Last week, Barcelona extended Ernesto Valverde’s contract until the end of the 2019/20 season with the option of one additional season. Unsurprisingly, that news generated a mixed response from supporters who remain bitterly divided over the manager’s future. Regardless of which side you are on, it is difficult to dispute that Valverde handled the opening month of his tenure terrifically. The mood around the club was very low at that point after Neymar’s departure, the Super Cup humiliation to Real Madrid, and Ousmane Dembele picking up a serious hamstring injury. Despite all that, Valverde spent his opening months leading the team to a 14 point lead over Real Madrid by Christmas and the top of a difficult Champions League group with Juventus. Since then, Valverde’s job has been far less convincing. Despite having a much stronger squad on paper over the past year with Dembele, Coutinho, and Arthur, the quality of the football hasn’t improved and the results are actually worse since then. This season, Barca might be seven points clear at the top thanks to poor form from Atletico and Real, but they are still eight points worse off than at the same stage last season.
Given that Valverde’s performance has been somewhat underwhelming over the past year, the decision to give him a contract extension is unnecessarily rushed. The situation is reminiscent of Mourinho’s contract extension in early 2018 at Manchester United. Both managers had done reasonably well in their opening 18 months in the job, but neither was impressive enough to prove that they were the long term answer. Valverde does a reasonable job at managing the dressing room, but, like Mourinho, he is not a manager that offers too much besides results. The development of young players like Malcom, Dembele, and Semedo under his guidance has been slow and unconvincing. Likewise, the style of play has been well below the expected standard at Barcelona. He was rightly excused for that at the beginning of his tenure given the problems with the squad, but it is difficult to accept the same with all of the money spent and players added since then.
Considering how much Barca is prioritizing the Champions League, it would have made far more sense to wait until after that campaign is over to decide on Valverde’s future. If the club goes out to Lyon in the first knockout round or suffers another embarrassing quarter final exit, it is difficult to see how Valverde could continue for another season. Given that fact, it seems bizarre to hand a contract extension to a manager who is literally one or two bad games away from being sacked. Despite that, Ernesto Valverde will still lead Barcelona into the Champions League knockout stages tomorrow assured of a contract extension that should have been contingent on a successful finish to the season.