The Coaching Carousel
Barcelona FC manager Ernesto Valverde, hoping to retain his position through the final season of his contract, was given the boot today after a meeting earlier today with team President Josep Maria Bartomeu. While the season hasn’t gone as well as the Blaugrana faithful would have liked, the final nail in the coffin was the team’s loss to Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup, denying Barca a piece of silverware they had thought was theirs to win.
While it is not uncommon for top-flight European clubs to terminate their managers when the teams’ run of form become pedestrian, a termination of this sort in the middle of the season is highly unusual. Furthermore, a Blaugrana termination of any sort is highly unusual, with the last manager to receive the axe being Louis Van Gaal in 2003.
Barcelona has been searching for their manager for a week. It was thought that former Barca great Xavi Hernandez would get the job he has coveted since his retirement, but he is currently in charge of Qatar giant Al Saad and has made it known that he intends to finish out the season there. Another name mentioned was former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, but it was rumored that the offered compensation package was less than what he was looking for and he declined to pursue the job, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by US soccer sportsbook enthusiasts. With Ronald Koeman wanting to finish the year as manager of the Dutch national team, the job was offered to and accepted by former Real Betis manager Quique Setien. While Setien’s contract is for three years, he might not want to unpack his bags. Included in the contract is a “break clause”, which means that at the end of each season, Barcelona has the option to terminate his contract without cause. Which means that at the end of the current season, Setien could find himself out of work while the Blaugrana pursues other candidates, say, Xavi or Koeman.
With Barcelona’s next match set to be played Sunday evening at home against mid-table Granada, look for the new manager to be announced with little fanfare but great expectations. Given the less-than-stellar manner that the Barcelona management handled Valverde’s termination process, there will be no “honeymoon” period. Just the usual Barcelona standard of winning each game lest Real Madrid become the new La Liga champions.
ElClasico was Fire… Literally
It was lit at Camp Nou, literally — before, during and after Wednesday’s El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou.
A large separatist protest erupted outside the stadium, starting hours before the match even began, and it grew violent quickly. Both trash cans and even a police car were set on fire, which prompted the riot squad to be summoned there. Protesters clashed with them at one point, which resulted in smoke from the fires even reaching the stands inside the stadium, which probably wasn’t good for players, coaches, fans or officials.
The videos really tale the tale of how crazy it was.
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 18, 2019
— Ruptly (@Ruptly) December 18, 2019
— Alex Maguire (@Alex_PT_Maguire) December 18, 2019
They even threw inflatable balls onto the pitch at one point, which was a bit unorthodox.
#Catalonia's pro-indepencence supporters throw inflatable balls onto the pitch in protest, causing a short pause in play in #ElClásico match in #Barcelona.#TsunamiDemocràtic
— [ David d'Ent.🎗#JoSócCDR ] (@denterd) December 18, 2019
Civil unrest continues, not only in the United States, but around the world, unfortunately.
Charlotte Gets A Team
Major League Soccer awarded a franchise to play in Charlotte, North Carolina earlier today, making it the 30th team in MLS. According to Commissioner Don Garber, this will likely be the last franchise awarded, at least for the time being. Garber went on to tout the potential financial growth of the league, no doubt justifying a record transfer fee of $325 million. Yet the 28th and 29th teams to be awarded franchises in the past couple of months, St. Louis and Sacramento, paid just $200 million. Has the value of the MLS as a league risen by 35% in the past two months? Or 65 times the original franchise fee of $5 million that investors paid in 1996 when the MLS began operations?
In purchasing an MLS franchise in Charlotte, David Tepper has touted the fact that seven million people live within an hour and a half drive of the Queen City, there are no major league teams that play in the city during the summer months, and he stated that the city has a fairly large Hispanic population that is not served by the other available sports.
His grand scheme calls for a new state-of-the-art stadium with a retractable roof to house both his NFL Carolina Panthers and the new MLS team, along with other sporting events and concerts. While there is no public estimate on the price of this new stadium, Tepper paid $2.275 billion to purchase the Carolina Panthers in 2018 and has just spent another $325 million for the MLS franchise fee. But while the Panthers have been playing in the NFL since 1993 and are an established commodity, Charlotte has had somewhat of a checkered past drawing fans to soccer venues.
The Carolina Lightnin’ team of the American Soccer League lasted just two years in the ’80s, and the USL’s lower division Charlotte Eagles, which folded a couple years ago into the Charlotte Independence and plays their home games at the Sportsplex in nearby Matthews, drew 31st out of 34 USL teams. So, while the NFL’s Panthers have filled to 97.9% of capacity in 2019 despite a lackluster season, banking on a return of Tepper’s initial investment in his newly- purchased MLS franchise is more of a risky proposition.
Now the wealthiest investor in MLS with a net worth of $12 billion, one would think that Tepper’s business acumen is above reproach. Perhaps his investment is a labor of love as well, given that he has coached locally seven years in the youth leagues. No matter what the reason, the overall value of the MLS has risen exponentially over the past year. Will the owners be rewarded with increased attendance and a more lucrative television deal, and the fans with an increase in the quality of play?