Ronald Koeman will swagger into the Nou Camp. The new Barcelona coach has never been short of confidence or ambition. His entire managerial career has been aimed at returning to Barca, where he spent six years as a player and a further two as an assistant to Louis van Gaal.
In the two decades since leaving Catalonia, Koeman has held 10 jobs. At every one – even in his most recent role at the helm of an exciting young Holland side – the Dutchman has given the impression that he was just passing through. He has now reached his destination.
Because every position was a stepping stone, the 57-year-old did not seem to worry about making friends or learning the culture of a club. This was particularly evident during his last stint in the Premier League, a 16-month spell with Everton that ended with the team in the relegation zone and Koeman being replaced by Sam Allardyce. Barcelona must have overlooked that section of his resume.
All Koeman cared about was results. In his two seasons at Southampton he got them, taking the club to seventh and sixth places in the Premier League. Bigger things were expected at Everton. Goodison also has other requirements but the former defender was not interested in the metaphysics of managing a club like Everton.
Barcelona are as much a concept as a football team. They are a focus for Catalan identity and proudly proclaim their motto: “Mes que un club.” Everton also believe they are more than a club. Koeman barely seemed to acknowledge Goodison’s uniqueness.
Initially his directness and decisiveness were welcome after the confusion and sloppiness of the tail end of Roberto Martinez’s tenure. Off the pitch his approach raised eyebrows. Koeman was not interested in Everton’s traditions. He posted a photograph of a Christmas tree decked in red decorations much to the chagrin of some Evertonians. Red is anathema for many at Goodison and the manager later put a picture online of the tree trimmed with a different colour scheme that did not feature the hated hues of Liverpool. It was an amusing episode and Koeman embraced the humour, blaming his wife, but it was emblematic of his attitude. Everton’s history and the mindset of the fans appeared to be incidental to him.
There were many occasions where his demeanour caused annoyance to Goodison diehards. After a gut-wrenching home derby defeat when Sadio Mane scored in the 94th minute, Koeman entered the press room afterwards laughing and smiling. To the Dutchman it was just another defeat. For Evertonians any loss to Liverpool, never mind one in such dispiriting circumstances, is a calamity. David Moyes recognised the undercurrents that determined Goodison’s sense of self, embraced them and rode them through the bad times. Koeman did not care. When he hit his nadir he had few friends to defend him.
The start of his second season on Merseyside was grim. After spending £140million in the transfer window, expectations were high. Koeman’s fate was determined by three players, all of whom he wanted badly. The two he got made it easy to question the manager’s eye for a player. Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen cost almost £70million between them and their impact was marginal. The third player was Olivier Giroud, earmarked as a replacement for Romelu Lukaku, who had been sold to Manchester United. When the pursuit of Giroud failed, Everton were left without a top-class striker. Nine games into his second season Koeman was sacked. His only regret seemed to be it interrupted his forward motion towards the Nou Camp. There were plenty of other people to share the responsibility for the chaos at Goodison but Koeman’s detached manner made it easier for him to be the focus of the blame.
The spell in charge of Holland has restored most of the damage done by his departure from Merseyside three years ago. Catalonia will embrace the Dutchman once again but getting this dream role is only the beginning. Keeping it will be a tough prospect given the dysfunction at the Nou Camp. Koeman might have to change his direct, no-nonsense style to adapt to the egos of the squad.
The biggest positive for Quique Setien’s replacement is that he understands and connects with Barca’s underpinning philosophies. It is a labour of love rather than a job. Koeman’s emotional investment will win him friends, which might give him some leeway if he is not winning games.
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