UEFA.com gives the lowdown on new Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde, nicknamed ‘The Ant’ and renowned for consistent performances and exciting, intense football wherever he has coached.
“He was a very intelligent player and he always showed me his interest in football and his willingness to learn. He is one of the most outstanding and most promising coaches in Spain.”
Johan Cruyff, former Barcelona coach
“Ernesto Valverde is the coach I have faced the most in my coaching career. He is one of the top coaches in Spanish football. I like his way of playing and his character – his way of transmitting ideas. Just look at the teams he has worked at – he’s a top-class coach.”
Luis Enrique, former Barcelona coach
“He’s a coach with very clear ideas, and a manner that means that when he tells you something, you trust him – you can see he’s doing things for a reason.”
Raúl García, Athletic forward
“He’s a great coach. Wherever he has been he has done well. He has a hallmark style.”
Andrés Iniesta, Barcelona midfielder and captain
“Valverde’s teams always play good football, they like to have the ball and they don’t rush with it.”
Xavi Hernández, former Barcelona and Spain midfielder
Who is he?
A former forward for Barcelona, Espanyol and Athletic Club among others, Valverde is one of the most experienced coaches in Spain, with ten Liga seasons under his belt. He is also the longest-ever serving coach at Athletic Club, where he managed over 300 games in two separate spells of two and four years respectively. There he ended a 31-year wait for a trophy – when his side beat Barça 5-1 on aggregate to win the 2015 Spanish Super Cup. He also led the Bilbao team into Europe four seasons running.
Additionally, Valverde had a successful stint with Espanyol, including taking the Catalan outfit to their second European final – the penalty shoot-out defeat by Sevilla in the 2007 UEFA Cup – and has been in charge of Valencia and Villarreal. He also scooped silverware abroad, lifting three league titles and two Greek Cups with Olympiacos.
Why is he Barça’s man?
From Cruyff to Josep Guardiola to Enrique, Barça have often favoured coaches who have already been at the club and are familiar with its workings – criteria that Valvderde meets thanks to his Camp Nou stay from 1988–90 under Cruyff. Indeed, the Dutchman had singled out Valverde as a tactician to watch during his first term at the Athletic helm, and he has gained plenty of other admirers at Barça (who have tried to lure him to the Camp Nou before).
Valverde has a reputation for stability and getting on with people, and he has also successfully brought young players into his teams – Kepa Arrizabalaga, Iñaki Williams and Yeray Álvarez all having been integrated into Athletic’s senior fold under his tutelage. Given the tradition of promoting players from Barcelona’s academy, that will have been a mark in his favour.
How do his teams play?
Sides led by ‘El Txingurri’ (The Ant) play bold, attacking football while also doing the basics well. He led Athletic to fifth place in his first campaign as a coach in 2003/04, and did even better upon returning to Bilbao in 2013/14 by guiding them to fourth and the UEFA Champions League after a 16-year absence. That team played an exciting but adaptable high-pressing game, leavened by a focus on possession and positional variation – and adding greater stability and defensive capability to foundations laid by Valverde’s predecessor Marcelo Bielsa. The result was a complete style of football, entertaining but a challenge for any opponent.
“All coaches choose their own path. You have to feel comfortable with who you are and make sure you are honest about yourself. Players can tell very quickly if something is not real. When you tell a player something, they have to feel you really mean it.”
“The most important thing at any club is the players, we have to be clear about that. Coaches only enable them to put their talent to use on the pitch.”
Did you know?
Valverde is a keen photographer. He went to photography school while playing for Barcelona, and in 2012 released a book of his work – exclusively black-and-white portraits – called Medio Tiempo (Half-time).