Ernesto Valverde has departed Barcelona. Was it a harsh decision by the board of La Liga's champions to part ways with their head coach?
Arguably the most surprising factor around Valverde's exit at Barcelona is the distinct lack of surprise.
Since replacing Luis Enrique at Camp Nou in May 2017, the former Athletic Bilbao boss has won four major honours and claimed victory in 66 of his 95 La Liga games.
And yet there has been an ever-present grumble in the background. Whether it be grievances over his style of play or somewhat more legitimate concerns over big collapses to Roma and Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League in the previous two campaigns, the rumblings of discontent have never been too far away.
Still, his departure – which came after a 3-2 defeat in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals to Atletico Madrid – seems a little harsh, and we look at five reasons Valverde, who has been replaced by Quique Setien, might feel he has been treated unfairly.
1. HE'S A TWO-TIME LA LIGA WINNER
What seems harshest of all is that, despite frequent talk of a "crisis", Valverde steered Barca to La Liga glory in each of his two full seasons in charge. Indeed, the Blaugrana were beaten just once as they cantered to the trophy in the 2017-18 campaign. The more sceptical of pundits may point to the fact that last season their great Clasico rivals Real Madrid endured a poor campaign, losing 12 times and finishing 19 points adrift. But still, while Champions League success eluded him, in La Liga Barca have continued to dominate. Throw in a Copa del Rey and a Supercopa de Espana and the trophy return has remained healthy.
2. THEY'RE TOP OF THE LEAGUE, TOPPED UCL GROUP
Okay, so if we're being honest, Barca have not been anywhere their best this term – particularly in defence where the 23 goals they have conceded is 11 more than Madrid and Atletico. But as things stand Barca are top of La Liga, albeit only by goal difference from Madrid. Three defeats and four draws from 19 matches may not make for great reading for a club that has been so utterly dominant domestically, but they remain top of the pile. And in the Champions League they went undefeated to easily top a tricky-looking group featuring Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund.
3. MESSI IS A BALLON D'OR WINNER AGAIN
Granted, the caveat here is you could argue Messi doesn't really need to win football's most prestigious individual prize to lay his claims as the greatest player on the planet. But the fact remains he failed to win the previous three Ballons d'Or before beating Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk in 2019. Under Valverde, Messi has been at his majestic best, with the Argentina superstar scoring a remarkable 83 goals in 84 La Liga games. While others from Barca's golden era are perceived to be on the decline, Messi has continued to wow the football world.
4. BARCA'S RECRUITMENT HAS BEEN… QUESTIONABLE
Valverde may be coach of the team and will probably have some say when it comes to the direction the club goes in with signings, but as is the way with modern football, others are in charge of recruitment. Chief executive Oscar Grau and sporting director Eric Abidal are ultimately responsible on that front, although it was Pep Segura prior to the former France international. Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jeison Murillo have been among the more head-scratching signings, while Malcom was snatched from under the noses of Roma but proved a complete flop. Philippe Coutinho underwhelmed after his big-money arrival from Liverpool and was shipped out on loan to Bayern Munich, while Ousmane Dembele has been hit-and-miss at best. Arturo Vidal has had his moments, Yerry Mina mainly disappointed but at least brought in a big fee and Jean-Clair Todibo has rarely featured despite showing promise. Antoine Griezmann's arrival was met with fanfare but the France international has been nowhere near the standard he showed at rivals Atletico.
5. AGING STARS ON THE DECLINE
With the exception of Messi, who at 32 is like the proverbial bottle of fine wine and getting better with age, you can argue Valverde is getting the best from a crop of players who are no longer at the height of their powers. Centre-back Gerard Pique has been out of form, Luis Suarez remains an undoubted talent but perhaps not at the same level as he was in the treble-winning days of Luis Enrique, while Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets are also in their 30s. To point the finger solely at Valverde is slightly ludicrous.