There is a ‘treble, treble’ standing at the end of this season’s horizon for Barcelona. And it could be the quiet man of Spanish football who wins it for them.
What Pep Guardiola managed in 2009 and Luis Enrique repeated in 2015, Ernesto Valverde could achieve this season.
Three trebles – league, cup and Champions League – in one decade would be extraordinary. And it would be with three very different coaches.
Ernesto Valverde, the quiet man of Spanish football, could be about to deliver another Treble
Valverde’s Barcelona won the club’s eighth league title in 11 seasons last weekend
Valverde has none of Guardiola’s intensity. There are no mad professor brainwaves coming to him down in the manager’s bunker at the Camp Nou on the eve of big matches.
He has none of Luis Enrique’s infectious energy. He doesn’t turn up on the first day of the season fresh from a couple of summer Iron Man contests ready to run the players into the ground.
And yet just like his two predecessors he commands enormous respect and he is one of their own.
As some criticise English clubs’ attempts to give important roles to ex-players, ‘just because they are ex-players’, Barcelona are the best example of how it can work even when it entails risk.
Their gamble worked with Guardiola in 2008 when his only experience had been with the B-team in the third tier of Spanish football.
Pep Guardiola lifts the European Cup as Barcelona completed the first Treble back in 2009
Luis Enrique guided the club to a second Treble of league, cup and Champions League in 2015
Barcelona’s steps to a possible Treble
La Liga unless stated
Wednesday Liverpool (H)
Champions League semi-final, first leg
Saturday Celta Vigo (A)
May 7 Liverpool (A)
Champions League semi-final, second leg
May 12 Getafe (H)
May 19 Eibar (A)
May 25 Valencia (Seville)
Copa del Rey final
June 1 Possible Champions League final (Madrid)
It worked with Luis Enrique even though his only big job to date had ended in failure at Roma.
And it has worked with Valverde even though his previous trophy successes had not gone beyond three Greek leagues and a Spanish Super Cup.
Valverde isn’t even much of a Barcelona ex-player. He played 24 games for the club as a striker from 1988 to 1990.
But he was coached by Johan Cruyff, in fact his frequent starts on the bench meant he was often sat right next to the father of the modern Barcelona.
Perhaps because of the modest playing career and the steady but unspectacular coaching career stats pre-Barcelona he makes sure it’s all about the players.
He rarely takes any sort of public praise for anything even though he has been partly responsible for Lionel Messi learning to take a rest once in a while.
He has played fewer minutes of football in the month of April – than in any of the previous April’s of his career, starting on the bench in four of the eight games.
He has also helped bring defensive stability by moulding Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet into the team’s regular pairing. And he has given the team a tactical flexibility in which they switch more fluidly to a 4-4-2 from their favored 4-3-3.
Valverde has also succeeded in persuading talisman Lionel Messi to take a break occasionally
Valverde has succeeded in forging a strong pairing between Pique (centre) and Lenglet (right)
Guardiola fell out with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Samuel Eto’o and Eric Abidal at different moments in his reign. Luis Enrique upset Messi to the point where he pulled out of a training session and Xavi had to make the peace.
Valverde has managed to avoid all incendiaries. Even potential fireworks with Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele – big players vying for one place in the team – have been handled well.
On Saturday night in the celebrations he was as understated as ever. At first it seemed he was the only one not wearing the ‘8 in 11’ t-shirt heralding Barcelona’s title wins in recent years.
He eventually took off the suit and tie and put it on for his press conference but when asked what he had planned for the evening having won the league, he replied: ‘I have not even thought about it. I’m just going to go home. Do you have any ideas?’
His press conferences are unrehearsed, dead-pan, occasionally dull but also laced with some healthy sarcasm. ‘What part has Messi played in Barcelona’s 11-year domination?’ he was asked on Saturday night. ‘Very little,’ he said mischievously.
Valverde admitted he was at something of a loss over how to celebrate Barca’s title success
When the players were out with their wives at the Blue Spot restaurant that Gerard Pique part owns in the Hotel W that overlooks Barcelona’s main beach later that evening, Valverde and his technical staff were absent from the celebrations.
Last season when Barcelona were dumped out by Roma it was Valverde who carried the can and president Josep Maria Bartomeu considered firing him.
The decision would have been hugely unpopular both with the dressing room and with the supporters and it was soon discounted.
Valverde was angry that they had even considered it – in a season when they won the league and cup double. At one point this season he looked as if he might not sign a contract extension and walk away this summer.
He still harbours ambitions to try his luck in the Premier League at some point.
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu (middle) considered firing Valverde after their Champions League loss to Roma last season
In the end he put pen to paper and signed for another season. He knows the job is draining and he is unlikely to stay at Barcelona beyond the end of next season. But his three-year spell looks like being a very successful one.
He is already on a run of two leagues in two seasons. Now he wants to emulate Guardiola and Luis Enrique and win the treble too.
Valencia wait in the Copa del Rey final and Tottenham or Ajax await in the Champions League final. Beating Liverpool over two legs is probably the greatest obstacle to him achieving that. Putting one over on Jurgen Klopp, his greatest test.