Already in the throes of his mandate, at the time when he even allowed himself to laugh at his situation in the press room and paraphrase his compatriot Louis van Gaal – “friends of the press …”, he said, laughing, referring to to how his compatriot from Barcelona said goodbye—, Ronald Koeman recalled which was his happiest stage in his return to the Camp Nou. “When I signed my contract,” he revealed. He did not talk about when he lifted the Copa del Rey against Athletic last season, his only title in the 14 months he was in charge of the club, nor did he highlight any particular victory. Koeman, the hero of Barcelona’s first European Cup, recalled his first day, the moment when few (or none more than him) agreed to take over a team that has just suffered the greatest humiliation in its history in the Champions League. : 2-8 against Bayern.
The choice of his worst day was paradoxical. “The departure of Messi,” he assured. Koeman fired the former captain twice. The first, a few days after signing his contract, when the Rosario sent a burofax to Barcelona to announce that he wanted to leave the club of his life. “I see myself more outside than inside,” La Pulga told him. Josep Maria Bartomeu, the president, closed the exit door. The relationship between 10 and Koeman was one of respect and cordiality. The Argentine does not like that the coaches are very above him and the Dutch does not talk too much with the players. Messi, in any case, had in mind Luis Suárez’s goodbye and distrusted Koeman’s ability to solve the team’s problems. But the Rosario did what he used to do: 38 goals in 47 games in the 2020-2021 campaign. And, when he had already resigned himself to the coach and the squad, already ready to close his stage in elite football at the Camp Nou, the club’s economic crisis ended the footballer in Paris. Koeman’s second farewell to the Flea.
The technician also had to fire another sacred cow. In the 2017-2018 season, after falling in the quarterfinals of the Champions League against Roma, Ernesto Valverde suggested to Bartomeu that it was time to let Luis Suárez go. According to the coach, Barça could still catch a good transfer for the Uruguayan striker. They did not listen to him. It wasn’t easy having to dispatch Messi’s best friend to the locker room. Two summers later, Bartomeu entrusted Koeman with what he had not dared to do. The Dutchman accepted the challenge. He told the third top gunner in the club’s history (198) that he had to leave the Camp Nou. He did the same with Arturo Vidal, Rakitic and Umtiti. But there is no one to move the French from Barcelona.
Squad management was a problem for Koeman. His communication was not fluent and he was never satisfied with the level of his boys. In his first season he could not count on the signings he requested and, when he had them – as was the case with Memphis Depay this year -, they did not finish emerging. Never, however, was any footballer imposed by the board. Neither to an experienced like Pjanic – Barça had counted his signing for 60 million -, nor to a youth squad like Riqui Puig. Last season, the Bosnian participated in a total of 1,295 minutes. The case of the young Catalan is more striking. First, Koeman advised him to find equipment. And then the Dutchman had to listen to Laporta asking for more prominence for Puig. The result? He has played 72 minutes in four games this season. Of course, Koeman has not publicly hidden what he thought. Neither of his players nor when he had to act as spokesman for the club.
Bartomeu bet on the strength of a symbol like Koeman. However, the Dutchman’s umbrella did not last long. In October 2020, he ceased to be president of Barça, facing the Generalitat for holding the vote of no confidence. Then, Koeman was left orphaned of protection in a club without money or management, governed by the manager until March 2021. During that period, Koeman’s word was the only recognizable one at Barça, regardless of what they could say the captains after the games. It was never Messi, of course, that when he had to give his opinion he summoned Jordi Évole to his house.
The appearance of Laporta did not bring tranquility for Koeman. It caused him the exact opposite. During the election campaign, he did not show confidence in his work. And when after winning the Cup it seemed that the coach had earned his approval, in the summer he asked him for 15 days to find a replacement. Koeman endured intense wear and tear, while from time to time he would catharsis in front of journalists, in an interview in his country or in the press room. “I’m tired of defending myself,” he complained in one of his last appearances.
And he remembered his return to the Camp Nou. That day he had been so happy. “I have come here for my love for the club, I arrived in a very complicated situation and now it is more complicated than then,” he maintained. Koeman sacrificed Euro 2021 with the Netherlands to return to Barcelona. After 67 games and a title, he leaves a club in trouble.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.