Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde has been sacked despite the reigning Spanish champions sitting in top position in the La Liga standings.
The 55-year-old took training on Monday morning amid intense speculation his time as coach was about to come to an end and his fate was confirmed later in the evening.
The former Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol manager has guided Barca to La Liga titles in each of his two full seasons in charge, as well as winning the Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup in 2018.
Former Real Betis boss Quique Setien was announced as Valverde’s successor on a contract until June 2022.
Barcelona are top of La Liga on goal difference from Real Madrid, and through to the last 16 of the Champions League after topping their group, but some of their performances under Valverde have fallen short of the club’s usually high standards.
Barca have suffered embarrassing Champions League exits over the past two years, losing on away goals to Roma in the quarter-finals in 2018 despite winning the first leg 4-1 at the Nou Camp.
Agreement between FC Barcelona and Ernesto Valverde to end his contract as manager of the first team. Thank you for everything, Ernesto. Best of luck in the future. pic.twitter.com/zrIgB1sW2e
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 13, 2020
Last year Barcelona beat Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of a semi-final on home soil, only to lose the return 4-0 at Anfield.
Valverde’s position has been brought into further focus following some inconsistent performances from the Catalan outfit, the most recent being last Thursday’s Spanish Super Cup semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid.
Barca led 2-1 with nine minutes remaining, only to suffer a 3-2 loss, and that proved to be the final straw for Nou Camp chiefs.
His exit was confirmed with a statement on the Barcelona website that read: “FC Barcelona and Ernesto Valverde have reached an agreement to terminate the contract that united both parties.
“The club publicly expresses its gratitude to Ernesto Valverde for his professionalism, his commitment, his dedication and his always positive treatment towards all that make up the Barca family. We wish him luck and success in the future.”
The club publicly expresses its gratitude to Ernesto Valverde for his professionalism, his commitment, his dedication and his always positive treatment towards all that make up the Barca family. We wish him luck and success in the future.”
Spanish media reported a meeting between president Josep Maria Bartomeu and Valverde took place at the club’s training ground on Monday afternoon, and was followed by a scheduled board meeting.
That came after reported summit talks on Sunday involving Bartomeu, director Javier Bordas, chief executive Oscar Grau, technical secretary Eric Abidal, and assistant Ramon Planes.
Barcelona legend Xavi, currently in charge of Al Sadd, was one of the names who had been touted as a possible replacement for Valverde and the Qatari club’s sporting director Muhammad Ghulam Al Balushi said over the weekend that Nou Camp officials had made an approach for their ex-captain.
The 39-year-old former Spain star admits it is a “dream” of his to one day coach Barca, but insisted his focus right now was on Al Sadd.
Xavi made a club-record 767 appearances for Barca from 1999 through to 2015, winning 25 trophies in the process. He subsequently joined Al Sadd, initially as a player before finally retiring in May last year, and then taking over as head coach for this season.
Setien will be presented to the media at 1.30pm on Tuesday before holding his first press conference as Barcelona shortly afterwards.