Editor’s Note: This article was first published on May 16, 2019 and is reproduced here with no changes.
Ronald Koeman is something of a club legend at FC Barcelona; he’s a story told to scare children at Everton. Associated with the Dream Team in Catalonia, he is part of a 2017-2018 nightmare in Merseyside. What follows is a letter to our ‘friends’ across the English channel, wishing them everything they deserve if they choose to hire this particular Dutchman.
I know our relationship has been complicated, after all you stole Gerard Deulofeu back from us, wasted a year of his life, and then sold him to a rival - but you also gave us the gift of Lucas Digne that you weren’t clever enough to figure out how to use yourself, and the loan of Andre Gomes who never got a fair shake at your club. This produces enough goodwill for me to warn you about one Ronald Koeman.
I know he is part of the family there. He is tied in to the Cruyff legacy not only because he played under the legend (may he rest in peace) but also because they are both from the Netherlands with ties to Ajax Amsterdam. Playing the “Barcelona way” always becomes important at your club when things don’t go well, and as you are spoiled with domestic success your repeated
choking coming up short in the knockout stages of the Champions League has to be blamed on someone, especially when that particular rival of yours has won four out of the last six.
Ernesto Valverde will inevitably be the fall man, and I can see why. He failed to react at Anfield, just as he failed to react in Rome last year. But Ronald Koeman is not the second coming of Johann Cruyff, he actually has much more in common with another former Barcelona Dutch manager, Louis Van Gaal. Shortly after Everton sacked Koeman, I discussed his relationship to Cruyffian football philosophy and concluded that it was his departures from the that theory that led to his greatest challenges as a manager.
If you hire Koeman you will find yourself with a manager that continuously plays people out of their best position (Gylfi Sigurdsson as a ‘left wing’ is a prime example, Dominic Calvert-Lewin at right wingback is another) and whose contribution to the transfer philosophy of the club was adding Davy Klaassen’s name to a window that had already added the aforementioned Icelander and Wayne Rooney to occupy the same area of the pitch. Not to mention Nikola Vlasic, who also plays that position and also found himself out of position when Koeman did play him.
Speaking of tactics, even in a season under Koeman when things went relatively well it took him forever to figure out what he wanted to do. Here’s an article from my astute colleague Adam Braun about the different formations used by Koeman by November of 2016. Is this indecisiveness really what you are looking for?
Koeman has given his career a palate cleanse with the Dutch national team. He chose his spot well. That roster has too much talent to have missed a World Cup, and in the wake of that misery most anything would seem positive. He has five wins in twelve matches, two against Belarus and Peru, and three impressive wins against France, Portugal, and Germany at relatively full strength. Koeman has his moments of tactical acumen but this is hardly a large enough sample size to conclude he has solved his issues.
Also, as we we'll know, coaching at the national level on a once-a-month basis is much more relaxed than when every season you are expected to contend for a treble.
Beyond tactics, Koeman the man-manager requires serious scrutiny. Barcelona is a club with huge names with well deserved egos all over the dressing room. The reputation Koeman had among the players at Everton was one of an unbending disciplinarian. For inexplicable reasons he not only demoted Oumar Niasse but also demoralized him by not providing him a locker to change in at the youth team. He decided where players were allowed to sit or whether they were allowed to eat at all. The terms used to describe him by Everton insiders included: aloof, belligerent, uncommunicative, little empathy or even contact with the academy... being out of contact with the academy is a bad thing at Barcelona, right? And can you even imagine a manager telling Lionel Messi that he was not allowed to eat lunch?
Other issue can be found here in a list of five things Evertonians would not (and have not) miss about Koeman. Overall, it’s just not a pretty picture. Managers get sacked all the time in the top of football, and at Everton we have seen our fair share in recent years, but I can tell you right now, no one talks about Bobby Martinez or David Unsworth in the negative terms they do with Koeman, and as much of a blowhard moron as Sam Allardyce is, I never heard tell of him treating his players with as little respect as the ex-Dream Teamer did.
Do what you want, Barca, if you sign Koeman and it blows up in your face, I’ll particularly enjoy it, but just consider this a fair warning from your friends at the People’s Club.