Ronald Koeman has suggested Barcelona‘s hierarchy are showing him a lack of respect by leaking stories about his future in what might prove his final news conference as the club’s coach.
The pressure on Koeman has increased following Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat to Benfica in the Champions League. Local media suggest he will be fired after Saturday’s league game at Atletico Madrid, regardless of the result, while ESPN revealed on Friday that president Joan Laporta has stepped up the search for a replacement.
Koeman, 58, remains in charge for now but he appeared to confirm that the stories that have surfaced in the aftermath of the defeat to Benfica are true.
“The club have said nothing to me,” Koeman said on Friday. “I’ve learned that the president was [at the training ground] this morning, but I have not seen him.
“We’re preparing for Saturday’s game. I can’t say anything. But I have eyes and ears and I know a lot of things have been leaked, which I imagine are true, but no one has said anything to me.”
Asked about his relationship with Laporta, which has deteriorated since the president first tried to replace him in the summer, Koeman refused to answer. He also said there was no need to respond when asked if he felt he had been disrespected by the club.
“It’s not necessary to answer that,” he replied. “What do you think? It’s not even about being good or bad. For me, it’s the treatment that matters.”
From the beginning, Koeman’s appearance had the air of a goodbye. He won’t be on the bench against Atletico this weekend as he serves the second of a two-game touchline ban, so he will be freed from media duties.
He opened his news conference by quoting ex-Barca coach Louis van Gaal’s goodbye speech, although he pointed out he’s “still here,” whereas van Gaal had said “I’m going.”
Asked how he was feeling, Koeman said: “Honestly, I have been better.”
Koeman even reflected on his time in charge at Camp Nou, giving his best and worst moments.
“Do I have to answer this? It’s as if I’m already gone,” he said jokingly. “The best moment was definitely signing the contract to become the Barca coach. The worst? Lionel Messi‘s departure.”
Koeman also took the opportunity to defend himself, even though he said he’s “fed up” of having to do so, saying that if the club didn’t have financial problems he would still have Messi in his team and “other players that I would bring in to help us dominate games.”
He bemoaned circumstances that have been out of his control since he was appointed under previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu in August 2000, such as the exits of key players and injuries to important forwards, such as Ansu Fati, who’s just returned after 10 months out.
“I’m here for the love of the club,” he added of the difficult environment he has had to work in. “I came here in a very complicated situation. People can analyse that. We’ve had to make big changes.”
Sources have previously explained to ESPN that Koeman has been kept on because of the lack of credible alternatives available.
However, ESPN reported on Thursday the club have now stepped up their search for a replacement following the Benfica game.
Sources explained that former Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo and River Plate manager Marcelo Gallardo have been added to a shortlist that also includes ex-Barca captain Xavi Hernandez and Belgium boss Roberto Martinez.
“Everyone knows I already decided to fulfill my contract [with River Plate]”, Gallardo said on Friday in a press conference ahead of Sunday’s ‘Superclasico’ against Boca Juniors. “I have no reason to be distracted by other things now. It never crossed my mind [Barcelona’s coaching position] and there is nothing beyond the rumors in the press. If they [Barcelona] contacted me or not, what is the point? The only thing I can tell you is that my focus is on Sunday’s game and on ending my contractual relationship with River.”
Koeman won the Copa del Rey in his first season as Barca coach and finished third in LaLiga. However, back-to-back 3-0 defeats in the Champions League and draws against Granada and Cadiz in LaLiga in September have pushed him to the brink.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone, meanwhile, sent Koeman his backing at his news conference on Friday.
“He will be in an uncomfortable position. We are colleagues and we respect him as a coach,” Simeone said. “I have a lot of respect for Koeman. He has shown a lot of personality from what I can see from the outside.
“As a colleague, I wish him the best.”
Information from ESPN’s Adriana Garcia was included in this report