In Depth

Ronald Koeman’s big Barcelona project: rebuild a squad around ‘pillar’ Lionel Messi

After the total humiliation by Bayern Munich, can the Dutchman bring total football back to the Camp Nou?

Ronald Koeman may well be walking into one of the biggest - and hardest - jobs in world football right now.

The Dutchman has left his position as head coach of the Netherlands to take the top role at Spanish giants FC Barcelona, signing a two-year contract until 30 June 2022. 

Formerly a manager of many clubs including Ajax, Feyenoord, Southampton and Everton, the 57-year-old is no stranger to Catalonia. 

A defender or midfielder in his playing days, blaugrana legend Koeman spent six seasons at Barcelona and won four La Liga titles. He was also the club’s assistant coach from 1998 to 2000. 

His career highlight, however, was scoring the winning goal at Wembley Stadium as Barca beat Sampdoria 1-0 to lift the European Cup for the first time in 1992. 

Barca’s head coach at the old Wembley that day was the legendary Johan Cruyff. Koeman will be hoping to emulate his countryman by bringing “total football” back to the Camp Nou.

It will be a massive task.

Squad rebuild

It’s not been the best 12 months to be a head coach of Barcelona. Ernesto Valverde won two La Liga titles but was sacked in January this year after a run of poor results. 

Quique Setién, Valverde’s replacement, lasted only 25 games before getting the axe. After watching rivals Real Madrid lift the Spanish league title all hopes on any trophies this season rested on Barca’s Champions League campaign.    

Setién’s team beat Napoli 3-1 in the round of 16 but their next match would bring total humiliation.

The 8-2 hammering by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final has gone down as one of the worst results in Barcelona’s history and saw Setién’s spell in charge swiftly brought to a bitter end.  

Koeman arrives at the Camp Nou with a brief of rebuilding the first-team squad and rebuilding the confidence of the club’s fans. 

Before the official announcement was made on Wednesday, BBC Sport reported that Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu revealed Koeman would replace Setién and indicated a squad overhaul was going to take place.   

“The renewal will be as deep as necessary,” said Bartomeu. “I decided to give this generation the opportunity for another year. Maybe it was time to start the renovation last year. There is money but Covid-19 has reduced income so we have to reduce payroll to be able to bring in new footballers. 

“It is not a club crisis. It is just a sports crisis, which we must fix.”

Lionel Messi is captain of Barcelona and the Argentine national team

David Ramos/Getty Images

Build the team around ‘pillar’ Messi 

Despite the poor results, Koeman does inherit a squad featuring the world’s best player.

There has been question marks over Lionel Messi’s future at Barcelona, but Bartomeu is confident the Argentine star will stay and Koeman will build his team around the brilliant No.10. 

“Messi wants to end his career at Barca, he has said that many times,” said the Barcelona president. “I have spoken with Koeman and the pillar of our project is Messi. 

“He has a contract until 2021, I speak a lot with Leo and more regularly with his father. He is number one in the world. There is no doubt that in Koeman’s new project you can count on Messi.”

Only seven players not for sale

With the first-team now set to undergo a wider restructuring, a number of senior stars could be heading for the exit door at the Camp Nou. 

Spanish newspaper Marca reports that Bartomeu has named seven players who the club are not willing to sell this summer.

Speaking to Barca TV, Bartomeu said: “Who’s not for sale? Leo Messi. He knows that. He’s the best player in the world.

“We’d also be talking about [Marc-Andre] ter Stegen, [Nelson] Semedo, [Frenkie] de Jong, [Clement] Lenglet, [Ousmane] Dembele... [Antoine] Griezmann too.”

Teenager Ansu Fati is also expected to stay but Marca says the future is up in the air for players such as Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal and Luis Suarez.

With transfers and pre-season on the agenda, it promises to be a busy start to Koeman’s spell as the new Barcelona head coach.

Welcome back to the Camp Nou - the rebuild starts now. 

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