A transfer saga and two new coaches

The presenter of El Punt Avui TV’s The Week in Football, Barney Griffiths, takes a look at the summer changes awaiting Catalonia’s top-flight football clubs

“The Espanyol DNA means humility, commitment, identity, feeling...” Unzué replaces Eusebio... in what will be his third post as head coach

The main issue concerning La Liga champions Barcelona this summer is the “will he, won’t he?” saga over Ajax prodigy Matthijs De Ligt, who they have been courting to join the club and reinforce the position of central defence. The apparent indecision of the young Dutch centre half over his future has left Barça doubting whether he is the right man for them. As Johan Cruyff famously once said: “Anyone who doubts about playing for Barça is no use to us.” The reason for all this uncertainty is De Ligt’s comments after the Nations League final, which Holland lost to Portugal, stating that he was as yet undecided given the different offers he had received. By mid-June Barça were said to be losing patience with De Ligt and demanding a definitive answer, particularly after the player’s agent Mino Raiola, always a controversial figure, travelled to Paris to supposedly meet with PSG’s owners.

Barça agreed a deal with Ajax worth €75 million several months ago, upon the condition that the club came to an agreement with the player and his agent. Barça’s offer of a five-year contract and €7-8 million looked for all the world to have done the trick, but his stellar last few months of the season with Ajax, especially in the Champions League, led to other – richer – clubs registering an interest. De Ligt also cannot be sure whether he will play regularly at Camp Nou given that Piqué, Lenglet and, for now at least, Umtiti are ahead of him in the pecking order.

As for Barça’s head coach Ernesto Valverde, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu and general manager Pep Segura have assured him of his continuity in the post following rumours that the calamitous Champions League defeat at Anfield and Cup final loss to Valencia might have led to his dismissal. Valverde is now waiting to see if De Ligt arrives and has agreed to the possible signing of Antoine Griezmann. He is opposed to Croatian Ivan Rakitic leaving the club, a player he considers fundamental to the balance of the team. Nor would he like to see Portuguese fullback Nélson Semedo leave, who has an offer from Atlético de Madrid.

Gallego shows the way

Espanyol have appointed David Gallego as new head coach after Rubi headed for Betis to replace Setién. At his presentation, the new coach was overflowing with enthusiasm and energy and made it clear what his main goal was: “I want the team to join together with the fans. Together we are very strong. And we will achieve that. We will achieve that if we transmit the Espanyol DNA, which means humility, commitment, identity, feeling... If we do that, the fan base will feel identified with us,” he said after thanking owner Mr. Chen and the management board for the opportunity “to lead a project so close to home”. Eloquent and direct, with a style that recalls José Antonio Camacho, Gallego showed great self-confidence in answering the press. “I knew that, sooner or later, I would get another chance. I’m ready and excited. And I really like the fact that the sports directors are almost more convinced than I am about what I can achieve,” he explained, when asked if he had hoped to get a second chance to coach Espanyol after his caretaker spell two seasons ago. If one thing was clear in his presentation, Gallego will dominate the press room better than anyone else. “I have no doubts at all,” he replied when asked if he had thought twice about taking on the challenge.

Unzué takes the reins

Girona have also changed head coach in their quest to make a quick return to the first division. Juan Carlos Unzué replaces Eusebio after a sabbatical year in what will be his third post as head coach following two experiences – with Numancia in the second division and Celta in the first – that lasted only one season each. He was already considered by Girona last summer to cover the void left by Pablo Machín’s departure for Sevilla. And Unzué’s profile looks like it is somewhere between those of Machín and Eusebio, who were in many ways like chalk and cheese. Sporting director Quique Cárcel had met several candidates, and ended up valuing Unzué’s style and character as most suited to the job. Like Eusebio, Unzué worked on the coaching staff at Barça, under Frank Rijkaard, Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique, who he also accompanied to Celta. In fact, Unzué has much more experience as a goalkeeping coach or second coach. He arrives at Montilivi without any assistants and has agreed to form a technical team with professionals already working at the club: Chicho Pèlach and Juan Carlos Moreno as assistants; Omar Harrak as goalkeeping coach, and Iñaki Codinach as physical trainer.


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