Setien’s Barcelona dream turning nightmarish

Setien’s Barcelona dream turning nightmarish
Barcelona head coach Quique Setien in pensive mood before this month’s La Liga clash with Real Betis. ‘All my life I’ve adapted to where I’ve been,’ he said. Picture: Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

REALITY is very quickly catching up with Quique Setien, whose first month in his dream job as Barcelona coach has not gone as he would have hoped.

Setien is still publicly professing his happiness in a position that he has admitted he never thought likely to be offered.

But the weeks since he replaced Ernesto Valverde have brought stumble after stumble for the Camp Nou club — both on and off the pitch.

Today’s LaLiga game against in-form Getafe at the Camp Nou could further derail Setien’s ‘project’, ahead of looming crunch clashes with Napoli in the Champions League and Real Madrid domestically.

On arrival, Setien must have known that Barca’s squad depth and quality was at its lowest level in over a decade. Despite over €1 billion being spent on 24 new players since 2015, the team has become gradually more and more dependent on captain and talisman Lionel Messi.

This was the issue that was so strongly pointed out last week by Messi — whose Instagram rebuke to technical director Eric Abidal was a warning to the ‘higher-ups’ at the Camp Nou not to blame him or his teammates if things continue to go wrong for the remainder of the season.

Most obviously Setien is struggling to fill a big gap at centre-forward, where the seriously injured Luis Suarez may not play again this season. And at centre-back, where the only three specialist options include Samuel Umtiti, who has never recovered from a knee injury first suffered in 2018.

Despite all this being well known during the January window, Barca made no signings to fill the gaps. Instead they moved on a number of youngsters who could have helped out, as club president Josep Maria Bartomeu needed funds for cashflow reasons.

Setien’s patched-up side subsequently losing in La Liga at Valencia and exiting the Copa del Rey to Athletic Bilbao has led some noisy fans and pundits at the Camp Nou to demand the board attempt an ‘emergency’ signing of a centre-forward outside the transfer window.

The regulations only allow Spain-based players to join, while the club’s stretched finances further narrow the options. Hence even proposed initial targets like Real Sociedad’s Willian Jose and Real Betis’ Loren Moreno — neither really Barca quality players - were too expensive.

So attention has turned to Getafe’s Angel Rodriguez, a 32-year-old journeyman who has performed admirably in recent seasons, but is still well short of the usual quality expected at the Camp Nou.

These are not normal times though, as shown by the very fact of ex-Lugo, Las Palmas and Betis coach Setien now in the Barca hotseat.

“All my life I’ve adapted to where I’ve been,” Setien said yesterday.

“Hopefully we get the green light to sign a player. But we’ll always have 11 to play with. We will adapt and find the path.”

Into the squad for this afternoon’s game comes Rey Manaj, a 22-year-old Albanian striker signed by Barca’s youth team for €700,000 in January from Albacete, for whom he scored three goals in 10 Segunda Division games.

Hanging over everything is the question of what Messi makes of all the chaos, especially given the clause in his contract which allows him to leave this summer for free. The Argentine has been quiet since his Instagram take-down of Abidal, and has not commented on his new boss’ methods.

Setien’s Barcelona dream turning nightmarish

“I’m going to take advantage of being here and enjoy every second until I have to leave,” said Setien on his presentation on January 18.

“I wake up every day and say: ‘Jesus, I’m going to train these players!”

It would be no surprise if all the stresses of his first weeks mean Setien now adds a little prayer too — given so many of Barca’s problems are really outside his control.

A reunion with Getafe coach Jose Bordalas, an old personal rival, is surely not what Setien needs right now.

Their bitter rivalry goes back to April 2013, when Setien’s Lugo lost a Segunda Division game 0-1 at home to Bordalas’s Alcorcon.

Afterwards the now Barca coach attacked Alcorcon’s tactics - saying they “did not deserve to win”, were “painful to watch” and “I hope they don’t get promoted”.

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The feud has festered over the years as self-professed football purist Setien has called Bordalas’ teams “lamentable” and “not football as I recognise it”. The less loquacious Bordalas simply replied by saying his players always “show their balls”.

While Setien’s Johan Cruyff-inspired philosophy has taken him to the Camp Nou, his teams have won just two and lost six of 10 meetings with Bordalas’ super-efficient sides, even though the latter has generally had less talented players.

The pair did not shake hands after Getafe won 2-1 at Real Betis last March, a defeat which led directly to Setien being on the market when Barca were casting around for a coach last month.

Getafe have never won at the Camp Nou on 16 previous visits, but they go into this afternoon’s games after four straight La Liga wins, without conceding a goal, to climb to third in the LaLiga table.

Another victory for Bordalas over Setien would be especially painful to take, both for the Barca coach and his team’s always difficult to please supporters.

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