At the ripe old age of 61 and having managed Real Betis to thirteenth in La Liga this season following a tenth placed finish last year, It’s simply ‘Felicidades’ to Enrique Setien Solar who has won the Spanish Lottery after been announced the new Barcelona Boss as the Cantabrian replaces the sacked Ernesto Valverde who despite sitting top of the table equal on points with Real Madrid and unbeaten in the league since November has been dismissed for all his troubles.
In truth, Valverde has clung on to his job at Barcelona simply by winning domestic trophies (of which he has two titles and a Copa del Rey), but his style imposed on the team and his deteriorating relationship with senior players has finally taken its toll. Barcelona want to bring ‘sexy back’ and with one eye open on their recent Champions League hoodoo they cannot afford to let any more huge leads slip in this year’s knock out stages.
The second leg jinx of Roma and Liverpool still very much at the forefront of why I think Valverde has been axed from the job.
For Setien, a man who during his early years in management got appraisal for playing the Barcelona way at clubs like Logrones and Lugo, a philosopher of total football and a believer in the ‘Cruyff’ dynasty he may fit the Barca bill, but really does he have the experience to back up the exciting way he wants to play at the highest of levels when under the biggest of scrutiny?
A well liked footballer with Racing Santander, Setien won three caps for Spain in the mid-eighties playing as a goalscoring centre midfielder nicknamed ‘El Maestro’. He joined Atletico Madrid but after three years moved on to Logrones before re-joining his hometown club Racing.
Santander was where he started his managerial career too. Coaching in the Segunda Division gaining promotion to La Liga with a 50% win record, however he didn’t stay.
A year later he became Head Coach of Polideportivo Ejido a team who had just finished respectfully in their first ever season in Spain’s second tier. It didn’t go well however as Setien was sacked just four months in having lost seven of his first thirteen games.
After spells assisting the Russian National Beach Soccer team and Managing Equatorial Guinea he joined Logrones as boss in the summer of 2007 but was sacked midway through the following campaign.
After 18 months out he became Coach of third tier Lugo in June 2009 and finally enjoyed a long term spell where he could stamp his authority on the way his teams should play. Attractive and pleasing on the eye Lugo gained promotion in 2012 and stayed in the Segunda Division, Setien was rewarded for six years of hard work and took the Las Palmas job in 2015 with the Canary Islanders in the relegation zone in La Liga, Setien guided a side with Willian Jose and Jonathan Viera to 11th and 14th before Real Betis came knocking and a season to remember followed.
In 2017 Betis under Setien played the Barcelona way, an attacking brand of football playing out from the back getting it wide with flair entertaining fans both home and away all this in scoring 60 goals whilst conceding 61 in 38 La Liga games, the side from Seville included Joaquin, Fabian Ruiz, Cristian Tello, Sergio Leon, exciting footballers that want to go past defenders. Betis finished sixth in the table but more than that captured the imaginations of many a purist and in a gruelling follow up campaign of fixtures last season made the Europa League round of 32 as well as reaching the Copa del Rey semi-finals before eventually settling for a tenth placed finish in La Liga.
This year has been tougher for Betis, Setien was rumoured to have been eyed up by Barcelona as long ago as the summer of 2018 so temptation has always swayed, but in thirteenth place in La Liga is now really the right time to go in for a Coach who plays nice football but with mid-table teams?
You can’t help feeling underwhelmed by the choice of Manager to lead Barcelona into the next Century and wonder if his credentials all be it philosophised on the Cruyff legacy can even see him survive the year?
Setien whilst rumoured not to be Barcelona’s first choice (that might have been Xavi), he certainly wasn’t the last (that honour probably goes to former Espanyol Coach Pochettino who swore he would never take the Nou Camp job?). A Manager that whilst evidently has entertained in a way that many see perfect for the one that Barcelona want to play, but one that severely lacks the experience of top class, title winning, European challenging hierarchy and that could be all it takes to see him fail.
We’ll know very soon if Barcelona have already surrendered their league crown to the bitterest of rivals in Madrid, we’ll know by the time Napoli have come to town in the Champions League if this has been a gamble, too big for one so old and inexperienced to take.
I’ll give him until the end of the season at best, not to reserve judgement, but to instead say adios to one assured to be unfortunately out of his depth at a club too big for his mediocre but stylish boots.