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After weeks of whispers, clandestine meetings with club legends, rumours of dressing-room discontent and general tittle-tattle, Ernesto Valverde became only the second manager in Barcelona’s history to be sacked mid-season when the club announced he was to be replaced by Quique Setien.Valverde had just witnessed Barcelona’s best performance of the season against Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals of the Spanish Super Cup (75 minutes of excellent football that ended up in defeat), had the club top of La Liga, unbeaten in the league since 2 November and in the last 16 of the Champions League, having finished top of a group that included Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan. On the face of it, it might seem a bizarrely-timed decision. But this is Barcelona we are talking about. Why this came as a surprise to no-one – Valverde includedFor some time now, the 55-year-old Valverde has been spoken to by the movers and shakers at the club over matters that have been concerning them regarding the team’s form. Many feel the side is going backwards, there are doubts being expressed about the physical preparation of the players and the substitutions during games, rumours of a charged atmosphere in the dressing room are rife and there seems to be a lethargy, complacency and general malaise about the place.That is how it is explained from the club, who keep pointing to the painful Champions League surrenders of the past two seasons – against Roma and Liverpool – as proof Valverde could not take the team to the next level. There is of course another side to the story. Valverde had to start his time at the Nou Camp by managing the departure of Neymar.”The Brazilian is about to leave,” star player Lionel Messi told him during his first pre-season, the first news he had heard of what was going to be confirmed weeks later. That season he ended up with a league and cup double. There was a second league title but Valverde could only work with the cards he had been dealt.He inherited a changing room whose main characters are over 30, which is used to doing things its own way, that does not like to be challenged, had signings that did not work (Philippe Coutinho because of his personality, Ousmane Dembele because of his
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