Football

Valverde faces tough task to revive Barcelona

Ernesto Valverde's appointment as Luis Enrique's successor at Barcelona is due to his wealth of experience, but he faces a huge task to rejuvenate a side showing signs of decline.

Valverde is one of many former Barca players inspired to go into management by visionary coach Johan Cruyff, who worked with the striker between 1988 and 1990, and declared his admiration for his former pupil when he was starting out.

"He was a very intelligent player and always transmitted to me his interest in football and his enthusiasm to learn," said Cruyff when Valverde was in his first job at Athletic Bilbao.

"He is one of the most outstanding and promising coaches in Spain."

Valverde, 53, has had success in almost every job he has had, reaching the Uefa Cup final in 2007 with Espanyol and winning three Greek league titles with Olympiakos.

Barca tried to convince him to take over in 2013 when Tito Vilanova was forced to leave the role due to illness, but Valverde had agreed to coach Athletic again, prompting the Catalans to opt for Gerardo Martino.

Valverde's knowledge of Barca and his many years of experience of coaching in Spain saw him pip Argentinian Jorge Sampaoli and Enrique's assistant Juan Carlos Unzue to the top job.

He led Bilbao to qualification for European football in five out of six seasons in Bilbao, where he was the longest-serving coach, and they hammered Barcelona 4-0 on their way to winning the Spanish Super Cup in 2015.

When Enrique was asked if he had any advice for his successor, he remarked: "He has far more experience than me, so he should enjoy it."

But, Valverde will be taking over a tough job which physically and emotionally drained predecessors Guardiola and Enrique.

He also faces a huge task to revitalise a hugely talented yet ageing squad that require overhaul following a resounding 3-0 aggregate defeat by Juventus in the Champions League quarter-finals and an inconsistent league campaign which surrendered the title to Real Madrid.

His priorities will be restructuring the midfield, which used to be the axis of Barca's success under Guardiola but has lost its power as their captain Andres Iniesta is now 33.

He also needs to find a new top right back to fill the gaping hole left by the departure of Dani Alves.

Valverde is seen as a safe pair of hands, but his quiet, relaxed character will be put to the test if he decides wholesale changes are required to revive their fortunes. - REUTERS

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