Barcelona return to the Netherlands in search of Valverde’s replacement

EINDHOVEN, NETHERLANDS - JANUARY 26: Phillip Cocu during the Dutch Eredivisie match between PSV v FC Groningen at the Philips Stadium on January 26, 2019 in Eindhoven Netherlands (Photo by Edwin van Zandvoort/Soccrates/Getty Images)
EINDHOVEN, NETHERLANDS - JANUARY 26: Phillip Cocu during the Dutch Eredivisie match between PSV v FC Groningen at the Philips Stadium on January 26, 2019 in Eindhoven Netherlands (Photo by Edwin van Zandvoort/Soccrates/Getty Images) /
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Barcelona sees its future in the Netherlands

The Netherlands has produced some of the greatest managers of all-time, and Barcelona share a rich history with the country. Dutch players and managers have had a huge impact on the club’s history, and those glory days could be set to return to the Camp Nou.

Johan Cruyff is the pathbreaking manager that Barça have ever had, as the Ajax legend paved the way for Pep Guardiola’s success. Louis van Gaal gave debuts to Carles Puyol, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Víctor Valdés while Frank Rijkaard led Barça to its first Champions League title in the 21st century.

After the appointment of Guardiola, the Dutch flavour faded away despite the fact that an entire generation of players had been entering their prime. But now, Barça have recognised that the future of European football will lie in the Netherlands and are acting on it.

Frenkie de Jong has already been brought in from Ajax, while club president Josep Maria Bartomeu has said that Barça are very interested in signing Matthijs de Ligt. The club is also very close to signing 18-year old Groningen defensive midfielder Ludovit Reis.

Now, Barça could go as far as hiring a Dutch manager. Ernesto Valverde has failed to lead the side to the Champions League title for the second season in a row despite the fact that Barça were heavy favourites to win the treble after securing the league title with 3 games to spare.

The Basque coach is expected to be sacked at the end of the season, or could even tender his resignation. Barça are currently preparing for that, and have a few names in mind, including Real Betis head coach Quique Setién and former PSG manager Laurent Blanc.

But Barça are also considering Ajax manager Erik ten Hag. The former Utrecht coach has done very well with a youthful Ajax side, playing a huge part in the development of players like David Neres and Noussair Mazraoui apart from the Dutch duo of De Ligt and De Jong.

Under his leadership, Ajax eliminated giants like Real Madrid and Juventus in the Champions League. The Godenzonen have also won the KNVB Cup, and are competing with PSV Eindhoven for the Eredivisie title.

Ten Hag has given tremendous creative freedom to his attackers, most notably Hakim Ziyech and Dušan Tadić. They have combined with attacking full-backs Nicolás Tagliafico and Noussair Mazraoui to find the back of the net over a 100 times in the league this season.

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The 49-year old former Twente man has also changed the game of many players completely, including former defensive midfielder Donny van de Beek and experienced campaigner Daley Blind. Ten Hag’s attractive brand of football has earned him admirers at Barça.

But the club should also consider other options, most notably ex-Culé Giovanni van Bronckhorst. The former Netherlands international knows the club, and has assisted Ronald Koeman, who is also a Barça legend. Moreover, he is more prolific than Erik ten Hag.

He led Feyenoord to its first Eredivisie title in 18 years, and also won two consecutive KNVB Cups with his side. But Van Bronckhorst is going to leave at the end of the season, when his contract expires, making him available for appointment.

The former Barça left-back has overseen a golden period in Feyenoord’s stagnating history, making great bargain signings like that of Nicolai Jørgensen and Steven Berghuis. Van Bronckhorst has also developed youngsters at Feyenoord, most notably Tonny Vilhena and Jeremiah St. Juste.

Another Dutch manager who is currently without a club is Phillip Cocu, who played under both Louis van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard at Barça. He has an impeccable record as PSV Eindhoven head coach, having led the club to a KNVB Cup and three Eredivisie titles.

The Barça influence on his style of coaching at PSV was clear, as he used a 4-3-3 formation with a sweeper keeper in Jeroen Zoet and marauding full-backs in Santiago Arias and Jetro Willems. Cocu also oversaw the emergence of current stars like Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum.

The former Barça midfielder is also responsible for the breakthrough of Steven Bergwijn and Hirving Lozano. Overall, Cocu has a great record with youngsters and his style of football at PSV Eindhoven was striking similar to the tactics advocated by Johan Cruyff.

Phillip Cocu is as good an option as Giovanni van Bronckhorst, if not better. It seems as if Barça will return to the Netherlands for a new manager, but there are question marks as to who that person will be. Will the club choose a former player, or go for Erik ten Hag?

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Ten Hag could bring De Ligt along with him if he is appointed, but his lack of experience could make him a risky bet.