Barcelona hires former player Ernesto Valverde as its coach
ABS-CBN Sports on May 30, 2017 10:01 AM
FILE- In this Wednesday, Feb.17, 2016 file photo the longtime Athletic Bilbao's manager Ernesto Valverde attends a press conference at the Velodrome stadium, in Marseille, Southern France. Barcelona said Monday, May 29, 2017, it has hired former player Ernesto Valverde as its new coach. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
TALES AZZONI, AP Sports Writer
MADRID (AP) — Barcelona picked one of its own to improve its winning ways.
Former player Ernesto Valverde was hired as the new coach, the club confirmed on Monday.
The longtime Athletic Bilbao manager will replace Luis Enrique, who ended his three-year stint after winning the Copa del Rey on Saturday.
Valverde received a two-year contract, with an option for a third.
The expected announcement was made by Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu after a club board meeting.
Valverde's official introduction will be on Thursday.
"I personally spoke to Valverde and he is very happy and excited about the thrilling challenge that is to coach Barcelona," Bartomeu said.
A former forward, the 53-year-old Valverde played two seasons for Barcelona in the late 1980s and was coached by Johan Cruyff, the Dutch great who gave Barcelona its winning identity.
"Valverde has the ability, judgment, knowledge and experience. He loves football and has a style that is similar to Barca's," Bartomeu said. "He is a hard worker and is passionate about using technology in training and in match management."
The calm-mannered Valverde is known for an attacking style that should fit well with Barcelona.
His teams prioritize ball possession and like to pressure high in the attack while without the ball. His most used scheme with Athletic was the 4-2-3-1, with a true striker up front.
It was a style that helped Athletic play offensively and remain highly competitive, constantly fighting for qualification spots in European competitions. It finished seventh in the Spanish league.
Valverde led Athletic to victory over Barcelona in the final of the 2015 Spanish Super Cup, which marked the team's first title in more than three decades. It won the first leg of that final 4-0 with an inspiring performance at its San Mames Stadium.
He announced he was leaving Athletic last week after four seasons. He also coached Athletic from 2003-05. Valverde has coached the most matches in Athletic's history. He also played for the club from 1990-96.
His other jobs were at Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia. He led Espanyol to the UEFA Cup final in 2007, losing to Sevilla in a penalty shootout.
Luis Enrique left Barcelona this weekend after helping the club win nine titles out of a possible 13 in the three seasons he was with the Catalan club. He made the surprise announcement he would quit back in March, saying he needed to rest.
It was Barcelona's worst season under Luis Enrique, despite winning two titles, the Spanish Super Cup and the Copa del Rey. It was eliminated by Juventus in the quarterfinals of the Champions League and lost the Spanish league to Real Madrid in the final round.
"We expected more this season, we can't say that it was a successful one," Bartomeu said. "We can't be satisfied."
Valverde will have in his hands a team with Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, but he will eventually need to start revamping part of an aging squad that includes veterans Andres Iniesta, Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique.
His first official match will likely be against rival Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final in August.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni