Laporta says Koeman will keep job as Barcelona coach

(AP) — BARCELONA, Spain — Barcelona’s club president, in a surprise move, denied that Ronald Koeman would be fired on Saturday, saying that the Dutch coach will maintain his position.

Joan Laporta announced hours before Barcelona’s match against Atlético Madrid, which several stories in the Spanish media believed may be Koeman’s last, that “Koeman will continue to be the coach of Barcelona.”

“Koeman will still be Barcelona’s coach today, regardless of the result,” Laporta told reporters in Madrid. “He’s under contract, and we’re hoping he can get us back on the winning track by playing the way we want. I’m confident he’ll give it his all.”

It was Laporta’s first public remark after a humiliating 3-0 Champions League loss to Benfica on Wednesday fueled speculation that Koeman’s days were numbered.

With Barcelona losing both of its Champions League matches and perhaps missing out on the knockout rounds for the first time in 20 years, Koeman stated on Friday that the rumors of his departure were “probably accurate.”

Laporta’s outspoken support for Koeman came after another humiliating loss, this time against Diego Simeone’s Atlético.

After the game, Koeman said he wished Laporta had backed him sooner, but that “it is never too late to make clear where we all stand.”

“I spoke with (Laporta) over the phone last night and this morning about the team and my situation, and I requested that the club clarify its position on its coach,” Koeman said. “It’s critical for me as a coach and for the team to make this choice, and it’s critical for the president to make this decision as well. However, I am well aware that this is Barcelona, and we must win games.”

If the results didn’t improve, Koeman said he didn’t know how long Laporta would stand with him. After the international break next week, he sees a three-game homestand as crucial to kickstarting a comeback.

Laporta was reportedly contemplating Xavi Hernández, Andrea Pirlo, and Roberto Martnez as possible successors, according to Spanish media.

But, for the time being, Laporta stands by the former Barcelona defender, who carved his name into the Catalan club’s history with his final-winning goal in the 1992 European Cup final, which gave Barcelona its first of five European Cups.

“We feel he requires our trust because he is one of us; he loves Barça,” Laporta said of Koeman, who quit his position as a Dutch coach to take over the club at the start of the 2020-21 season amid institutional upheaval that eventually led to ex-president Josep Bartomeu’s departure.

“He chose to become Barcelona’s coach at a time when the club was experiencing great hardship both on the field and in the boardroom,” Laporta added. “It’s complex, and the outcomes aren’t promising. But I implore our supporters to have trust in our coach; he is deserving of it, and he believes in this group.”

As a coach, Koeman has had to deal with the club’s financial difficulties, which was brought on by Laporta’s predecessors’ bad management and the pandemic. Barcelona was forced to release Lionel Messi and other players, including Antoine Griezmann, this summer due to a drop in earnings and mounting debt.

However, Laporta’s relationship with Koeman, who is 58 years old, has never been perfect. Last offseason, Laporta actively attempted to replace him, but ultimately decided to keep him.

One reason that may have influenced Laporta’s decision to stay with Koeman is the financial hit that breaking his contract, which is scheduled to expire at the end of the season, would have on the cash-strapped club.

Barcelona lost 481 million euros ($557 million) in the fiscal year 2020-21, and it was in no position to provide severance compensation. Its pay ceiling has been cut to 97 million euros ($113 million), down from 334 million euros ($334 million) a year earlier and seven times less than Real Madrid’s.

And Koeman’s forthright demeanor, which seldom shies away from delivering what he sees as fair criticism about players and the club, may have been chastising at times. On Wednesday, he remarked that while he felt his players’ support, he didn’t know if the club was still behind him.

Last season, though, Koeman led Barcelona to the Copa del Rey championship and has since developed a number of young talents, most notably Spain midfielder Pedri González. He now believes that the squad must get injured players like Ousmane Dembelé and Martin Braithwaite back on the field, as well as Ansu Fati and Philippe Coutinho, who have recently returned to full fitness, before its true potential can be assessed.

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