Coach seduction, Valverde and perception

During the pre-Girona press conference, Ernesto Valverde revealed that he didn’t talk to the club’s newest expensive signing, Frenkie De Jong, and some seem troubled by this.

Some say it’s a sign that he won’t be returning to the club next season. Others say it’s a failing for other reasons. From this chair, both takes are misguided.

Valverde said, simply enough, that he doesn’t talk to players who are with other clubs. It’s old-school, and has integrity. It also fascinates in that it hews to a Crujiffian take that a signing shouldn’t need convincing to come to Bar?a. “Here we are. You want this, or no?” Valverde said at the presser:

“If you speak to a player who has a contract with another team… you can’t do that.”

“You can’t speak to a player who has a contract. Admitting you have done that… that’s not in my code (of ethics). I don’t have anything else to say. Everyone has their own way of behaving…”

On a more basic level, what could they have to talk about? The weather? Best places to get p’amb tomaquet near Camp Nou? He had permission to speak to De Jong, but still …

In America, college sports coaches often contact recruits to seal the deal, to explain to them why they should come to a particular college. Top high school players face an onslaught of visits from coaches of programs that crave their services. “Come here, and you will be our starting point guard/Starting fullback/Key quarterback.”

We rarely see the stories about the aftermath, a disillusioned player who has to slot into another role because despite what a coach said during the recruitment phase, reality forces adaptation.

Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel, two coaches considered vastly cooler and cuddlier than Valverde, reportedly reached out to speak to De Jong as part of their clubs’ chase for the Dutch sensation. And what could they have had to talk about? The sporting project? De Jong should already have that sussed. What his role is going to be in their team? How could they possibly know that at this time?

Same is true of Valverde.

Until De Jong comes to the Camp Nou and kicks balls in anger (oof — sorry, gents) nobody knows exactly what his role will be. If he comes, and by then Carles Alena has developed into a stalwart sensation, Riqui Puig dazzles first-team coaches and Arthur is fitted for his Xavi hat, what then? Why blow smoke up a player’s butt as a part of an already unseemly wooing process?

It is wonderful that De Jong resisted the various dog-and-pony shows to decide to come to Barcelona. That he did it without Valverde needing to have to call him and say … whatever is even better. Leaving aside the Messi contact that is being reported, at some point a transfer, even ones that make a fanbase dissolve into spasms of ecstasy, has to be just another player. A coach calling to woo means what? Mes que un player?

And let’s say Valverde had called De Jong. Would the vociferous Masia contingent have snuffled indignantly and said, “He’d better be talking to Puig about his role, if he talked to De Jong about his!” Or, “What is he doing? Doesn’t he know how that looks for veteran players who are going to be here when De Jong comes?”

Valverde did the right thing by saying nothing, which, via semantic reach, can be extended to his coaching philosophy of when in doubt, do nothing. As a coach, Valverde really can’t do much right. He had to defend his decision to rest Messi last week, as a good thing becomes a bad thing in the wake of a 2-0 Sevilla loss in the first leg of that tie. A rested Messi is a good thing, and the roster the team has this season enables that option for Valverde, who had nothing like that luxury last season.

His substitutions are too late, too wrong or not at all. His lineups are “WTF!” My view that he will leave in summer is based in part on the idea that the club will want a different coach to begin the rebuilding process, but also in that Valverde can’t wait to see the back of the viper’s next that is this club’s entorno. He isn’t the kind of coach to be bothered by criticism, but even a man with the hide of a water bufffalo must, at some point, say, “Enough.”

Valverde didn’t talk to De Jong. We should applaud that integrity, should puff out our chests that our coach didn’t need to be part of the “please, Frenkie please!” program, that Bar?a and its history are, as De Jong said, a place a player wants to stay at for more than a few years, unlike the other clubs seeking his services. Because that’s cool, even as the echoes of the beeping as the dump trucks full of cash back up to Ajax and De Jong fade.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.