Well-run organisations think long term, but given the randomness inherent in football, clubs can be forgiven for taking a gamble from time to time.
That’s especially true when things are going badly. We often hear the adage that one shouldn’t change a winning team, and the inverse of that holds that the time to take a risk is when things are at their worst, and there is least to lose.
There was an element of that logic in the appointment of Quique Setien as manager at Barcelona back in January. Things were as dire on the pitch as they were behind the scenes, and Ernesto Valverde’s “safe pair of hands” were looking more and more like they were delivering the club to mediocrity again.
Once it was decided he had to go, and once it was clear that top candidates like Xavi Hernandez were either unwilling or unavailable, riskier candidates like Setien came to the fore.
The visionary former Real Betis coach probably wouldn’t have been given a job like this under normal circumstances, but with the season already looking lost, this appeared to be a smart opportunity for Barcelona to gamble without too much on the line.
Chuck in the Cantabrian until the end of the season, see what he can do with what’s available to him, and reassess in the summer. If he fails it’ll be no worse than Valverde failing, there will be more candidates to pick from in the summer anyway – and if he succeeds it becomes a brilliant appointment.
All sound logic, one might think. Nobody was counting on a global pandemic shutting down football for a matter of months. Setien was in charge for just 12 matches with some very mixed results and performances before the world ground to a halt. That’s neither enough time to condemn the experiment as a failure, nor confirm it as a success.
Setien has already been in charge for a few months, and assuming the season is resumed at some point in the summer, will presumably see out the rest of the Blaugrana’s games whenever they restart. That will total a period of almost 9 months in all likelihood.
There will then be a very short turnover before the 20/21 season starts, as European leagues race to minimise the disruption to future campaigns.
That means that Barcelona will have just weeks to analyse how Setien has done, figure out if they want to replace him, then contact and secure that person.
What looked like a relatively risk-free gamble has now become a 9 month commitment to an outsider candidate. Meanwhile possible candidates like Xavi who were planning their own careers around this summer being decisive, suddenly find themselves in limbo again, unsure whether this means they should sign up for another season where they are, or position themselves to be available later this year.
A fractured Barcelona board preoccupied with infighting now appear responsible for a far bigger risk than they ever intended.