Ernesto Valverde: Barcelona’s Best Signing this Season

FC Barcelona are flying high under their current manager Ernesto Valverde, who was appointed in July 2017 after former coach Luis Enrique ran down his contract with the club.

The Blaugrana are 19 points ahead of their arch rivals Real Madrid on the La Liga table and Valverde, without any doubt, deserves credit for being able to do that despite the big loss of Brazilian star Neymar in the summer.

Valverde looks like he is leading Barcelona to the La Liga title and possibly more trophies including the UEFA Champions League in his debut season with the club, but making an immediate impact is not something new for the manager.

Ernesto Valverde Tejedor, born in the Province of Caceres in Spain in 1964, made his debut as a player for then Segunda division side Deportivo Alaves at the age of just 19. At that time he was just an average forward trying hard to impress.

Even though he spend two years at the club, he was never really able to kickstart his career. In 1985, he moved to Sestao Sport Club who even now ply their trade in the Segunda division.

At Sestao, he took just a year to catch the eyes of a La Liga side. His six goals from 32 appearances was good enough for him to get a transfer to Espanyol managed by Javier Clemente, where he spent another two years.

In his first year with the Periquitos, he helped the team to a best-ever third place in the league by scoring a total of seven goals from 43 appearances. In the subsequent year, he was part of the team which ended up as the runners up of the UEFA Cup.

And then came the big call from Barcelona. Valverde was one of the 12 players to be brought into the team by the legendary Johan Cruyff in his debut season. The Catalan club paid around £1.35 million to acquire the services of the player.

“When he was a player he was very intelligent and he always showed me his interest in football and learning”, Cruyff once said about Valverde.

However just like his tenure at Espanyol, his stay at Barcelona lasted only two seasons. After scoring eight goals from 22 appearances for the Blaugrana, he reunited with his former manager Javier Clemente at Athletic Bilbao in 1990.

Athletic Bilbao only signs players from the Basque country and Valverde was not such a candidate. However, as he had learned his football skills from the Basque, he was eligible and hence was signed by the club.

During his six year tenure at Athletic Bilbao, Valverde established himself as a first team figure and also got the nickname ‘Txingurri’, which means ‘Ant’ in Basque.

Valverde then played for Mallorca for a year before retiring in 1997 at the age of 33.

Four years later, he joined former side Athletic Bilbao as an assistant coach and then became the manager of the side’s B team a year later.

The following year he returned to the first-team as manager and helped them finish 5th in the league in the 2003/04 season. He was replaced by Jose Luis Mendilibar for the 2005/06 season.

He took a year off before returning to management with his former club Espanyol for two years. In his first year with the Catalan club, he managed to take the team to UEFA Cup finals. However, they ended up losing on penalties just like they did 19 years ago when Valverde played for the club.

After his contract ran out after two years, he took up a new challenge by taking up the managerial role at Greek club Olympiacos. He led the team to the league title that season and also went on to lift the Greek Football Cup.

Even though the club and fans wanted Valverde to stay at the club, he did not renew his contract due to financial disagreements.

This saw Valverde return to Spain in 2009 as the manager of Villareal, replacing Manuel Pellegrini, who had managed the side for five years.

He could only manage 32 games for the Yellow Submarine as he was sacked in the January of 2010 after failing to make an impact at the club.

Valverde then returned to Olympiacos. This time he was at the club for two years leading them to league triumphs in both the seasons. He, who arrived at the club as replacement for German manager Ewald Lienen, left the club in 2012 due to family reasons.

“I don’t know why the Olympiacos fans like me so much. But we did win a lot of trophies. And the feeling is mutual because the Greek people always treated me very well. I say that because I left a large part of my heart there”, Valverde said during the press conference that took place before the UEFA Champions League match between the Barcelona and Olympiacos.

In December of 2013, he replaced Mauricio Pellegrino as the manager of Valencia. He remained the team’s coach until the end of the season, helping them finish 5th in the league.

He announced his decision to leave the club after failing to claim a Champions League spot and re-joined Athletic Bilbao next season.

The Rojiblancos had finished just 12th in the 2012/13 season, but the arrival of Valverde saw the team finishing fourth the following season. He led the team to the Copa Del Rey finals in 2015, but a defeat to Barcelona at the Camp Nou denied them the trophy.

However, a 5-1 aggregate victory over the Blaugrana in the Supercopa de Espana saw Bilbao win their first trophy in 31 years.

In the following three seasons, Valverde led Bilbao to two seventh place and one fifth place finishes.

At the end of the 2016/17 season, Valverde declared his decision to step down as the manager of Athletic Bilbao. He managed a total of 213 matches during his four year long tenure at the club.

He managed the club for 306 matches during his two spells, beating Javier Clemente’s record of 289.

On May 29th 2017, Valverde replaced Luis Enrique as the manager of Barcelona.

The Catalan club has not lost a single game in the La Liga this season, winning 18 of their 21 matches. Valverde looks like he is going to win another major trophy in his debut season with a club with Barcelona this season as the club is 11 points ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid.

The club has spent around £300 million in the summer and winter transfer window this season, but Ernesto Valverde is arguably the club’s best signing in a long time.

 

Written by Dakir Thanveer

Follow Dakir on Twitter @ZakWriter

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