New Barcelona coach will inherit Messi...and the team's flaws
ABS-CBN Sports on May 30, 2017 10:05 AM
FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2016 file photo, Athletic Bilbao's head manager Ernesto Valverde waits for the start of a Europa League group F soccer match against Rapid Vienna in Vienna, Austria. Athletic Bilbao said on Wednesday May 24 that Valverde will not remain as the team's coach next season, clearing the way for his expected move to Barcelona. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, File)
JOSEPH WILSON, Associated Press
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — When you get to manage Lionel Messi, it sounds silly to talk about challenges awaiting Barcelona's coach-to-be.
But new coach Ernesto Valverde will not just be handed a star-studded team led by one of the best players in the world.
He will also inherit a handful of small but serious flaws, whose handling will determine whether he is a success or failure.
Valverde, a former Barcelona player who recently left the coaching job at Athletic Bilbao, was confirmed on Monday as the replacement to a worn-out Luis Enrique.
"The coach that comes will have the qualities to carry this team forward," Andres Iniesta said after Barcelona salvaged its otherwise disappointing season by winning the Copa del Rey on Saturday.
"Our task is to keep winning. When you don't achieve your objectives, which is to win major titles, your season wasn't a good one. We know we have things to improve. That's how demanding this club is."
Here is a look at the most pressing issues facing Barcelona's future boss:
THAT MISSING BIT
Despite winning a third straight Copa del Rey, Barcelona took a step back this season.
A look at the numbers will leave Valverde the puzzle of figuring out why.
Barcelona had the highest scoring attack in the Spanish league and the top two scorers in Messi and Luis Suarez. It also defended well, conceding four fewer goals than champion Real Madrid.
In the Champions League, it pulled off one of the most spectacular comebacks in the history of the competition when it beat Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 to overturn a 4-0 first-leg deficit. Then it promptly dropped out to Juventus 3-0 after not scoring in either leg.
The difference behind those three extra points that Madrid earned through 38 rounds and its highs and lows in Europe resides somewhere in the intangible world of keeping up the maximum levels of effort and concentration week in, week out.
Bridging that tiny gap between very good and sustained greatness is Valverde's task.
The steady stream of talent that once flowed from the La Masia training academy into the first team dried up under Luis Enrique.
The only homegrown player to earn a starting role under Luis Enrique was Sergi Roberto, a midfielder converted to right back. Rafinha remains a reserve after returning from Celta Vigo, while Pedro Rodriguez and youngsters Munir El Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez left to find playing time.
The academy that has produced Messi, Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets needs to reclaim its weight on the first team for the benefit of both.
Nobody can say that Luis Enrique wasn't a winner.
He had a perfect first campaign in 2014-15, repeating the rare treble of Champions League, Spanish league and Copa del Rey first conquered by Pep Guardiola. He followed that with a double of the league and Copa del Rey in 2016, and added a third cup when Barcelona beat Alaves 3-1 in his last match in charge.
Toss in a Club World Cup, a European Super Cup and a Spanish Super Cup, and his team won nine of a possible 13 trophies. Those numbers are on par with Guardiola's 14 of a possible 19 titles from 2008-2012.
But many of Barcelona's purists complained that the team lost its identity of dominating opponents through superior ball control by its midfield.
Since the arrival of Neymar and Suarez to join Messi up front, the focus on the team has shifted from its midfield to its attack.
Before last season, the club tried to bulk up its midfield by signing Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez. But the team struggled to dictate matches when Iniesta was off the pitch, leaving Messi as its best playmaker.
If the Barcelona of old is to be the Barcelona of the future, Valverde must get more from its other