Ernesto Valverde’s downfall as Barcelona head coach was inevitable. His sacking further illustrates the degree of difficulty and ruthless nature of expectations at the Catalan club, a task now charged to Quique Setien.
It was a decision that should have been taken with a measure of dignity in the summer. Instead, delaying the inevitable led to Ernesto Valverde leaving in ignominy, becoming the first Barcelona head coach to be relieved of his duties mid-season since Louis van Gaal in 2003 on Monday.
From the outside looking in the choice to sack the 55-year-old, who guided Barca to back-to-back La Liga titles in a two-and-a-half year tenure, may seem harsh, but in it's essence it remains a sporting decision, not a business one - a rarity at the elite level nowadays.
Level on points with Real Madrid at the top of La Liga in the current campaign, Barcelona are on course to claim domestic supremacy for a third-straight season. Off the pitch, the club finished top of Deloitte's annual "Football Money League" table for the first time on Monday, after posting record earnings of €840.8 million ($937 million) in 2018/19.
The independent analysis of the highest-earning clubs in world football measures their "ability to generate revenue from match day, broadcast rights and commercial sources." The conclusion: Barcelona are now the biggest money-making behemoth in the world's most popular sport.
Those are not normally the precursors to a head coach being shown the door. However, things work differently at the Catalan club, where style is almost as importance as substance and domestic success is belittled by shortcomings on the continent. Those were both pitfalls of Valverde's tenure which he described as "an intense two-and-a-half years" in an open letter to Barca fans titled: "In my own words."
Barcelona topped the La Liga for 81 of the 95 match days that Ernesto Valverde took charge of as head coach.
Performances on the pitch were more unconvincing than electrifying and often relied on moments of magic from Lionel Messi or the saving graces of German goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. A far cry from the club's 'Golden Age' under Pep Guardiola. Meanwhile, humiliations suffered at the hands of Roma and Liverpool in the Champions League knockout stages cast a cloud Valverde failed to banish.
Those wounds were reopened by the 3-2 loss to Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals of the Spanish Supercup which led to the 55-year-old's position being deemed untenable. Nevertheless, Valverde didn't deserve to have his status belittled during his final days and the heavy-handed manner in which he was dismissed remains in stark contrast with the club's core values.
It is those values on the pitch that Barca hope to reestablish under former Las Palmas and Real Betis head coach Quique Setien, a man who once claimed that he would have cut off his little finger to play under the legendary Johan Cruyff whose possession-based style he greatly admired.
"I never thought Barcelona would go for me, as I don't have a long CV," Setien admitted in his first press conference. "What I have is the philosophy I love. I wasn't sure if that would be enough, but I'm grateful. When I go to a team I can guarantee one thing and that's that the team will play well."
Although relatively unproven, the 61-year-old was the last head coach to beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp when he guided his over-achieving Real Betis side to a phenomenal 4-3 win in a season that ended in European qualification. The manner of victory and not the score line is what has led many to believe that Setien's purist philosophy will be a better fit for Barca's DNA than Valverde's pragmatism.
"I don't know if my way is the best, but it's my way and I'm convinced that I can convey the ideas I like and that everything can get better," continued Setien. "The main objective is without doubt to win all we can. This club requires that you get better each year and that you win as many titles as possible, as well as playing well."
His first game in charge will be at home to Granada on Sunday, kicking off a tricky set of fixtures for Setien - known as "El Maestro" - to navigate in his first few weeks at the helm. Time is rarely on the side of those in the role of Barcelona head coach, but the new man in charge has little to waste as he looks to return the Catalan club to their purist pedestal.