We didn’t know this would happen. But we knew Koeman really wanted this to happen. For years, Koeman shared his big dream to one day coach his favorite Barcelona. In the footsteps and on the shoulders of his mentor, Johan Cruyff.
And finally it happened. He was one of the few Barca fans with a huge smile on his face, when football machine Bayern took the Catalonians apart in the CL quarter finals…
Koeman ideally wanted to finish this years Euros with Oranje, before he’d jump to Barcelona but due to Covid, that tournament has been postponed and could in theory even be completely cancelled (nothing is sacred anymore).
So when Setien couldn’t find the answer to the problem(s), it became clear a new strong man was needed.
In the words of Barca watcher Edwin Swinkels: “Barca needs a strong coach, who will have the balls to complete renovate the squad and has the socios’ respect and support.” Xavi has been on the wishlist for quite a while, and the favorite in the eyes of some of the candidates to win the presidency at the club but for the inexperienced Xavi, it would be ideal if someone like Koeman would clean house first, and leave a new and flash Barca team to Xavi to enjoy.
Barcelona initially wanted Koeman for 1 year. But in the flash negotiations between him and the club (and manager Rob Janssen), the camp Koeman made it clear that he’ll need a bit more.
Koeman’s job will be a tough one. For starters, La Liga will start within the next 4 weeks already. And secondly, Barca declared only four (4!) players to be essential for the next Dream Team: Ter Steeghe, Messi (of course), Frenkie and French defender Lenglet. Yes, you read it correctly: Alba, Busquets, Griezmann, Suarez, Pique, Vidal, Dembele…anyone interested in them? Barca will wrap ‘m in gift paper.
And all this in a time when Barca doesn’t seem to have a lot of money to invest in new blood. A tough assignment. Typically an assignment only someone with a big huge hard-on for the club would accept. Koeman just did.
Lets look at that history between the two football phenomena…
It’s 1988. Koeman won the Euros with the NT and the European Cup with PSV. Real Madrid calls. Koeman answers the phone and checks in with mentor and ex-coach Johan Cruyff (at Barca), what he thinks. Cruyff: “Don’t sign. I want you here.” Koeman signs in January 1989, for 6 million euros. A club record for PSV. He flies to Barca with his wife and goes through the motions with press, fans, and more press. On his flight back, he mutters: “Ooh, I can’t wait till I can hit a rocket into the top corner in Camp Nou!”. He did not lack confidence.
But his first months are dramatic. Barca can’t find the flow. They lose against Anderlecht in the first round of the European Cup and Koeman is used as midfielder, right and centre and fairly quickly named as the worst signing of the season…. When he also ends up losing against Mallorca on a pitch not even fit for cows, he doubts his move: “Is this what it is? Playing for Barcelona?”.
Koeman doesn’t believe his eyes. The socios adore players who run and work like crazy. Koeman is the type that doesn’t run, but prefers to walk, while letting the ball do the work. The forwards don’t press. The midfield is not strong enough. The defenders are constantly up against a majority of opponents. “I played nine years in the Eredivisie, I won everything you could win and then this??”
Koeman improves that season but would get seriously injured in his second season. Barca wins the title, though, the first since 1985. In his third year, Barca wins the title again and this time Koeman is impressive. He scored 26 goals from distance in six seasons and he would earn the nickname “the canon”.
Koeman and Cruyff had a difficult time together at Ajax. The midfielder went nuts over Cruyff’s continuous hammering on details and when Koeman could jump to PSV, Cruyff let him go. Only to buy him back for Barca, paying 13 times more. In Barcelona, they’d become neighbours and friends.
Koeman always played, until the 1993/94 season. Barca signs Romario. And extra foreigner, as JC had Koeman, Laudrup and Stoichkov. The media started to bet on “which player will be left out”. The bookies placed Koeman as the least likely. The Dutch man was so important now, Cruyff would never bench him!
But JC did. Koeman: “I was so angry! We had coffee earlier on the day as mates. I yelled at him: WHY DIDNT YOU INFORM ME?? And he just shrugged his shoulders.” Later, the press asked him about it and he said: “I decided to put my best man on the bench, as he is the strongest, mentally. He will get over it and it won’t affect him.”
After the press conference, he called Koeman and said “lets get the wives and go out for a bite” as if nothing had happened.
It’s May 1992 and Barca was finally able to get out of the shadow of Real Madrid. At Wembley, Barcelona Superstar Koeman scores the winner in the CL finals and will end up a club legend as a result. Koeman plays a top match and emphasizes his worth for the team. Every attack starts with him. The players always try to find him. He is the natural leader of this Dream Team.
Koeman reflects back onto his goal: “There was only one angle to score. One trajectory and I had to shoot the ball straight between a couple of players. When I take that free kick 100 times, 95 times I will hit a body part. This time, it went clean through.” Immortality for Koeman, as this goal will be shown in the Barcelona museum for decades to come…
In 1995, Cruyff wants to extend Ronald’s deal but it seems Koeman doubts. The Dream Team is not longer that dreamy. Stoichkov has placed bombs in the squad by saying that “this team isn’t good enough for me to want to play with” and “Koeman is in the team because he is friends with the coach”….The stress of playing in Spain becomes too much. Flying to away games, constant police protection, women hoping for a glimpse or more…. Whenever Ronald visits his family in Holland, he feels he is in paradise.
Koeman returns to Holland and signs for Feyenoord where he’ll play for 2 seasons. After that, he returns to Barca, as right hand man for Louis van Gaal while he also assists Guus Hiddink at the 1998 World Cup. He also coaches Barcelona B until Vitesse lures him to the main chair, in Arnhem. Even back then, he stated his ambition: one day I will coach Barcelona, I hope. He will coach Ajax and when in Amsterdam, Barca comes by to lure him to the job. But Ajax refuses to let him go.
They come again for him. This time it’s January 2020 and Koeman thinks he will play the Euros with the NT that summer… He couldn’t predict Covid-19, of course. He told Marca “Of course, I would have signed immediately if I was without a job. Everyone loves Barca. I don’t care what the circumstances are. When Barca calls, you listen. I love the city and I had my best years there.” Typical for Koeman: he seems to be able to make all his dreams come true.
The big question now is: who will follow him up as NT coach?
We will look at that in depth, in the coming days.
Dutch candidates: Louis van Gaal, Peter Bosz, Henk ten Cate, Phillip Cocu, Frank de Boer….
International candidates: Ralf Rangnick, Jurgen Klinksmann, Mauricio Pochettino, Leonardo Jardim, Hein Vanhaezenbrouck