Koeman’s first year at Barcelona: a mix of Cruijff and Van Gaal

It was well after eleven o’clock on Saturday evening. A heavy rain shower still lashed the Valdebebas sports complex, when Ronald Koeman after the Clásico appeared before the cameras. With a cynical smile on his windblown face, the 58-year-old FC Barcelona coach almost immediately asked the interviewer a counter-question. “You say. Did you think it was a penalty or not? ” There was no answer, to which Koeman continued with an umbrella in his hand: “You certainly don’t want to burn your fingers.” And the Dutchman was gone.

The reaction of Koeman after the 2-1 lost top match against Real Madrid was somewhat like a mix between Johan Cruijff and Louis van Gaal. Despite a defeat, still verbally try to win a moral victory, and then react with gestures to a journalist who does not share his opinion. The next day it became clear that his outburst was not a whim. Also via Twitter he pointed out to referee Jesús Gil Manzano on his failure. It is typical of the trainer who was inspired by both in the past as a student of Cruijff and Van Gaal. It partly shaped him into the trainer he is today; great in victory, small in defeat.

Zidane’s opposite

In that respect, Koeman is the opposite of Zinedine Zidane (48). On the face of the French coach of Real Madrid, it was hard to read on Saturday evening that his team had beaten the arch rival from Barcelona for the second time this season. Zidane stoically dismissed himself and attributed the success to his players. “I am very happy for them. They are all committed. Everyone wants to play. That is the strength of this team. ”

Although Zidane then still spoke warning words about the predatory exploitation that is being perpetrated by the very heavy program on his selection: “Physically we are at the limit. I don’t know how this will continue. ” The return in the quarter-finals of the Champions League at Anfield against Liverpool awaits Real Madrid on Wednesday – in Madrid Real won 3-1.

Back to Koeman and FC Barcelona. He no longer has to worry about European club football after Paris Saint-Germain’s early elimination in the Champions League last month.

Perhaps that was actually a blessing in retrospect. Because Koeman and his team managed to establish himself with his team in a few months time with a series of resounding results in the competition from a virtually hopeless position to become the title contender. A gap of eleven points on Atlético Madrid was canceled out in the run-up to the classic; en passant Barça reached the cup final against Athletic Bilbao. It is scheduled for Saturday, April 17 at Estadio de La Cartuja in Seville. Koeman can win his first prize as a coach of FC Barcelona. Or will he fall as a loser against the Basques after the lost final battle in the Super Cup, just like in January?

Profit or loss. Never before in his career has this affected his mood as much as it is now, as a Barcelona conductor. His dream job. But that started last summer by no means ideal. Koeman was brought in by the then chairman Josep Maria Bartomeu mainly as a rubble cleaner. He got hold of a totally disoriented team, which was humiliated 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League and did not win a single prize last season, for the first time since 2007/2008.

Impossible assignment

Koeman signed the almost impossible task to win over club legend Lionel Messi, to say goodbye to his buddy Luís Suárez and to build a new successful team without too much investment. That went by trial and error. Koeman was fortunate that the administrative and financial disarray overshadowed ignominious defeats against Getafe, Cádiz and Real Madrid. There was simply no mandate and no money to soon say goodbye to the former defender. Only some candidate presidents alluded to Koeman’s departure.

Without too much direct pressure from outside – due to the corona crisis, there is still a lack of spectators at matches in Spain – Koeman built his team. First celebrated, then almost broken and recovering. Illustrative of his career.

It took a while before he fell from his faith and exchanged the conservative 4-2-3-1 system he introduced for the old Cruijffian way of playing: 4-3-3. As of January, all the puzzle pieces seemed to fall into place when he switched to a 3-5-2 formation. By fitting in young players such as Óscar Mingueza, Ronald Araújo, Pedri and Sergiño Dest, Koeman succeeded in allowing previous top purchases such as Frenkie de Jong, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé to flourish. And he also managed to get Messi to take the team back by the hand.

Bravado

In the run-up to the duel with Real Madrid, FC Barcelona had won thirteen of the fourteen league matches this year. Modesty quickly gave way to bravado at Barcelona. Maybe too soon. Because it was so handy for Koeman to be there for the Clásico in Madrid to point out that his team at home against Real had been the better one despite the defeat (1-3)? And that his team was disadvantaged by the arbitration at the time, including a failing VAR?

And so FC Barcelona unconsciously presented itself as the favorite for the mutual meeting and thus for the title fight. Zidane thought it was all fine. The wayward Frenchman managed to put both his colleague Koeman and the Barcelona team in his place from his beloved underdog position.

Thanks to Karim Benzema, who is in top form, who scored an unparalleled opening goal from behind his standing leg after thirteen minutes. After that, Koeman’s team lagged behind. In the downpour that erupted during the game, the frustrations of Koeman and his players increased further, when Toni Kroos shot a free ball through the back of the turning Dest behind goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen after almost half an hour. After the break, Barcelona still got some hope through Mingueza’s connection goal. It turned out to be a vain hope.

Although Koeman saw that differently afterwards. His team had once again claimed much more. However, he had no influence on the referee. Again not. Koeman not only saw a penalty kick in a dive from Martin Braithwaite after contact with Ferland Mendy. Afterwards, Koeman also felt that more extra time could have been awarded than four minutes, with which he again showed himself a bad loser. But that could be different again next week after the cup final.
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