Friday, May 27, 2022

Why Ronald Koeman’s status as a Barcelona legend can’t save him after another Champions League embarrassment

Several coaches came into this midweek slate of UEFA Champions League group stage games with points to prove or pressure to alleviate, and while Mauricio Pochettino of PSG and Massimiliano Allegri of Juventus did just that, Ronald Koeman and Barcelona sunk to new lows.

Barcelona were thumped, 3-0, by Benfica at Estadio Da Luz on Wednesday while Pochettino managed to get a 2-0 win over Manchester City out of his players, and Allegri a narrow 1-0 success over defending champions Chelsea.

Darwin Nunez (twice) and Rafa Silva were on target for the Portuguese hosts in Lisbon as Barca toiled miserably and put little pressure on the Portuguese giants’ goal before finishing with 10 men when Eric Garcia saw a red card.

This latest sad episode in Barca’s demise is yet another affront to the club’s glittering history and one more staggering low in what has already been an incredibly rapid fall from grace for the once-proud powerhouse from La Liga.

Instead of a valiant fight against testing circumstances, Koeman’s team rolled over well before the game was finished and surrendered to Jorge Jesus’ men. Gerard Pique’s first-half substitution while on a booking was a particularly poignant illustration of this crisis.

At the heart of it all is Koeman, who has ridden out rocky moments in Catalonia before but now finds himself having maxed out his club legend reputation. The 58-year-old, who made 192 appearances as a player for Barca between 1989-95, is looking more and more like a sacrificial lamb about to be sent to slaughter with every passing week.

A win over Levante over the weekend suggested that a corner had been turned by Barca, but it has proved to be a false dawn and not even Koeman’s strong ties at Camp Nou look capable of saving his skin now as he admitted his future is “out of (his) hands.”

“I feel supported by my players,” said Koeman after the final whistle. “Very supported. I do not know about the club, though. I do not know what Barca think nor what they will decide regarding my future. It is not in my hands.”

The players appeared to recognize that they must shoulder their fair share of blame for the current problems with Sergio Busquets and Frenkie De Jong facing up to the press after this latest debacle to defend Koeman.

“It is easy to sack the coach,” said Busquets. “The truth is that we are all responsible for this situation. It is a critical situation; we have to be honest.”

“In my opinion, the solution is not to change the coach,” added De Jong.

Conversely, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came into Wednesday’s game under increasing pressure of his own, and for a while it looked as if that would mount further when Villarreal took the lead at Old Trafford.

However, Cristiano Ronaldo’s late show came to the Norwegian’s rescue, and he is in fact the archetypal club legend who always seems to have just enough credit in the bank to avoid being dismissed.

Koeman, you feel, is beyond that now and not totally of his own doing as Barca’s problems have taken returning president Joan Laporta by surprise due to their severity. The current results are simply a reflection of the horrific mismanagement of the club for the past few years.

However, the Dutchman has not helped himself of late and this most recent showing of ineptitude might be the final straw unless Barca opt to give him until the end of this week with Atletico Madrid coming up in La Liga on Saturday.

Solskjaer continues to lead a charmed existence with the club where he largely made his name as a player. But there has been no shortage of damnation for Koeman — a genuine legend as a player for Barca — and it further underlines that patience is not limitless no matter how deep those emotional ties go.

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