Eight things you might not know about potential Manchester United manager Ernesto Valverde

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Nothing will happen at Manchester United, and that’s probably because they don’t actually have a plan in place.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was finally shown the door and the Red Devils are now looking for an interim boss for the remainder of the season.

After leaving Barcelona in 2020, Ernesto Valverde is looking for a new project and he has been introduced as the man to take over United temporarily. Indeed, his chances of succeeding Solskjaer are only 7/2.

But who is Valverde and what makes him a potential United boss? Planet Sport digs up eight things you might not know about the 57-year-old Spaniard.

Nicknamed ‘The Ant’

Before becoming a coach, Valverde was a striker who plied his trade in Spain. His career started at Alaves and Espanyol, but he also made 20 appearances for Barcelona before moving to Athletic Bilbao.

And it is there that gave him the nickname of “Txingurri” by the boss of Bilbao Javier Clemente. Translated as “The Ant” in English, the name was given to Valverde due to his size and lack of physique.

Valverde is 5-foot-8, but used his low center of gravity to disturb defenders during his playing days. In total, he scored 94 goals in 360 professional appearances before retiring in 1997.

A first double in Greece

After hanging up his boots, Valverde entered training where he rose through the ranks at Athletic Bilbao before taking over at another former club, Espanyol.

But his real managerial breakthrough came in 2008 when he was appointed manager of Greek Olympiacos.

He was an immediate success and, in his first season at the helm, he led the team to a championship-cup brace, before refusing to sign a contract extension due to financial disagreements.

Valverde then spent some time at the helm of Villarreal before returning to Greece and Olympiacos in 2010. On his return, he led the team to back-to-back league titles, as well as another victory in Greek Cup in 2011/12.

A passionate photographer

While most know Valverde for his success in football, the Spaniard has also enjoyed enormous success in photography – a hobby he has continued to practice throughout his career.

Valverde’s work of art has notably found its place in Athens, where it hangs on the walls of the Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center, as well as the Giorgios Karaiskaskis stadium.

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In 2012, Valverde published a collection of black and white images, which were described by Basque poet Bernardo Atxaga as “both delicate and harsh, as if produced by two different hands”.

Clearly a talented individual, his art has also been recognized in the world of sport. After leaving Olympiacos in 2012, Pep Guardiola suggested he was a fan. “Greece has lost a great coach,” he said, “and we have a great photographer back.”

Obviously a fan of art and culture, United fans are hopeful his love for expression and beauty will be reflected in his style of play if he takes the helm at Old Trafford.

Breaking records with Athletic Bilbao

Athletic Bilbao, Spanish Supercup, 2015

After leaving Greece, Valverde returned to Spain to briefly take charge of Valenica and then former club Athletic Bilbao in 2013.

His first season in charge was a huge success as he inspired his team to finish in the top four and advance to the Champions League.

But his biggest achievement with the club came in 2015. After being a Spanish Cup finalist the previous season, Valverde guided his team to the Spanish Super Cup final.

Barcelona were waiting for them in the final, but Valverde’s side put in a fantastic performance to beat the Catalan side 5-1 on aggregate.

The silverware was Athletic Bilbao’s first for over 31 years.

Admired by Guardiola and Cruyff

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, England on August 15th 2021.

Having enjoyed great success on the sidelines, Valverde has received some of the best praise a manager could hope for.

Guardiola is not only a fan of his photography, recommending Valverde as a Barcelona replacement in 2012. The Spanish club opted for Guardiola’s assistant Tito Vilanova instead, but they eventually turned to Valverde in 2017.

But perhaps the biggest compliment Valverde has received is from his former manager Johan Cruyff.

Having played under the legendary Dutchman at Barcelona, ​​Cruyff said that even as a player, Valverde “made an impact on all of us”.

Before Valverde started coaching, Cruyff wrote of him: “He was smart and always expressed an interest in learning. As a coach he will be one of the most promising.”

An unbeatable Barcelona

Barcelona celebrates in La Liga, 2017

As mentioned before, Barcelona finally turned to Valverde to be their manager in 2017, and the Spaniard lived up to expectations.

His first season in charge saw Barcelona complete the La Liga brace and the Copa del Rey. Despite losing in the Champions League, the Catalan side extended their La Liga unbeaten run to 43 games and were only prevented from ending a full season unbeaten when they lost their penultimate league game 5-4 against Levante.

After an average start to the 2018/19 season, Valverde’s side have formed throughout the Christmas period and again enjoyed a 23-game unbeaten streak to seal back-to-back titles.

He left the following season after a string of poor results. Nonetheless, Valverde still left with an impressive 66.9% winning percentage as Barca boss.

Double against Manchester United

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reacts during the Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Everton in Manchester

Valverde has faced Manchester United twice during his managerial career. Both matches took place against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side in the 2019 Champions League round of 16.

Fresh off their noticeable return to Paris, United were drawn against Barcelona in the quarter-finals, but there was no miracle result this time around.

The first leg at Old Trafford ended 1-0 against the Catalans after Luke Shaw scored his own side in the first half, but the return leg was much more convincing. Valverde’s side lost 3-0 thanks to a strike from Phillipe Coutinho and a brace from Lionel Messi.

The end of the Champions League collapses

Rome, Barcelona, ​​Champions League

While Valverde generally has an impressive Champions League record, the Spaniard also witnessed some horrific meltdowns on his side late in the game.

In 2018, Valverde’s Barcelona faced Roma in the Champions League quarter-finals.

His side took a 4-1 lead in the first leg at Camp Nou and it looked like the tie was almost over – Barcelona would surely score again in Rome or simply go out of business.

But instead, fans were treated to a true European classic. The Italian side fought back to win the second leg 3-0, with a goal late enough from Kostas Manolas to allow Roma to advance to the away goals rule.

A year later, Valverde’s side advanced to the semi-finals, where they faced Liverpool.

Once again, Barcelona played at home first and a resounding 3-0 victory seemed to have ended Liverpool’s European dreams.

However, Jurgen Klopp’s side produced a miraculous retaliation in the second leg to win 4-0, with some help from a corner quickly taken by Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Not a moment that Valverde would want to capture for posterity.

READ MORE: Analyst: Newcastle set to gain points under Howe but for bookings rather than wins

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