Ernesto Valverde’s time as Barcelona coach is up and everybody knows it.
Goal has reported that the 55-year-old will remain in charge until the end of the season, when his contract expires, but the writing is already on the wall.
For many, that should have been the case at the end of last season after Barcelona collapsed at Anfield in an historic Champions League debacle.
After renewing Valverde’s deal in February by one year, Barcelona were left with the uncomfortable choice of sacking him after the Liverpool capitulation or letting him fulfil that extra season.
They opted for the latter and, with the team still struggling to hit top form halfway through the season, there are few who think that was a good choice.
Barcelona capitulated in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final against Atletico Madrid, throwing away a 2-1 lead to lose 3-2 in Jeddah, although curiously produced one of their best performances of the season before a dramatic final 10 minutes.
Too little, too late; realistically there’s nothing Valverde can do to keep his job.
Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal has reportedly met with legendary former player Xavi Hernandez, the current coach of Al Sadd and someone who has never hidden his desire to coach the Catalan giants in the future.
The situation may dictate that Xavi will take over next season, despite the ex-midfielder not yet proving much in Qatar and still being on a steep learning curve.
Like Frank Lampard coming in at Chelsea, the call may come earlier than seems right, but there may not be anybody who wants to keep the seat warm after Valverde before Xavi eventually takes over.
Ronald Koeman is one option that has been mentioned, and the earliest he would leave the Netherlands is after Euro 2020 this summer.
Fans at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Saudi Arabia booed and jeered Valverde as he appeared on the big screens and some held banners telling him to leave.
While supporters at Camp Nou are more moderate, the crowd reaction at the Super Cup reflects a lot of internet chatter and the international fan opinion on Valverde. Many have never warmed to him.
Barcelona don’t see any advantage in sacking Valverde now but there is a feeling that enough is enough. The team aren’t playing well and that is an important factor at this club.
While they are top of the league at the halfway stage, the performances have been inconsistent and unconvincing, while Real Madrid are going from strength to strength.
It’s not sufficient just to win – as Valverde’s team have done plenty, with two league titles in his two seasons at the helm – but you have to win in the Barcelona style.
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has always been fond of Valverde, as a coach who will not pressure him and keeps a low profile, but other board members are not as keen on the former Athletic Bilbao man.
Despite the success his Barcelona have enjoyed, they have never shone in the way the team did under Luis Enrique with the ‘MSN’ attack of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, let alone matched the heights of Pep Guardiola’s reign.
The team is more reliant than ever on captain and talisman Messi and has shown nothing to convince fans they will be able to go the distance in Europe this season or are any less flimsy.
“[This defeat] reminded me of the previous fiascos in the Champions League,” said Rivaldo of their collapse against Atletico.
Valverde, beyond teenager Ansu Fati, has not leaned enough on La Masia for the liking of many supporters, who believe Riqui Puig and Carles Alena could give the midfield the Barcelona DNA it often lacks.
The latter has joined Real Betis on loan, frustrated by his lack of opportunities at Camp Nou.
Although Frenkie de Jong’s arrival has boosted the core of the side, they still look disjointed and marque summer signing Antoine Griezmann has had a hit-and-miss start to his Barcelona career.
Valverde’s Barcelona have never had much character or personality, winning two leagues by virtue of having the best player in the world, and the best squad in the country.
The success has not been hollow but neither Real Madrid nor Atletico have been capable of running Messi and his team-mates close.
Valverde will eventually leave Barcelona with the history books reflecting his coaching as more than adequate, but his era will not be one cherished by many of the club’s supporters.