Even by Ernesto Valverde’s usual deadpan standard, his blank expression painted the picture of a man without any answers. Barcelona have suffered a number of inglorious defeats in recent times, most notably in the Champions League against Liverpool and Roma, but their loss to Levante at the start of the month felt significant in a different way.
With this defeat, Valverde was seen to have passed the point of no return. Most expect the 55-year-old to depart the Camp Nou by the end of the season and so talk has already turned to who will succeed him. Names have been put forward (Quique Setien, Erik ten Hag and Roberto Martinez have all been mentioned) but one has already risen to the top.
Ronald Koeman is a Barcelona legend. As a member of the club’s 1992 European Cup-winning squad, the Dutchman is remembered fondly around the Camp Nou. Now, it seems that he is destined to one day take over as Barca manager. Pieces are falling into place for Koeman to be the man who succeeds Valverde.
“[Joining Barcelona] is a possibility, but only after Euro 2020,” Koeman told reporters last week.
“I don’t know if I’ll keep [talking about the Barcelona job] in the future because it’s a bit strange to speak about the possibility of going to the club while you’re the Netherlands coach.”
Barca favourite and director of youth Kluivert also thinks a Koeman return could happen.
“I know Ronald very well," Kluivert said of his compatriot, in an interview with Spanish publication Sport.
"Out of respect for Valverde, I don't want to position myself. (Ronald) is a very good coach, he's doing really well with the Dutch national team. One day? I don't know, maybe, but I insist, out of respect for Valverde, I don't want to talk about other managers when there's one in a job at this club."
Koeman's reputation took a hit at Everton. A solid if unspectacular season and a seventh-placed finish with a strong home record was followed by a summer splurge on three No 10s - Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klassen all arrived.
The balance was broken and performances and results unravelled to the point he was dismissed.
However, Koeman has restored his reputation as Netherlands manager over the past two years.
Indeed, the Dutch appear to be on the brink of another golden generation with the likes of Virgil Van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong giving them a stronger basis for the future than any other European nation.
Netherlands’ Euro 2020 qualification, confirmed with the 1-1 away draw against Northern Ireland on Saturday, means Koeman will get the chance to lead his country to a major tournament and put a bookend on his Oranje reign. It’s at this point that Koeman could be persuaded to take on a new challenge, with his Netherlands contract reportedly containing a clause which would allow him to leave for free should Barcelona come calling.
What’s more, Koeman’s success in leading the Netherlands to their first major tournament since the 2014 World Cup would boost his C.V. to such an extent that it would qualify him in the eyes of many fans and pundits for the Barcelona job. Club legend and director Eric Abidal believes he’s ‘fits the criteria’.
Of course, his status would be boosted even further if the Dutch go on to challenge at Euro 2020.
Barca supporters have long complained about the pragmatic ways of Valverde. They bemoan the departure from the club’s trademark ‘Tiki-Taka’ philosophy and in Koeman they see a man who embodies their glorious past. This isn’t to say that the Dutchman would necessarily bring back ‘Tiki-Taka’ in its pure form, but it seems that he will be given a chance to put his own mark on Barcelona as their next manager.