Former Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde said he would prefer working in Australia rather than the Premier League.

Valverde was sacked by Barca in January, despite leading the Spanish giants to back-to-back LaLiga titles and Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana success.

Contemplating his next move as Valverde enjoys a break from football, a shock A-League gig is high on the 56-year-old's list.

"People ask me sometimes 'How about the Premier League?' and I say 'Well actually I'd like to go to Australia'," Valverde said.

"A career in football does not last forever and sometimes you think you have to take the opportunity to live in strange places."

Valverde referenced former Barca captain Andres Iniesta, who left Camp Nou for Japanese side Vissel Kobe in 2018.

"I applauded Andres when he told me he's going to Japan," added Valverde. I thought 'Wow, he gets to understand a different culture and different people', and I am also very interested in Japan.

"You can take great photos in Japan. There are many places I'd like to go to. We'll see what I end up doing, I haven't been out of work for very long so I don't have to decide anything yet, I haven't got a very clear idea at the moment.

"It's possible I'd go somewhere abroad. The truth is I like to do strange things so I wouldn't rule it out."

Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler is currently in charge of A-League outfit Brisbane Roar, while former Reds and Bayern Munich star Markus Babbel was working in Australia until he was sacked by Western Sydney Wanderers last month.

Ernesto Valverde is reluctant to consider whether he was harshly treated at Barcelona following his Camp Nou sacking in January.

The former Athletic Bilbao coach had been in charge of Barca since May 2017, winning LaLiga in each of his two full seasons, also claiming the Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana in 2018.

But the Blaugrana's Champions League humblings at the hands of Roma and Liverpool in consecutive campaigns, collapsing from healthy first-leg leads on both occasions, increased pressure on Valverde.

A Supercopa semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid ultimately spelled the end for Valverde, yet he is choosing not to spend too much time reflecting on his departure.

"I don't think about that," Valverde said at the Bilbao International Football Summit. "If I have been unfairly treated, I have to avoid it.

"It's about turning the page. In the end, we are thinking about what has happened and why. We're going to look forward, I don't have to look back."

Sporting director Eric Abidal sparked a row with Lionel Messi and chaos at Camp Nou last week as he suggested Barcelona players were not working hard enough for Valverde before the head coach's exit.

But Valverde would not speculate on the matter, adding: "Why did I leave? It is not a question for me.

"This is a part of our trade that you have to accept. Would I like it to be different? Yes, of course."

Valverde, who also represented Barcelona as a player, acknowledged he was well aware of the scrutiny he would face at the Catalan club upon his arrival.

"I was incredibly fortunate to coach Barca," he said. "I have been there as a player. I know what it means when you go to a club of this calibre. I am delighted to have been there.

"When you sign the contract, you know that you are important at the club and, from there, decide the results. We know that the coach is responsible for the players' performances."

Barcelona are three points behind rivals and LaLiga leaders Real Madrid under new coach Quique Setien, while they face Napoli in the last 16 of the Champions League later this month.

Lionel Messi was given the chance to do his talking on the pitch on Thursday after he was named in the Barcelona starting line-up for their Copa del Rey clash with Athletic Bilbao.

Messi made headlines this week when criticising Eric Abidal, the Spanish club's director of football, for suggesting some Barca players were not working hard enough under previous boss Ernesto Valverde.

The Argentina international called out Abidal for his comments in the media, telling the Frenchman he should name the individuals who were not pulling their weight.

Such a reaction has raised questions over Messi's future at Camp Nou, though the 32-year-old was selected in the XI for the quarter-final tie against Athletic.

Ansu Fati was also chosen in the team, the teenager keeping his place after scoring both goals in Barcelona's 2-1 LaLiga win over Levante at the weekend.

Head coach Quique Setien made just one change from that side, bringing in Sergi Roberto to replace Antoine Griezmann.

Lionel Messi has sensationally hit out at Barcelona director of football Eric Abidal after he suggested some players were not working hard enough prior to Ernesto Valverde's dismissal.

Abidal granted several interviews to Spanish media outlets on Tuesday and, in a chat with Catalan publication Sport, the Frenchman outlined the thought process behind Valverde's sacking in January.

He revealed they began to consider a change of coach after 0-0 Clasico draw at home to Real Madrid on December 18, with the former left-back claiming he and his colleagues had identified "many players weren't satisfied nor working hard and there was also an internal communication problem".

But Messi, who is rarely at the centre of controversy at the club, has called Abidal out over his comments, telling him he should name individuals rather than tar everyone with the same brush.

Writing on his official Instagram account and specifically highlighting a section of Abidal's quotes, Messi said: "I honestly don't like to do these things, but I think everyone has to be responsible for their tasks and take care of their decisions.

"The players [are responsible for] what happens on the pitch and we are also the first to recognise when we are not playing well.

"Those responsible for the area of ​​sports management must also assume their responsibilities and especially for the decisions they make.

"Finally, I think that when talking about players we should give names, because if not we are all getting dirtied and feeding things that are said but aren't true."

Barca are next in action on Thursday in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals against Athletic Bilbao – coach Quique Setien is due to address the media in his usual pre-match news conference on Wednesday, with the comments of Abidal and Messi likely to be high on the agenda.

Ivan Rakitic admitted he considered leaving LaLiga champions Barcelona in January as the midfielder appeared to take aim at the club's board.

Rakitic was heavily linked to Serie A duo Juventus and Inter before the transfer window closed, while Manchester United were also reportedly interested.

It came as Rakitic was reportedly offered to Paris Saint-Germain as part of a deal to prise Neymar back to Camp Nou at the start of the season.

After Sunday's 2-1 win over Levante, Croatia veteran Rakitic vented his frustration.

"I thought about leaving in the January window," Rakitic, who played the entire game, said post-match.

"The treatment of [former head coach Ernesto] Valverde's staff wasn't the best.

"They were bad times but it's in the past now.

"I can say very clearly that there were things that I didn't like."

Ansu Fati's brace ensured Barca stayed within three points of leaders and rivals Real Madrid after 22 matches.

Rakitic has made 16 LaLiga appearances this season, and 24 across all competitions.

Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong says tactics have not changed much since Quique Setien took over as head coach from Ernesto Valverde.

Valverde was sacked following the 3-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals, with Setien – an advocate of Johan Cruyff's possession-based approach – named as his successor on a two-and-a-half-year deal.

The 61-year-old appears to have had a prompt influence on Barca's style, the Catalans enjoying 82.4 per cent of the ball in the LaLiga win over Granada and 78 per cent in Wednesday's Copa del Rey victory in Ibiza.

Barca only managed three goals across those two games, though, suggesting they are yet to find a fluency to their attacking play – something for which Valverde was often criticised.

And De Jong says Setien has not made many alterations yet to the team's approach, telling reporters at a sponsor event on Thursday: "He doesn't ask anything concrete of me. The idea he has is the same as Valverde, the style of Barcelona possession.


"The only things that have changed are small details, but the intention is to have the ball.

"It seems like I've adapted easily, and I'm happy, but I know I can do much better. I also believe we have a lot of room to evolve as a team and we'll be better throughout the season."

De Jong signed for Barca last January but did not move until the end of the season, helping Ajax to the Eredivisie title and the Champions League semi-finals before his departure.

The Netherlands midfielder is now hoping to go further in European competition, perhaps as part of a treble.

"I want to win every trophy but, if I had to choose one, I'd choose the Champions League, although I want to lift LaLiga and the Copa del Rey," he said.

"Last year, Barcelona-Ajax would have been a beautiful final. Hopefully, I can be there this year."

Sergio Busquets refused to compare Barcelona under Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien after the Catalans made a winning start to life under their new head coach.

Barca returned to the top of LaLiga with a 1-0 win over a dogged Granada at Camp Nou on Sunday.

The home side enjoyed nearly 83 per cent of the possession but could not break down their visitors until Lionel Messi struck 76 minutes in after German Sanchez had been sent off.

Setien's variation of a 3-4-3 saw Barca monopolise the ball and push high up the pitch, a style more in keeping with the methods of Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola than Valverde, who was sacked this month after losing to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana.

Busquets was pleased with their display but would not enter into comparisons between the methods of Setien and Valverde, who eventually lost the faith of the fans and the board due to his more cautious approach.

"We were a solid team. We had control of the ball. They created little against us," he told Movistar.

"It's true that we struggled when they dropped deep but, in general terms, the team played a good game.

"It's not about comparing. Every coach has his style and his way of seeing football. You'll see what Setien asks us to do. We're not going to reveal it.

"We're delighted with what Ernesto did and we're delighted with Setien."

Setien also earned a cheer from the Camp Nou crowd for bringing on Masia graduate Riqui Puig, who found chances hard to come by under Valverde.

The 20-year-old won back possession on the edge of the Granada box in the build-up to the goal, and Busquets hopes it is just the start for the midfielder.

"He has a lot of things to mature, but it looks like he can be here [to boost the team]," Busquets added.

Barca are level with Real Madrid on 43 points at the top of the table after 20 games, with Atletico Madrid and Sevilla eight points adrift.

Quique Setien is already attempting to implement changes at Barcelona and the players are fully behind him, says Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Former Real Betis coach Setien took over at LaLiga leaders Barca on Monday after the club parted company with Ernesto Valverde.

His first match in charge comes on Sunday, with Granada visit Camp Nou.

Upon his arrival at Barca, Setien thanked Valverde for his work, though also vowed to apply his own attacking, possession-based playing style, which drew plaudits during his time at Las Palmas and Betis.

Barca goalkeeper Ter Stegen revealed Setien has already put new ideas across to the Blaugrana squad, who the Germany international says will do everything in their power to ensure the 61-year-old is a success.

"We have a new coach, who is trying to change some things, everyone has their idea of ​​football, we are listening, we try to do what they ask and give everything to make it possible," Ter Stegen told the media after being presented with the Barca Players Association award on Friday.

"We really want to continue [to be] first in LaLiga and to continue in the Champions League.

"We have a long way to go and we will give it our all. Let's go for everything."

Xavi won his second trophy as a coach after leading Al Sadd to a 4-0 success over Al Duhail in the Qatar Cup final, days after turning down the Barcelona job.

Barca icon Xavi confirmed on Thursday that he had declined the opportunity to succeed Ernesto Valverde at Camp Nou.

Valverde was sacked on Monday, with former Real Betis and Las Palmas coach Quique Setien swiftly appointed.

Xavi claimed he turned Barca down because he believed it was "too soon" in his coaching career to take such a job, yet he will have done his credentials no harm with Friday's triumph.

Nam Tae-hee opened the scoring early on for Al Sadd, with Baghdad Bounedjah then doubling their tally after a mistake from Duhail's goalkeeper Amine Lecomte.

Bounedjah helped himself to a second before half-time, with Akram Afif's penalty completing the rout midway through the second half.

Friday's victory secured Xavi his second piece of silverware in charge of Al Sadd, who won the Qatari Super Cup in August last year.

Barca, meanwhile, kick-off the Setien era with a home match against Granada in LaLiga on Sunday.

Andres Iniesta says the prospect of taking on a joint coaching role with Xavi at Barcelona "doesn't sound too bad".

Former midfielder Xavi was one of the candidates to take over from Ernesto Valverde, who was sacked as head coach following the 3-2 Supercopa de Espana semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid.

The Al Sadd boss confirmed he held talks with his old club but turned down their offer as he considered it too early in his coaching career.

Quique Setien has since been installed on a two-and-a-half-year deal, but it remains widely expected that Xavi will return to Camp Nou in future to take charge of the first team.

Iniesta, whose midfield partnership with Xavi was a cornerstone of one of Barca's greatest eras, likes the idea of reuniting with his old team-mate in the dug-out.

"The Xavi-Iniesta tandem doesn't sound too bad, but it's not possible right now," he told El Partidazo.

"I think Xavi will sooner or later be at Barca, but I don't know at which moment."

Iniesta, who spent 22 years at Barca after joining as a youngster, thinks the idea of former stars coming back to the club can only be a positive.

When asked about the prospect of another ex-team-mate, Carles Puyol, taking up a role of sporting director, with Xavi as coach and Gerard Pique as president, Iniesta said: "I truly believe those players, one day, should be at the club, although I don't know in which role.

"Firstly, because of their abilities, and then because of what they represent and the good they can do at the club where they have spent their lives."

Iniesta caused a stir when he described Barca's conduct as "ugly" when Valverde was dismissed this month.

The former Spain star has moved to clarify his comments, saying: "People who know me know it's very difficult for me to criticise the way Barcelona do or don't do things. Maybe the word 'ugly' is strong, or everyone can use it to say I've given a bit of attention to Barca, as I read, but it's not like that at all.

"If you like, take away the word 'ugly' for any other. What I believe is that the manner wasn't correct - even [president Josep Maria] Bartomeu recognised that. That was just one way of saying it."

Iniesta, who confirmed he spoke with Valverde following the news, now hopes to see Setien enjoy success with his commitment to possession-based, attacking football.

"I've spoken with him [Setien] one time," said the Vissel Kobe man. "He had long since been tipped to coach Barcelona.

"I think he's a coach, and everyone agrees with this, who has a way of understanding and watching football with a lot of possession, and who likes to play well and attack.

"I believe, and I hope, he can have a great period." 

Barcelona great Xavi says he rejected an offer from the club to succeed Ernesto Valverde as head coach.

Valverde was sacked in the wake of the 3-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals of the inaugural expanded Supercopa de Espana this month.

Xavi was reportedly on a shortlist of candidates put forward to the Barca board before former Real Betis boss Quique Setien was appointed on a two-and-a-half-year deal.

The Al Sadd coach has confirmed he was made a formal offer by technical secretary Eric Abidal and CEO Oscar Grau but says he turned it down as it would be "too soon" for him to take charge at Camp Nou.

"Yes, I received an offer from Barcelona in the presence of Eric Abidal and Oscar Grau, but I didn't accept it," he told reporters on Thursday.

"It's too soon to coach Barcelona, but it will continue to be my dream to be Barcelona coach in the future."

Xavi is said to have met three times with Abidal and Grau in Doha last weekend, and he admits the uncertainty made it difficult to focus on his job at Al Sadd.

However, the former Spain star insists he is now fully focused ahead of Friday's Qatar Cup final against Al Duhail.

"I told my family first and then the Al Sadd players because they were following the topic," he said when asked who first learned he had turned down Barca's approach.

"I wasn't in my best position during the three days, but I'm now totally focused on Al Sadd."

Lionel Messi believes the "special duel" between him and Cristiano Ronaldo when the pair were on opposite sides of the Clasico rivalry will leave a lasting impression.

The Barcelona superstar went head-to-head with Ronaldo for almost a decade in LaLiga, where the two scored at an astonishing rate and practically assumed shared custody of the Ballon d'Or.

Debate rages over who the world's best player is, but a shortlist of two is almost universally accepted – it is either Messi or Ronaldo.

The Portugal forward has since departed for Juventus, but Messi ​– who won a record sixth Ballon d'Or in December – has fond memories of their long-running Spanish saga.

"The matches against Real always mean a lot, but when Cristiano was there they became much more special," said Messi.

"But it's a time that has passed now, that we have experienced. Now, we have to look ahead to the future.

"It was a special duel and it will remain [in people's minds] forever, because it lasted for many years and it is not easy to maintain such levels for a long time. 

"Plus, the teams we played in were also very demanding, both Real Madrid and Barca, the two best teams in the world.

"The sporting duel between us was very nice on a personal level and I think people had fun too, whether they were fans of Madrid or Barca, or even only football fans in general."

Barca this week appointed a new head coach, with Quique Setien replacing Ernesto Valverde, despite the club sitting joint-top of the table with Madrid.

The last Clasico clash ended 0-0 at Camp Nou in December, with Barca set to head to the Santiago Bernabeu in March.

 

Lionel Messi has wished Ernesto Valverde luck for the future after the coach left Barcelona, calling his former boss a "top professional and top person."

Barca, following a defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana, decided to part ways with Valverde on Monday, with Quique Setien swiftly named as his replacement.

Former Athletic Bilbao boss Valverde took over Barca in 2017 and guided the club to successive LaLiga titles plus a Copa del Rey success.

However, a dramatic capitulation to Liverpool in last season's Champions League semi-finals, followed by a defeat to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final, put Valverde under scrutiny and, despite being top of LaLiga, Barca fired the coach after missing out on another title in the form of the Supercopa.

Messi, who scored 112 goals in all competitions under Valverde, has now given his thanks to the Spaniard, who the forward is confident will thrive in his next job.

"Thanks for everything, gaffer," Messi posted to his official Instagram account on Tuesday.

"I'm sure everything will go well for you wherever you go because, as well as being a top professional, you're also a top person. Good luck and a big hug."

Setien oversaw training on Tuesday before being presented to the media, with the former Real Betis coach taking charge of his first LaLiga match as Barca coach against Granada on Sunday.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu does not believe axed head coach Ernesto Valverde was treated unfairly despite admitting holding discussions with several prospective replacements while he was still in his post.

Barca unveiled ex-Real Betis boss Quique Setien as Valverde's successor on Tuesday, concluding a tumultuous few days at Camp Nou.

Valverde parted ways with the club amid mounting pressure on the back of last week's Supercopa de Espana defeat to Atletico Madrid, even though he won LaLiga in both his completed seasons at the helm and sat joint top alongside Real Madrid this time around.

"Last year there were a lot of requests for him to not continue and I personally always believed in him," Bartomeu said of Valverde, speaking alongside Setien at a news conference.

"I liked how he was as a person, as a coach, he had the confidence of the club. We decided to continue with him in this project.

"The only thing is, as I said before, in recent weeks there was a dynamic [that was] not very good, it wasn't new to him. It's a collective job – we spoke to find solutions and after speaking we decided a few days ago the best thing for a boost to the team was a change in coach, that allows us to handle the second half of the season on a high.

"We're doing well in the league and champions league, I like what Ernesto Valverde did a lot, but it was the moment to make the change for a boost.

"I want to thank Ernesto. He is a great person with great values. We're friends with him, we had a great relationship with him and a lot of respect for him."

News broke over the weekend that Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal held talks with his old team-mate Xavi over replacing Valverde.

Xavi remains with Qatari club Al Sadd, although Bartomeu suggested Barca's search for a new coach went beyond the club great and Setien.

"Abidal has been in touch with everyone talking about future and plans and he will explain what's gone on, without names," he said.

"No names bar one has come up and been public, because that's not our style. He's been working to find coaches and speaking with them.

"He's brought Setien, who we like very much."

Abidal himself added: "I'm not going to just talk about Xavi. When it comes to taking decisions, the board knows that answers are needed. Every manager has his DNA and decisions. They're all different.

"Setien is here because we like his way of working and his style. It's something we like, and in football we know a lot can change, but we have full confidence in the coach and the staff.

"From what I've seen in first day of training, there's a lot of changes. I think we can reach our objectives with him. I respect all the coaches I spoke to, but we had to take a decision and I think the perfect coach for us is Setien."

Those inside Camp Nou on November 11, 2018 where treated to a true spectacle. Regardless of whether or not Barcelona fans were angered by the end result, a 4-3 defeat, they were almost certainly entertained.

It was Barca's first loss at home in any competition since September 2016 and the manner of the defeat was truly impressive.

Real Betis battered Barca for much of the match and finished with a commendable 48 per cent possession, a feat few clubs can match at Camp Nou. At no point did Betis trail.

Fourteen months on, that remains the last time Barca were defeated at Camp Nou, in any competition. But now, the man who masterminded Betis' win is in charge of the champions.

Quique Setien was announced as the successor to Ernesto Valverde following his unceremonious sacking on Monday, with the 61-year-old seemingly hired due to his football ideologies being closely aligned to those of Barca.

Despite being held in high regard by many for his philosophy and championing of Barca icon Johan Cruyff, there remain massive reservations about his adaptability and whether he truly is the right man for the club in the long-term.

If he is to be the perfect fit, there are a few things he needs to address at a clun that some feel has lost its identity.

Adapt his system to Messi and determine future of aging stars

A non-negotiable condition of the job that even the most vociferous cirtics of Valverde will accept he more than met during his two-and-a-half years in charge - get the best from Messi. In theory, Setien's possession-based football should make him the ideal fit for Barca, and therefore Messi. But his teams – namely Las Palmas and Betis – had as much of a reputation for a chaotic approach that bordered on all-out attack as they did for dominating possession. Betis in particular played some rip-roaring football at a blistering pace, but playing at break-neck speed won't always been the case for Barca, who often have to be more methodical to break down deep-sitting opponents. Messi should still be expected to thrive, but where Setien opts to utilise the 32-year-old and the other stars of an aging team will be crucial. Can Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and the others over the age of 30 still keep up?

Look to La Masia, promote Puig

During the 2016-17 LaLiga season, Setien's Las Palmas squad had 14 'cantera' products in it. While that might be more readily expected of a club with a significantly smaller budget than Barca, he continued to make the most of the academy when at Betis. Francis, Fabian Ruiz, Loren Moron and Junior Firpo – with whom he has reunited – were all prominent figures under Setien at the Benito Villamarin. Barca's famed La Masia has been less successful in recent years, but there are certainly talents coming through with the likes of Ansu Fati. An easy early win for Setien would be promoting Riqui Puig to the first-team, with the silky – albeit diminutive – midfielder ready for the step up. Don't be surprised to see teenager Pedri also link up with the senior squad when he officially joins from Las Palmas at the end of the season.

Sign a Suarez substitute

Luis Suarez is set to miss most – if not the rest – of the season after having knee surgery, leaving Barca with a significant hole to fill. It's likely Antoine Griezmann will be asked to take up a central position, but beyond him their options are more or less limited to Carles Perez. As such, Barca are reportedly considering bringing in another forward, with Girona's Cristhian Stuani seemingly among the most likely arrivals. But the burly Uruguayan is not an archetypal Setien striker – Chimy Avila of Osasuna is. The Rosario-born forward is said to be being monitored by Barca, as the Argentinian is enjoying a fine season. A feisty competitor, Avila's nickname 'Chimy' comes from his father's conclusion that he is "spicy like chimichurri", a popular South American sauce. Small, quick, agile and relentless, comparisons with Sergio Aguero are understandable, and his release clause is a fairly modest €25m.

Win LaLiga

To be fair, achieving league success in isolation may not be good enough to keep Setien in a job for long – just ask back-to-back LaLiga winner Valverde. No, Setien will have to do more. He'll essentially have to win LaLiga while playing exciting football and win the Champions League to earn an extension to his contract, which ties him to the club until 2022. But, as was made abundantly clear by Josep Maria Bartomeu in Setien's presentation, the length of a contract can be irrelevant if certain expectations aren't met. "Setien has signed until 2022, but there's also a caveat that there can be a change," the president said on Tuesday. "Valverde had a contract until 2021 [until 2020 with the option for another year] and we saw there's a change."

Avoid a Champions League collapse

Perhaps the biggest issue the fans had with Valverde was humiliating collapses in successive Champions League campaigns. In Valverde's first season, Barca took a 4-1 lead into their quarter-final clash with Roma, only to be eliminated by virtue of a 3-0 loss in the return leg. The next year they did go a step further, but the result was much the same – a 3-0 defeat of Liverpool at Camp Nou was following by a 4-0 Anfield annihilation by the eventual champions. The concerns some might have of Setien relate to his teams' defensive capabilities, as such an emphasis on attacking left Las Palmas and Betis vulnerable at the back. While he will have a greater calibre of player at Barca, if this side of his team is to be exploited, it'll likely be in the latter stages of the Champions League.

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