Ronald Koeman, Barcelona and a trip back in time

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DEAD KOEMAN WALKING

Children of the Eighties will always have a soft spot in their hearts for Barcelona. That’s because, during that special decade, they were worse than useless. Every pore oozed the purest tincture of failure. A basic rabble, they spent the majority of the decade kicking folk in the knackers. They couldn’t get a tune out of Diego Maradona. They touched cloth at the mere sight of Dundee United. They won fewer titles than Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao, never mind Real Madrid, and the one they did win is mainly remembered these days for the subsequent Big Cup campaign that culminated in that glorious spot-kick debacle against Steaua Bucharest. Més que un joke. They were so much fun.

But then came the Dream Team, then Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Figo, then a Pep Guardiola side so good it could afford to carry that showboating Good-time Charlie currently sprawled decadently across the benches of Paris. Better teams, sure, but they didn’t spark much joy in the farce-loving neutral. However, great news! It would appear those days are on their way back, and with some speed and all. The recent Big Cup humiliations against Roma, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Bayern Munich may have long hinted that something like this may be in the post, but the latest fiasco, in which Barça required an injury-time goal to salvage a point at home against La Liga strugglers Granada, sends perhaps the strongest signal yet.

It was more the manner than anything else. Having shipped a goal after 88 seconds, Ronald Koeman’s side spent the rest of the evening slinging in crosses at the rate of one every two minutes, having pushed Gérard Pique and Ronald Araujo up top to work their lumbering magic alongside former Newcastle United loanee Luuk de Jong. That it had come to this for the club of Luis Suárez, Hristo Stoichkov and Luis Suárez. To be fair, the tactic did lead to Araujo’s last-gasp goal, so hats off to Koeman, the latest Dutch tactical genius to preach a cutting-edge philosophy at the Barcelona school. Whether his methods will prove quite as seminal as those implemented by Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff and Louis van Gaal remains to be seen – though if the rumours linking Antonio Conte, Xavi and Andrea Pirlo with the club are anything to go by, Koeman better pick up his legs quick-smart if he wants to cement his legacy. We give it a week.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“This is just the beginning of the journey … and the hard work now intensifies as we begin the search for our first acts to sign … I am confident that we have a great team in place to make the label a huge success” – Wolves commercial growth suit Russell Jones announces the launch of Wolves Records. Expect some young fado artists to be brought in on loan imminently.

RECOMMENDED LOOKING

David Squires scours his back catalogue and picks out “10 panels from the last few years I hate the least” – including Emo Mourinho, the North Bank Redemption, Shoegaze Mr Roy and more.

FIVER LETTER

“Re: Joy Clancy’s refereeing query (yesterday’s Fiver letters), there is precedent for the game to continue with just one assistant referee, as per Accrington v Crewe in 2019. According to Big Website’s report, other supporters volunteered to take over with the flag, but the managers were happy to go lopsided. Maybe they thought that, having not warmed up before taking to the pitch, the fan wouldn’t have been in tune with the pace of the game” – Jim Hearson.

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NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

Hungary must play their next home World Cup qualifier behind closed doors and pay a £158,000 fine as punishment for the racist abuse aimed by their fans at England players in Budapest this month, fresh off Uefa’s punishment in July.

Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso has stopped taking the knee because he feels the power of the action has been diluted. “I’m against every type of discrimination,” he said. “I just prefer to put my finger to the badge where it says: ‘No to racism’, like they do in some other sports and football in other countries.”

Former Swansea boss Steve Cooper has accepted the poisoned chalice at Nottingham Forest. “Steve was our first choice … his record of developing young talent is exceptional,” tooted chief suit Dane Murphy.

Massimiliano Allegri insists there was nothing unnatural about his on-camera funk after Serie A relegation-botherers Juventus were held by Milan. “It is normal that I have a post-game outburst, as I am human,” he roared.

Massimiliano Allegri, earlier.
Massimiliano Allegri, earlier. Photograph: Alessandro Di Marco/EPA

Liverpool’s 16-year-old winger Kaide Gordon will be among the young “diamonds” to feature in their Milk Cup clash at Norwich. “[He has] fire in each moment that he touches the ball,” whooped assistant manager Pep Lijnders. “He passes players like they are not standing there.”

The Queen’s Celtic made a post-tax loss of £12.6m last season as Covid-19 and reduced transfer income hit home. “We are satisfied that we took sufficient and appropriate steps to mitigate the losses and control costs in the business,” droned chief suit Ian Bankier.

And because this is where we are now, Mauricio Pochettino has had to publicly justify substituting Lionel Messi in PSG’s 2-1 win over Lyon. “We saw that during the game he was checking his knee and made some gestures,” he sighed, before confirming the forward will miss the 6-0 win over bottom-placed Metz with bruising to said knee.

STILL WANT MORE?

Fulham fan Hayley Davinson writes beautifully about the joy and pain of a season-ticket friendship.

Norwich have lost 15 Premier League games in a row. Oof! Is there any hope for them, asks Ben McAleer.

Vegan tarts, games of “Quadrant” and a new coffee machine: Ben Fisher goes behind the scenes at Wycombe.

A quiet night beckons for Wycombe …
A quiet night beckons for Wycombe … Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

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