Barcelona. Barcelona named former Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde on Monday (29/05) as the successor to Luis Enrique and he will take charge of the La Liga runners-up on a two-year contract with the option of a third.
Valverde, who will be officially unveiled on Thursday, played for Barcelona as a forward between 1988 and 1990 under Johan Cruyff and is one of many of the Dutchman's former pupils to have turned to coaching upon retiring from playing.
"He's very happy very excited, he has the ability, experience and knowledge for the job," Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu told a news conference.
"He loves youth football and he has the right style to coach this club and knows how the club works. He has a high work rate, he is passionate about football and interested in working with the latest technology."
Bartomeu thanked Luis Enrique, who rounded off his three-year tenure at Barcelona on Saturday by beating Alaves 3-1 to win the King's Cup for a third year in a row, the ninth trophy he led the club to.
"We want to thank Luis Enrique for the work he did in this time, he was excellent in these three years. A great coach and Barcelona man is leaving us but the doors of the Nou Camp will always be open to him," he said.
The president, however, said Luis Enrique's last season in charge, which finished with only the King's Cup in the trophy cabinet, was a disappointment.
"We expected more from this season, we have diagnosed what went wrong and we are very demanding of ourselves," he added.
"We were not satisfied, neither were the players, nor the coaches and directors. But now we are beginning a new era."
Valverde, 53, began his coaching career with Athletic Bilbao's youth set-up and is the Basque club's longest serving coach, overseeing 308 games over six years in two different spells.
As well as qualifying Athletic for Europe in five of his six years with the club, who only pick players from the Basque country, he ended a 31-year wait for a trophy by leading them to the 2015 Spanish Super Cup, beating Barcelona 5-1 on aggregate.
He also coached and played for Barca's city rivals Espanyol, reaching the 2007 UEFA Cup final while in charge although losing to Sevilla on penalties, and won three Greek league titles and two domestic Cups with Olympiakos Piraeus.
Valverde brings two members of his coaching staff at Athletic to Barcelona, his assistant of 15 years Jon Aspiazu and fitness coach Jose Antonio Pozanco.
Luis Enrique rounded off his three-year tenure at Barcelona on Saturday by beating Alaves 3-1 to win the King's Cup for a third year in a row, the ninth trophy he led the club to.
Valverde will be thrown in at the deep end with his first competitive game in charge being against Barca's arch-rivals and La Liga champions Real Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup at the Nou Camp in August.
Before then the team will go on a pre-season tour of the United States with friendlies against Real, Manchester United and Juventus.
Valverde's appointment has been a long time coming and he has been chosen due to his wealth of experience, but he faces a huge task to rejuvenate a side showing signs of decline.
Cruyff, who worked with the striker between 1988 and 1990, declared his admiration for his former pupil when he was starting out.
"He was a very intelligent player and always transmitted to me his interest in football and his enthusiasm to learn," said Cruyff when Valverde was in his first job at Athletic Bilbao.
"He is one of the most outstanding and promising coaches in Spain."
Barca tried to convince him to take over in 2013 when Tito Vilanova was forced to leave the role due to illness but Valverde had agreed to coach Athletic again, prompting the Catalans to opt for the relatively unknown Gerardo Martino.
Valverde's track record for nurturing youngsters such as Inaki Williams and Aymeric Laporte is also highly valued at Barca, with their proud tradition of homegrown players such as Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi.
When Luis Enrique was asked if he had any advice for his successor, he remarked: "He has for more experience than me so he should enjoy it."
Yet even Valverde's impressive career path will be scant preparation for the demanding Barca job, which consumed predecessors Guardiola and Luis Enrique, who needed to take a sabbatical year after being drained by the pressure.
He also faces a huge task to revitalize a hugely talented yet ageing squad that requires overhaul following a resounding 3-0 aggregate defeat by Juventus in the Champions League quarter-finals and an inconsistent league campaign which surrendered the title to Real Madrid.
His priorities will be restructuring the midfield, which used to be the axis of Barca's success under Guardiola but has lost its power as with captain Iniesta now 33, and finding a new top-class right back to fill the gaping hole left by the departure of Dani Alves.
Valverde is seen as a safe pair of hands who will not try to impose his character too forcefully on a tempestuous dressing-room, although his quiet, relaxed character will be put to the test if he decides wholesale changes are required to revive their fortunes.