the disastrous affair known as Barcagate.
All these issues, further amplified by the first team’s recent struggles, didn’t make things easy for Koeman. Yet, he has silenced most of his doubters with his recent trophy win, his sound attacking tactics, and an unexpected title challenge.
The first thing Koeman did, was to integrate the likes of Griezmann, Dembele, Frenkie De Jong and Pedri into their proper positions, unlike former Barca managers who loved tinkering around with the squad and placing players who weren’t performing in different positions. This has helped each player individually, which may seem ineffective since Football is a team sport, but now since each players is at their very best, the team is able to receive valuable contribution from each of them. Then, Messi is the final piece of the puzzle, helping to combine each of the players’ attacking input into a goal with his own playmaking skills. Now, rather than simply give the ball to Messi and let him do his thing, the players are creating chances for Messi to do something with their own attributes. Pedri has been used similarly, with Trincao taking his original role, but the Spanish talent still needs to further enhance his skills to match Messi. This is why Barca are so desperate to retain the Argentine’s services.
Another thing he has done is establish a solid formation for Barca. The Catalan side have switched formations since 2017 more frequently than Paul Pogba has switched hairstyles, and that is never a good thing in football. However, Ronald Koeman has finally found a formation which works for them, both in European competitions and in La Liga.
All in all, Ronald Koeman has succeeded at Barca by using small club tactics: making do with available resources, and using unorthodox tactics. The chance of him pulling it off were not in his favour, yet the Dutchman has done extraordinarily. He has done well to rotate the players, while sticking to the Barca way: flowing, attacking football.