Is Real Betis manager Quique Setien the next Barcelona boss in waiting?

Colin Millar by Colin Millar / 13 November 2018, 15:32

Barcelona suffering their first home defeat in La Liga in 26 months - and conceding four goals whilst doing so, for the first time since 2003 - is a useful barometer of their domestic dominance in recent times.

Indeed, it was only Ernesto Valverde’s third league defeat as the club’s manager in 50 league outings and one of those, at Levante last season, arrived when the league title had already been secured.

Yet equally, Barca’s 4-3 home loss to an excellent Real Betis side on Sunday felt hugely significant and once more led to questions about the club’s famed philosophy. Not only has Valverde been accused of abandoning the ideology of possession-based, attacking football but his opposite number on Sunday, Quique Setién, embodies such a school of thought.

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Last week, the Betis boss told Spanish outlet El Periódico that he would have cut off his little finger to have worked with Johan Cruyff - the man credited with assimilating his ‘total football’ philosophy into the Catalan giants. It was not the first time Setién had made such comments and his admiration, seemingly to the point of fascination, with the Barca model is clear.

Ahead of kick-off at the Camp Nou, he approached Sergio Busquets who subsequently agreed to sign his shirt and give it to the Betis coach after full-time. Setién is a deep thinker and he has freely admitted how his passion for chess has shaped his approach to football management, constantly evolving his strategy yet sticking to his same core beliefs.

His side took risks on Sunday; pressing high up the pitch, his players instructed to take on their opponents man-on-man. Barca are used to visiting sides exercising caution, often to an extreme, but this was different.

They have now conceded an alarming 18 goals in just 12 La Liga outings this campaign - two more than Leganes, who are mired in the relegation zone. Increasingly, it feels that the Blaugrana are relying on individual talent to win games rather than through a superior system.

Valverde is a pragmatist - the man who did not want the workmanlike Paulinho sold this summer and who is keen for his side to play as a unit, moving across the field, staying compact and minimizing risk. He may not be adored at the Camp Nou but his methods have had great success since his appointment just shy of 18 months ago and, despite struggles this season, his side do once more sit top of the table having also negotiated a tricky Champions League group.

From the outside looking in, it appears that Setién would be suited to Barca. He found himself in hot water with Betis fans after saying Marc Bartra - a graduate of La Masia in the Catalan capital - ‘must have done something wrong’ to end up at the Seville-based club. He swiftly tweeted an apology to the club’s fanbase after, and the comments themselves had been somewhat removed from their context, but it was an interesting insight into his own thought process.

Yet Betis are 12th and whilst they may yet improve, they are struggling for consistent results. They have the division’s seventh largest budget by a distance and a failure to challenge for European football will only be viewed as underachievement.

This is a man who has led his teams to famous victories at Barca, Real Madrid, Milan and their city rivals Sevilla - where they struck five times. But it is in the less glamorous games where Betis have come unstuck, struggling to break down stubborn defences.

Setién has been accused of dogmatism and an unwillingness to compromise when the situation calls for it. There are loud cries for Barca to consider his appointment but the reality of football is this will calm down when Valverde leads his side to a fresh run of victories, which is bound to happen. The Spanish champions may value their club’s historical philosophies but more than anything else they want victories and success.

Before Sunday, Setién’s Betis were the league’s lowest scorers and clearly need a tweak to their playing style to re-find the balance and consistency in results which led to a European spot last season. Setién has now apologised to Betis fans in the most convincing way but talk of the Barcelona hotseat feels incredibly premature and will surely dissipate in the months ahead.

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