Football

Ernesto Valverde clings on as Barcelona consider options

Club legends slate Spanish champions for showing current coach disrespect

Ernesto Valverde took training yesterday morning but his future as Barcelona coach looks bleak, with the club expected to make a decision on his position yesterday in a board meeting, a club source confirmed.

Valverde arrived more than two hours early at the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper and took training as usual, despite Barca's public pursuit of their iconic former midfielder Xavi Hernandez at the weekend.

Xavi, currently the coach of Qatari team Al Sadd, has indicated he is not prepared to take charge immediately, but the negotiations have left Valverde in limbo.

If the decision during the board meeting is to remove him straight away, Barca could install a temporary replacement like B team coach Francisco Pimienta, perhaps with a view to appointing Xavi at the end of the season.

Otherwise, they could opt for a more permanent solution immediately. Former Tottenham Hotspur coach Mauricio Pochettino is a viable option, despite his previous claims he would never coach the Catalan club due to his connections with rivals Espanyol.

Ex-Real Betis coach Quique Setien, renowned for an attractive, attacking style of play, is out of work and has also been mentioned as a possible candidate.

Barca's open hankering after Xavi has left a bitter taste, particularly with those who believe Valverde deserves better.

"I feel bad for Valverde, he doesn't deserve this treatment," former Barca coach, and current Manchester City boss, Pep Guardiola said on Sunday.

"I hope the situation can be resolved soon."

Xavi's former teammate at Nou Camp Andres Iniesta also believes the Spanish champions are treating Valverde unfairly.

"What Barca are doing is a bit ugly. They have to have some respect for their current coach, the way things are done are what hurt the most," Vissel Kobe midfielder Iniesta told Onda Cero radio station yesterday.

"Valverde's situation is very weak right now. (Xavi) knows best if he's ready or not."

Barcelona sit top of La Liga, level on points with Real Madrid and they face Napoli in the last-16 of the Champions League next month, after sailing through top of their group.

Yet scepticism around Valverde's suitability has long been building, with every loss prompting renewed speculation about his future.

In recent weeks, Barcelona's performances have been unconvincing - they have drawn three of their last four league games - and the flaws in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid on Thursday, in which they conceded two late goals, felt all too familiar.

REAL WIN SUPER CUP

Meanwhile, Real beat city rivals Atletico 4-1 in a penalty shoot-out to win the first edition of the revamped Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, following a goalless draw after extra-time in a tense final yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Captain Sergio Ramos converted the decisive fourth penalty for Real after Dani Carvajal, Rodrygo and Luka Modric had scored for his side, while Saul Niguez and Thomas Partey failed to match Kieran Trippier in scoring for Atletico. - AFP, REUTERS

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