Quique Setien: the devout disciple of Johan Cruyff who has landed his dream job at Barcelona

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - It is safe to say that Quique Setien, the newly appointed manager of Barcelona, has just landed his dream job in football.

The 61-year-old Spaniard, who took over from the sacked Ernesto Valverde on Monday, has never been shy about where his influences lie.

In his previous job at Real Betis, Setien made his name by guiding the club to their highest La Liga finish since 2005 (sixth in 2018) and into a Copa del Rey semi-final last season, where they lost narrowly over two legs to Valencia

And in 2018, while he was at Betis, Setien spoke to The National. “My influence comes from the feeling I have inside me," he said.

“When I grew up and became a professional, the Barca of Johan Cruyff started and I played against them.

"You realised that you were chasing the ball for 80 minutes. We tried to steal the ball and couldn’t get to it. I’d watch this and think ‘Wow, this is what I want!’. I loved what they did.

"I studied the mechanism of Cruyff’s play, the positioning, how high the full-backs were deployed, how the centre-backs split, the build up.”

Talk is one thing, but Setien was so bold that at Real Madrid away, he brought on wide men Andres Guardado and Ryad Boudebouz, then, finally, Betis’ iconic captain Joaquin. The psychological boost was tangible. They won with a goal from a patient build up involving nine of his players.

Then it was on to Camp Nou where they beat Barca 4-3 in La Liga on November 11, 2018. No team has won at the Catalan fortress since.

“My way of being has always been to go forward,” he said. “If you see me defending deep, it’s not because of me, it’s because the other team has dominated me. What I want to transmit to my players is to have fun, to create more than destroy.

“Obviously, you have to defend and work on that, but defending is not my motivation. When we scored that goal at the Bernabeu, I felt vindicated for the work I’d done. It gave me internal satisfaction above the result. You could say I’m a romantic, but it’s also a good and effective way to play.”

Manolo Marquez is the man who replaced Setien when he left Las Palmas for Betis in 2017.

Setien had previously managed in his home city of Santander where he played, plus Polu Ejido, Equatoriual Guinea, Logrones and Lugo and Spain’s second and third division.

The previous year, Marquez had observed him working at close hand. “Setien is black or white,” he told The National. “When his team is inspired it’s hard to stop them. But his team can also concede five.”

Given Setien’s Cruyff-inspired philosophy and tactics, he was being identified as a possible future Barcelona manager two years ago.

“He’s good enough to coach at Barça, but the problem comes when you lose two games there,” said Marquez. “There’s not much patience, but wherever he is, the teams play very well.

“Setien is a perfectionist with a strong character. He works all the time with the ball in training and gives very specific instructions. He wants his players to listen and act on his instructions and he’s not happy with them if they don’t.”

Ernesto Valverde was sacked as Barcelona manager despite leading the club to two successive La Liga titles. Reuters

Setiens’s team were bonkers, brilliantly so and nobody had a clue which Betis would turn up. They beat Madrid away but lost 5-1 at Eibar. They drew 4-4 with Real Sociedad and lost 3-6 at home to Valencia a week later. They beat their cross-city rivals Sevilla 5-3 away and they lost 5-3 at home to Real Madrid. And, of course, they beat Barca 4-3 away.

For all the romance, Setien, who once said he’d give a finger to have played under Cruyff, lost his job at Betis because he eventually lost the support of the crowd.

In Spain’s deepest south, he was considered a stubborn northerner by some Betis fans, someone unwilling to bend his ideals.

This was fine when Betis were winning, less so when form fell away. A 3-1 home defeat to Stade Rennais in February, that saw them tumble out of a Europa League that they had done so well to reach, would do particular damage.

He left in May 2019 and has been unemployed ever since. The Cantabrian will have a brief honeymoon period at Camp Nou but if he thinks there was pressure at Betis, it’ll be nothing to what he’ll face over the next few months.

He’s replacing Ernesto Valverde who won the league by 14 points (losing only one game) in his first season and 11 points last term. Barca are top of the league and in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Setien will undoubtedly push those players in the same manner he himself was pushed. “I had a manager – Paquito – I loved at the end of my career [as a player], a man who knew how to work at the training ground,” he said.

“He opened my mind. Luis Aragones [the legendary Spanish manager] at Atletico Madrid did the same. He gave me a competitive spirit, the desire to win at a big club. Sometimes players lack that.

"I had been a pro eight years at Racing, I was a god there, but I needed that push from Aragones when I got to Atletico.”

But it is clearly in Barcelona where his heart and influences lie; from former manager Pep Guardiola – “he innovates and I learn from him” – to Sergio Busquets, a Barca player he loves for "his intelligence and positioning".

That was speaking as a fan. Now he is working with Busquets every day alongside the finest player on the planet in Lionel Messi. A dream come true for a coach who lives and breathes attacking football played the Barcelona way.

Updated: January 14, 2020 04:25 PM

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