Football: Barcelona appoint Ernesto Valverde as new coach

Former Athletic Bilbao's Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde looks on during a press conference held to announce that he was quitting the football club in Bilbao on May 24, 2017.
Former Athletic Bilbao's Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde looks on during a press conference held to announce that he was quitting the football club in Bilbao on May 24, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

Barcelona (AFP) - Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde is the man charged with reviving Barcelona's fortunes after being confirmed as their new boss on a two-year deal on Monday.

"Valverde has the ability, the judgement, the knowledge and the experience. He promotes the youth players and he has a Barca way," club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said at a press conference.

Valverde, whose contract will include an option for a third season in charge, will be officially unveiled on Thursday.

Valverde, 53, a former Barca player who left Athletic Bilbao after four years in charge last week, replaces Luis Enrique with the task of getting the most out of a star-studded squad containing Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.

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Luis Enrique signed off his three seasons in charge with a ninth trophy of his reign in Saturday's Copa del Rey final against Alaves.

However, the daily grind of the pressure at the Camp Nou forced him to announce back in March that he would leave at the end of the campaign even before Barca missed out on both LaLiga and the Champions League this season.

Despite not being a household name outside of Spain, Valverde has a wealth of coaching experience having taken charge of over 500 games.

His only honours as a player came in a two-year spell at Barcelona under Johan Cruyff between 1988 and 1990 where he lifted the Cup Winners' Cup and the Copa del Rey.

However, Valverde has consistently got the best out of the resources at his disposal as a coach in two spells at both Athletic and Olympiakos and stints with Espanyol, Villarreal and Valencia.

Indeed he inflicted Luis Enrique's joint-heaviest defeat as Barca boss with a 4-0 thrashing of the then European champions on the way to winning the Spanish Super Cup with Athletic in 2015. Valverde also won three Greek titles in three seasons at Olympiakos.

Moreover, Valverde's calm and composed nature was favoured by the Barca board over the more fiery approach of the other leading candidate Jorge Sampaoli, who is expected to leave Sevilla to take over as Argentina boss.

"He has more experience than me. He should enjoy it," Luis Enrique said when asked what advice he would give Valverde after a Messi-inspired 3-1 Copa del Rey final win over Alaves in his final game in charge.

However, that win means Valverde will be handed a baptism of fire with his first two competitive games in charge likely to be against Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup in August.