Ernesto Valverde is leading the race to be the next Barcelona boss as the Blaugrana look ahead to a new era in the summer.
At the beginning of March, current coach Luis Enrique announced his decision to leave at the end of the season and the Catalan club have been looking at a number of candidates for the role ever since then.
Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli was initially installed as favourite, but was ruled out by the Barca board after a dip in form and results, while it is now common knowledge that the Argentine is negotiating to take over his national team after the Albiceleste sacked Edgardo Bauza earlier this month.
Everton manager Ronald Koeman, a Barcelona legend in his time as a player at the Catalan club, was another name considered, but his unsuccessful spell at Valencia makes him something of a risk and the Blaugrana board have long admired Valverde – who has twice been shortlisted for the job in the past.
The 53-year-old spent two years at Barca as a player under Johan Cruyff and has a wealth of experience in La Liga as coach with Athletic (two spells), Espanyol, Villarreal and Valencia.
Out of contract in the summer, he has been contacted by Barca and is now unlikely to sign a new deal at San Mames for next season, although the Basque club are keen for him to stay in Bilbao.
Valverde is happy at Athletic and led the club to their first trophy in over 30 years by beating Barcelona in the Spanish Supercopa in 2015. However, he is well aware that it will be extremely difficult to take the team much further due to the side’s policy of only fielding Basque-born footballers and also the advanced age of key players such as Aritz Aduriz and Raul Garcia.
In the meantime, Barca have explored the continuity option of Luis Enrique’s assistant Juan Carlos Unzue, who hinted in a recent interview that he will be working next season, even if Luis Enrique is not.
However, Barcelona’s poor performances in recent weeks have led the board to believe that a fresh face with new ideas is needed to rejuvenate a team relying far too heavily upon its three famous forwards – Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Another name in the frame is former Barca player Oscar Garcia, current coach of Red Bull Salzburg in Austria and a student of Cruyff (with whom he worked when the Dutchman was in charge of the Catalunya national team).
Oscar’s ideas are the closest to those of the Dutch legend and that makes him a left-field choice for the Catalan club, but Valverde’s greater experience in La Liga means he remains the leading candidate to replace Luis Enrique this summer.
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