Ronald Koeman walked out of the Nou Camp gates for the final time, as a player, in 1995. A glittering career in Spain had come to an emotional end.
In 350 games wearing the famous claret and deep blue of Barca, Koeman had hit the back of the net 106 times – a remarkable feat for a defender – creating a string of memories along the way and forming a pure infatuation which would never leave him.
It is no secret that Koeman to this day remains utterly obsessed with his former club. He sure makes no attempts to hide it.
The Dutchman is proud to feature as such a storied figure in Barca’s jewelled history. He adores the club and now, at last, the Catalans are handing him the job he has always craved.
Quique Setien has been a dead man walking ever since the 8-2 humiliation by Bayern Munich on Friday night, his sacking set to be confirmed on Monday. It is no secret in Spain that Koeman will be his successor.
Ronald Koeman finds himself on the brink of being offered the one job he has forever craved
In 350 Barca games Koeman hit the back of the net 106 times and became a club icon
There is no longer much use in panicking at the Nou Camp. Put quite simply, the club finds itself at rock bottom.
Barca may boast the world’s greatest footballer in Lionel Messi, but all around him is crumbling. An empire whose last legs have given way.
Friday’s capitulation to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals has marked many ends.
Certainly the end of manager Setien. A likely end for sporting director Eric Abidal, and even club president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Dead wood will be axed from the ranks this summer, while several other bit-part players will be handed their P45s. A revamp from top to bottom is on the cards – a complete and utter cleanse of one of football’s all-time great clubs at one of their lowest ebbs.
And, at long last, Koeman has received the call he has always dreamed of.
Earlier this year Koeman moved his family to settle in his beloved Barcelona, perhaps giving the clearest indication yet of future intentions. Sportsmail takes a closer look at the man catching all the headlines.
During his playing career Koeman turned out for five clubs, four of which being decorated names from his homeland.
Yet despite being fondly remembered by the likes of Ajax and PSV Eindhoven, it is the affinity with Barca which strikes the deepest chord for Koeman.
In this sense the Dutchman sees himself as a one-club man, a footballer forged in the flames of Catalonia who left his own distinct mark upon the club.
A brief stint as assistant boss from 1998-2000 increased Koeman’s desire to manage Barca
Right now, this element of attachment is exactly what a rapidly deteriorating Barca need.
Bit by bit, week by week, the club are losing their sense of self. Even prior to the Bayern blitz in Lisbon – which itself carried a strong feeling of inevitability – one only has to look at how Barca finished their domestic campaign with a miserable slump at the feet of Osasuna on the penultimate weekend.
Koeman has carried his Barcelona affections with him everywhere he goes. The 57-year-old even has a personalised ‘BAR’ number plate on his black Bentley Continental to reference his link to the club.
Koeman will forever sing Barca’s praises, and finds himself unable to stop referring back to his roots there.
Such is Koeman’s adoration for his former club, he even has a personalised ‘BAR’ number plate
While manager of Everton, Koeman endeavoured to book his side into the same hotel – Sopwell House, near St Albans – during London fixtures. This same hotel was used by Barca as a training base before the 1992 European Cup final at Wembley, in which he scored the brilliant winning free-kick.
It is said that Koeman used to take great pleasure in stopping in the hotel’s ‘hall of fame corridor’ containing photographs of big-name guests, to take a moment to gaze at a shot of himself and the late Johan Cruyff during a training session at the facility.
This attachment and pure unadulterated love for the club is something Barca are pining for right now. They need to get back to their roots and quickly, or risk a once great dynasty being wiped entirely.
Despite all the historic connections, would Koeman be the right fit for Barca?
When it comes down to managerial capability, Koeman has proven himself more than astute and competent.
But perhaps it is another aspect of Koeman that Barca are turning to in their hour of need.
The manager of an elite European club must be a figurehead, and having a strong ego certainly helps with this.
Koeman (seen challenging David Ginola) was tough in the tackle and an artist with his passing
And thus, when it comes to ego, it has to be said Koeman is in possession of a very generous helping.
In his pomp Koeman was one of European football’s most marvelled stars, putting a Dutch spin on his defensive position and playing out into midfield. So versatile was the ginger-haired maestro that he could switch between positions depending on the level of opponent.
Koeman reinvented what it meant to be a defender, and much of what he was about can be seen in the great back-line stars of today.
Koeman’s former clubs, including Barca, regularly stroke his ego with throwback footage
The Dutchman has also frequently made reference to his status in the Groningen hall of fame
KOEMAN’S PLAYING HONOURS
Eredivisie title (x4), KNVB Cup (x3), European Cup (x2), La Liga title (x4), Copa del Rey, Supercopa Espana (x3), European Super Cup, UEFA European championship (Holland)
Dutch footballer of the year: 1987, 1988
UEFA Champions League top scorer 1993/94
Fierce in the tackle and an artist with the ball at his feet, Koeman triggered passages of play as quickly as he nullified them. All this quality over a long playing career leads, of course, to quite an impressive highlights reel.
And more fool you if you believe Koeman, with his stellar reputation and large ego to boot, is going to let anybody forget about this.
A quick flick through the social media profiles of the Dutchman provides an endless series of throwback montages.
Hat tips to scorching free-kicks of a bygone era, slow-motion focusing of pinpoint passes and, naturally, image after image of the hoisting of glistening silverware.
Former clubs Ajax, PSG, Gronigen and Barca regularly stroke the ego of Koeman with these reminder posts, and he gladly obliges.
His drive couldn’t be more apparent, and Koeman wants to make fresh Barca history to add to the reels of tomorrow.
For a club tumbling into the abyss, that is an exciting prospect.
Schooled in the ‘Total Football’ doctrine of Dutch football and Johan Cruyff, this is crucial for Barca, who will totally refuse to compromise on their identity, regardless of the desperate position they are currently in.
Koeman is well versed in the Barca approach, with the club hopeful he can instil the ideals as efficiently, and rapidly, as Pep Guardiola – another Cruyff disciple – did when returning to his former club.
Koeman got the best out of Romelu Lukaku at Everton and made the striker a household name
KOEMAN’S MANAGERIAL RECORD
Holland (assistant) 1997-98
Barcelona (assistant) 1998-00
Vitesse – 2000-01
Ajax – 2001-05
Benfica – 2005-06
PSV – 2006-07
Valencia – 2007-08
AZ Alkmaar – 2009
Feyenoord – 2011-14
Southampton – 2014-16
Everton – 2016-17
Holland – 2018-present
Eredivisie title (x3), KNVB Cup, Johan Cruyff Shield (x2), Portuguese Super Cup, Copa Del Rey,
Koeman showed glimpses of his brilliance in the Premier League, improving on Mauricio Pochettino’s job at Southampton before going on to land the Everton role and achieving European qualification.
Though things did not end as planned on Merseyside, Koeman brought a fresh approach to Goodison, making his players utilise space and focus on becoming a passing team with intent.
He would later admit the act of him falling upon his sword came in the failure to replace the goals of star striker Romelu Lukaku, who signed for Manchester United.
Under Koeman, however, Lukaku flourished and became a star name in England.
This nurturing showed Koeman’s adept talent of building a team around big names in order to maximise potential. At Barca, this is paramount.
In his current role as Holland manager, Koeman is cultivating another talent in Frenkie de Jong.
This naturally will appeal to Barca in their ongoing decision-making process, given that De Jong was signed from Ajax to be their leading star of the future.
Man-management, the improvement of youth and tactical astuteness are extremely high up on the list of what is needed right now at the Nou Camp, and Koeman ticks many boxes.
Koeman’s work with Frenkie de Jong in the Holland job is of particular interest to Barca
Barca have a real burning issue on their hands with Lionel Messi.
He may be 33, but in the Argentine they have arguably the greatest player the game has ever seen on their hands.
Yet the risk of him leaving has, for the first time ever, becoming terrifyingly real. With his contract set to end next summer, and no agreement currently in place, Messi has some huge decisions to make.
For this reason the next Barca boss must immediately click with their talisman. This summer is technically the last in which the Catalans could collect a transfer fee for the Argentine, but that isn’t even being considered.
They want Messi committed to a life deal, which sees his mercurial talent playing out at the Nou Camp until the day arrives when he hangs up his boots.
Lionel Messi has big decisions to make, and needs to completely trust Barca’s next manager
Defeat by Osasuna in the penultimate game of the La Liga season saw Messi completely unload his fury, as Real Madrid were confirmed champions of Spain.
‘We are a weak team… we need to be self-critical,’ Messi told reporters on the pitch in the immediate aftermath, his eyes flickering with anguish.
Koeman would work to get Messi on side as a matter of urgent priority and, as he has shown he is more than capable of doing so, build the team around its star man.
Messi needs to be energised by the incoming manager, and sold a vision that Barca can once again conquer Europe before his great powers diminish.
Messi needs a messiah, and Koeman would love nothing more than to be that man.