La Liga: Vallecano loss finally puts paid to Koeman
It was a fittingly dismal end to a miserable reign, beaten 1-0 at Rayo Vallecano, the type of humble opponent who Barcelona of old would have torn apart.
Ronald Koeman's last act as head coach of one of the greatest, most celebrated club sides in world football, played out in a suburb of Madrid, at the unmemorable Campo de Futbol de Vallecas, where 35-year-old Radamel Falcao, a player of some repute but well past his best, inflicted the Dutchman's last rites with the only goal of the game.
It was about as inglorious an end as any Barcelona manager should have expected, a crushing full stop to a 14-month reign which will be remembered for very little on the pitch, but plenty off it.
And of course the one event which few will ever forget, the moment that defined Koeman's tenure and almost certainly hastened his end, was the abject sight of a tearful Lionel Messi walking away from a club he had graced forever and didn't want to leave.
Which begs the question; was Koeman simply a scapegoat, a casualty of a club in crisis, or a poor coach whose own errors led to his downfall?
Odds sum up Barcelona's plight
The 6/4 La Liga joint favourites back in August now 1000/1 to land the title for a 27th time and they are 1/1000 simply to make the top four, a fate they were 1/12 for before the season had begun.
This is Barcelona we are talking about and it wasn't supposed to have been like this when Koeman walked back into the Nou Camp front office in August 2020.
Supporters emphasised the trophies he'd won as a coach at Ajax and PSV and the favourable reviews at Southampton and Everton. They overlooked the failures at Valencia and AZ and how his reign at Goodison Park turned sour.
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What was clear was that, while his popularity among Barca fans would never have been questioned and he clearly boasted a more than decent CV, when he arrived back at the Nou Camp last year he was walking into the teeth of a crisis which would eventually engulf him.
Suarez exit sowed the seeds
Pretty much Koeman's first task back in Barcelona was to oversee the departure of Luis Suarez to Atletico Madrid.
The player didn't want to go, Messi didn't want him to go and it was an acrimonious end, a bad example of man management by Koeman and it set the tone for a mistake-ridden reign.
Koeman survived it because the side was doing relatively well, winning the Copa del Rey in April. They had also put together a 19-match unbeaten run in the league to put them in pole position for La Liga glory and with six games to go and Messi flying, they were favourites to go in.
A chastening 2-1 home defeat by Granada stopped them in their tracks and, having already been dumped out of the Champions League by Paris Saint Germain, the season quickly petered out; knives started to sharpen.
Koeman's record against the big sides - lost both El Clasicos, one point out of six off Atletico, embarrassed by PSG - had many questioning his tactical nous in those crunch matches and gave new president Joan Laporta the chance to wield the axe. He refused and has paid for his loyalty.
Lionel Messi - kingmaker and kingbreaker
Laporta, of course, was also trying to extricate Barcelona from a horrible mess, mostly of predecessor Bartomeu's making with the club run into the ground financially.
One of his key election pledges was vowing to keep Messi at the cash-strapped club but it was seemingly beyond his powers and the bombshell of all bombshells was dropped on August 5th when it was revealed 'financial and structural obstacles' meant the Argentine superstar would leave as a free agent.
It was only then that the sheer scale of Barcelona's financial woes came to light.
All of this was out of Koeman's hands and accusations of not planning for a post-Messi future were definitely levelled at the board and not him.
He was simply left scrabbling around for cut-price signings of the calibre of Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay while others were sold from under his feet.
A seven-game unbeaten start to the league season hinted life after Messi, built around the next generation of Sergino, Gavi, Pedri and Ansu Fati, might be okay. But it was all a smokescreen.
Performances were aimless and tepid draws against the likes of Granada and Cadiz were unacceptable. In the 1-1 draw against Granada, Koeman fielded Gerard Pique up front.
His substitutions were generally ineffective, they fell behind to the first shot on target in five of his last six games; Koeman looked more and more out of control and out of his depth.
He inexplicably had no faith in the talented Riqui Puig when Philippe Coutinho was offering so little and self-defeating proclamations along the lines of reaching the top four would be an achievement, made him few new friends. Don't forget, they were 1/12 shots for that fate not so long ago.
Big-game defeats costly
And the big-game flops continued, battered 3-0 by both Bayern and Benfica in Europe and beaten 2-1 at home by Real Madrid on Sunday.
He endured injuries like any other manager but should have gone in the summer only for Laporta to dawdle unwisely and now Koeman's legacy is tainted.
He takes credit for putting his hand up last year to succeed Quique Setien when most saw it as a poisoned chalice, but you don't get judged on ambition in football merely results.
And on that score Koeman, the man who carved himself into Nou Camp folklore with the goal that won the 1992 European Cup, will go down as a failure.
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