Ronald Koeman has for a long time appeared to be a dead man walking at Barcelona. The club's stuttering start to La Liga sees them sit seventh after six games, seven points behind leaders and rivals Real Madrid, while their Champions League campaign has begun with successive 3-0 defeats to occupy fourth in Group E.
Barca's issues extend far beyond the Dutch manager as crippling financial problems have led to a host of senior players depart the club over the past two summers, including their greatest ever in Lionel Messi, and severely limited their ability to recruit worthy replacements.
But Koeman has hardly helped himself either after overseeing a string of sub-standard performances and it is well known that he does not have the full support of the board, including that of president Joan Laporta.
Saturday evening's trip to La Liga champions Atletico Madrid is expected to be a vital match in Koeman's hopes of continuing as Barca manager, with reports claiming defeat could result in the sack.
Anything but a radical change in form looks set to see the Dutchman depart sooner rather than later, which leads to the inevitable speculation over who could be the next man in charge at the Camp Nou.
Once one of the most coveted positions in football management, the Barcelona job is now a different proposition. So, who could be line to replace Koeman when the time comes?
One of Barcelona’s finest ever products, Xavi won 17 major trophies over 17 seasons as a midfield metronome and is adored by the Camp Nou faithful. His managerial career is still in its infancy, having taken charge of Qatari side Al Sadd in 2019, so his lack of experience does not make him an ideal fit given Barca’s many problems. Long seen as an eventual Barcelona manager, the timing doesn’t feel right, but he would certainly be afforded more time and patience than Koeman enjoyed, both from the fans and the board.
It’s perhaps emblematic of Barcelona’s problems that one of the leading contenders for the role is an inexperienced manager with one disappointing season on his record. Pirlo was thrown into the deep end at Juventus last season, and sank, as the Turin club’s long reign as Italian champions came to an end. The problems aren’t any fewer at Barcelona so it would seem a strange appointment, particularly given his lack of Spanish football experience.
A proponent of attacking, possession-based football – sometimes to his own detriment – Martinez has seen his stock rise after turning a talented Belgium squad into the world’s leading national team, although there is still no silverware to show for it. Martinez would appear to fit the Barcelona profile in terms of his tactical approach but his previous spells in club management have produced mixed results.
Erik ten Hag
The Dutchman has been earning rave reviews for his work at Ajax, most notably guiding the club to the 2018/19 Champions League semi-finals and winning successive domestic doubles (the 2019/20 season was voided). Ten Haag is reported to be Barca president Laporta’s leading choice, although the club’s precarious financial situation means they could struggle to buy out his contract, which runs until 2023, and those of his staff.
Available on a free following his departure from Inter Milan, Conte would be one of the few managers on the market capable of imposing his authority and working with the tools at his disposal – as he proved in his first season at Chelsea and as Italy coach. However, the major drawback would be Barcelona’s finances. Conte has famously fallen out with club bosses when unable to land his preferred transfer targets and he would be hamstrung from the off at Camp Nou.
Other potential contenders
The dream appointment for all involved at Barcelona would, of course, be Pep Guardiola but a return to Catalonia appears further away than ever. There is a near impossibility he would leave Manchester City mid-season and Barca are nowhere close to being able to afford his services.
Former Germany manager Joachim Low is available after leaving his national team position after 15 years. Low guided Germany to the 2014 World Cup but his stock has since declined following a rocky patch in recent years.
Marcelo Gallardo, who has twice led River Plate to the Copa Libertadores, in 2015 and 2018, is another name being linked with the Barcelona job, while Domenec Torrent - a longtime assistant manager under Guardiola at Barca, Bayern Munich, and City - has emerged as a left-field contender.