MADRID (AP) — Before a match against Barcelona at the Camp Nou more than a year ago, then-Real Betis coach Quique Setien asked Sergio Busquets for his game shirt.
He said he wanted it with a written dedication, so he could frame it.
The Barcelona midfielder complied, later sending Setien an autographed jersey with the message: »For Quique, with love and admiration for your way of looking at football. All the best.»
Real Betis won that match 4-3 in November 2018, marking the last time a team defeated Barcelona at Camp Nou.
Setien was back at the famous stadium on Tuesday, more than 14 months later, to be officially introduced as the coach of Barcelona, the club that for so long inspired his vision of soccer. He signed a contract until 2022.
The 61-year-old Spaniard often tried to get his teams to mimic Barcelona’s ball-possession and attacking-minded style, and now he will get to do it himself at the Catalan club.
»I have really enjoyed watching this team and these players on TV over the last few years,» Setien said. »They made me enjoy soccer, game after game. I still don’t think I realize what it means to be sitting on the bench coaching the best player in the world and his teammates.»
Setien said he immediately accepted the job when it was offered to him.
»I never thought Barcelona would hire me,» he said. »I don’t have a great curriculum. What I have is this philosophy that I love, but I didn’t know if that was going to be enough.»
Setien is replacing Ernesto Valverde, who was let go four days after a loss to Atletico Madrid in the semifinals of the Spanish Super Cup. Barcelona had also drawn three of its last four Spanish league games.
Barcelona’s next game is Sunday at home against Granada in the Spanish league.
Setien led his first practice session in the morning before being officially introduced and giving his first news conference with the club.
»Not even in my greatest dreams I imagined being here. Today is a very special day for me,» Setien said. »Yesterday I was back in the ranch with my cows, today I was leading a practice session with the best players in the world.»
Setien, who Barcelona called »one of the most experienced coaches in Spanish football,» said most of his soccer knowledge comes from watching and playing against a Johan Cruyff-led Barcelona. He once said he would sacrifice his pinky to play for Cruyff at the Catalan club.
He also called Lionel Messi a »luxury and the best player in history.»
»I can guarantee my team will play well,» he said. »We want to win every title possible, in addition to playing well.»
Setien inherits Valverde’s team in first place at the halfway point of the Spanish league season, ahead of Real Madrid on goal difference. In a few weeks, Barcelona will take on Napoli in the last 16 of the Champions League, a competition it hasn’t won since 2015.
Setien had been with Betis since 2017 until deciding to take some time off at the end of last season. He led the Seville club to sixth place in the league in his first season, and to the Copa del Rey semifinals in his second season.
He previously coached smaller Spanish clubs such as Racing Santander, Las Palmas and Lugo, where he failed to win any significant titles but helped some of them gain promotion from lower divisions. He also had a very brief stint with Equatorial Guinea’s national team, which he coached in one game.
A former midfielder, Setien spent most of his playing career with Racing Santander, though it was with Atletico Madrid that he won the 1985 Spanish Super Cup. Barcelona said he began playing in beach soccer, eventually making it to Spain’s national team in the sport.
He faced Barcelona 22 times as a player, scoring two goals in a stint of five wins, five draws and 12 losses. As a coach, he lost six of the seven games against the Catalan club, with the lone win coming in the match in which he also got Busquets’ jersey.
In a letter published on Barcelona’s website, Valverde thanked the club’s players, workers and officials. He wished the players and Setien »all the luck in the world.»
»It has been an intense two-and-a-half years right from the start,» he said. »In that time I have enjoyed some joyful moments celebrating victories and trophies but also others that have been tough and difficult.»
Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said he »wished things had been done differently» regarding Valverde, saying the leak of talks with other coaches did not make the situation any better.
»We are in the middle of the season and we needed an extra push,» Bartomeu said about the decision to change coaches. »We want to win the titles that we are still playing for in the second half of the season.»
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni