Laporta says Koeman will keep job as Barcelona coach

AP , Sunday 3 Oct 2021

Barcelona s head coach Ronald Koeman watches play during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Cadiz and Barcelona at the Nuevo Mirandilla stadium in Cadiz, Spain, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. AP

In an unexpected move, Barcelona's club president quashed reports of the imminent firing of Ronald Koeman on Saturday when he said that the Dutch coach will keep his job.

``Koeman will continue being the coach of Barcelona,'' Joan Laporta said hours before Barcelona's match at Atletico Madrid that many reports in the Spanish media speculated could be Koeman's last.

``Today, regardless of the result, Koeman will still be Barcelona's coach,'' Laporta told reporters in Madrid. ``He has a contract, (and) we hope that he can get us back on the winning path, playing the way we want. I know he will give it his all.''

It was the first public statement Laporta has made since a bitter 3-0 loss at Benfica in the Champions League on Wednesday sparked various reports that Koeman's days were numbered.

Koeman himself said on Friday that he imagined that the rumors of his exit were ``probably true'' with Barcelona losing both its Champions League matches, putting it in danger of failing to qualify for the knockout rounds for the first time in 20 years.

Laporta's public backing of Koeman came before another humbling defeat: a 2-0 loss to Diego Simeone's Atletico.

After the match, Koeman said he would have liked for Laporta to back him earlier but that ``it is never late to make clear where we all stand.''

``I spoke (with Laporta) last night by phone and this morning about the team and my situation, and I asked the club to clarify its position about its coach,`` Koeman said. ``It is very important for me as a coach and for the squad, and it is important for the president to take this decision. But I know that this is Barcelona and we have to win games.''

Koeman said that he didn't how long Laporta would stick by him if the results did not improve. He pointed to a three-game home stretch after next week's international break as key to start a turnaround.

Spanish media had reported that Laporta was considering Xavi Hernandez, Andrea Pirlo and Roberto Martinez as possible replacements.

But, at least for now, Laporta is standing by the former Barcelona defender who etched his name into the Catalan club's history thanks to his final-winning goal that earned Barcelona its first of five European Cups in 1992.

``We believe that he needs our confidence because he is one of ours; he loves Barca,'' Laporta said about Koeman, who left his job coaching the Netherlands to take over the club at the start of the 2020-21 season amid institutional turmoil that finally led to the resignation of ex-president Josep Bartomeu.

``He decided to become Barcelona's coach in a moment of extreme difficulty for the club both on the field and in the boardroom,'' Laporta said. ``It is complicated, the results are not good. But I ask our fans to keep their faith in our coach; he deserves it and he believes in this team.``

As a coach, Koeman has had to weather the club's financial crisis caused by the poor management of Laporta's predecessors and the pandemic. The collapse in revenues and ballooning debt forced Barcelona to let Lionel Messi go and get rid of other players, including Antoine Griezmann, this summer.

Laporta's relationship with the 58-year-old Koeman, however, has never been ideal. Laporta actively sought to replace him last offseason, only to finally decide to keep him on.

It is possible that one factor influencing Laporta's sticking with Koeman is the financial bite the cash-strapped club would have to face by breaking his contract that is set to expire at the end of the season.

Barcelona closed the 2020-21 financial year with 481 million euros ($557 million) in losses and in poor shape to shell out for severance pay. Its salary cap has been slashed to 97 million euros ($113 million), about 285 million euros ($334 million) less than a year ago and seven times smaller than that of Real Madrid.

And Koeman's outspoken manner, rarely shying away from dishing out what he considers fair criticism about players and the club, may have also chided at times. On Wednesday, for example, he said that while he felt the support of his players, he had no idea if the club was still behind him.

But Koeman did steer Barcelona to the Copa del Rey title last season and has successively nurtured along several young players, above all Spain midfielder Pedri Gonzalez. He now insists that the team needs to get back injured players like Ousmane Dembele and Martin Braithwaite and have Ansu Fati and Philippe Coutinho, who recently recovered from injuries, regain their full fitness before its potential can truly be judged.

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