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John Laverty

Why Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid are proof that money doesn't buy class

John Laverty


Ernesto Valverde

Ernesto Valverde

Brief reign: the press ‘briefing’ which bedevilled David Moyes has already started with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Brief reign: the press ‘briefing’ which bedevilled David Moyes has already started with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Brief reign: the press ‘briefing’ which bedevilled David Moyes has already started with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Brief reign: the press ‘briefing’ which bedevilled David Moyes has already started with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Brief reign: the press ‘briefing’ which bedevilled David Moyes has already started with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Brief reign: the press ‘briefing’ which bedevilled David Moyes has already started with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ernesto Valverde

THE END IS NIGH. That was my back page headline from April 22, 2014. Very Nostradamus, biblical even. Certainly prescient but, alas, not particularly clever.

The dogs in the street knew that David Moyes' wretched nine-month spell as Manchester United manager was about to end.

WOOF, WOOF might have been a more appropriate headline.

And that's the rub. If urban mutts, the BelTel sports desk and that Uncle Tom bloke knew Moyes had taken his last sip from Fergie's poison chalice, why didn't he?

Surely the then 50-year-old must have been aware the game was up, yet he still had to go through the ignominy of turning up for work to be formally dismissed by Ed Woodward.

This outcome - exclusively predicted in the Belfast Telegraph and every other paper - was an inevitability after the executive vice-chairman had refused to comment on the growing speculation regarding the struggling manager's future.

Few at Old Trafford bemoaned his departure (although his successors got longer in the job, more money to spend and fared little better), but Moyes didn't deserve to be publicly humiliated like that.

This shoddy treatment of a decent, hard-working (albeit humourless and taciturn) man came to mind last week after Barcelona parted company with Ernesto Valverde.

If it's possible for something to be simultaneously shocking and unsurprising, this was it.

The 'shock' factor wasn't in Barca firing someone who had led them to two runaway La Liga titles; Valverde was the proverbial 'dead man walking' after his team's unforgivable capitulation to Liverpool in last year's Champions League semi-final, following the similar surrender of a three-goal lead against Roma 12 months earlier.

No, it was the fact that the Nou Camp suits had opted for a change of manager mid-season; a commonplace procedure at other major clubs, but only the second time in their history FC Barcelona had done this - and it showed.

If ever there was a masterclass in how NOT to treat an employee…

This was the football equivalent of an ordinary Joe/Josephine hearing on a rapidly-growing grapevine that their partner had been unfaithful, getting subsequent reassurances from the infidelity suspect that it simply wasn't true, then: "Um, we need to talk. Remember the other night when I said I wasn't..."

For Valverde, the jungle drums went up a few decibels after Atletico Madrid beat Barca in the who-gives-a-toss, sorry, Super Cup.

Suddenly, the suits were reported as having been seen fluttering their eyelashes at a host of prospective new partners.

First up was club sweetheart Xavi Hernandez, currently managing in Qatar, who rebuffed their advances ("It's just too soon, darling") followed by another terrace honey, Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman ("I'm tempted, but I'm seeing someone at the moment") and Mauricio Pochettino, former boss of unloved Barcelona neighbours Espanyol ("You do know who I used to sleep with, right?").

Apparently there were others such as Thierry Henry. The promiscuity was blatantly indiscreet and unnecessarily desperate, coming as it did from, arguably, the world's most attractive suitor.

In the end, Barca settled for a comparative virgin, Quique Setien - the archetypal "not Mr Right, but Mr Right Now", who'll be tossed aside as soon as one of the old flames swipes right on Tinder.

It was clear Barca didn't know who they wanted, but they knew who they didn't want, despite Valverde steering them towards another La Liga title and cruising into the Champions League knockout stages; ergo, making all the right noises, but dull and unadventurous in the sack.

The 55-year-old finally got the "it's not you, it's me" bullet last Monday night, having taken the squad for training, as usual, earlier that day.

As usual, that is, if you weren't reading the Spanish equivalent of 'the end is nigh' in virtually every paper and website.

News, if you could still call it that, of Valverde's official dismissal overshadowed the other revelation concerning Barcelona that day; that they had leapfrogged both El Clasico rivals Real Madrid and United to become the richest club in football.

But the shoddy, shambolic, amateurish way they treated Valverde proved once again that all the money in the world can't buy you class.

United showed that with their cack-handed handling of the Moyes dismissal; let's hope they treat club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with the respect and dignity he deserves when his Dear John letter is being drafted.

I wouldn't count on it; the "get Ole out, Poch in" media campaign is in full swing. Should Woodward not be moving to quash this scurrilous development, or did sources within his own club trigger it?

As for Real Madrid… I refer you to their disastrous recruitment of Spain national team boss Julen Lopetegui - a day before the start of the 2018 World Cup.

Somewhere in the bowels of the Bernabeu, a group of directors sat around a table and agreed that this was a great idea.

Lopetegui was immediately, and rightly, sacked by the Spanish football federation, the suddenly rudderless 2010 world champions failed miserably in Russia - and Real's new trophy wife lasted just 14 matches. But the suits are still there.

Incidentally, the other Barca manager who suffered the indignity of being dismissed in mid-season was Louis van Gaal - who, as Moyes' successor at United, would later be fired just two days after his team won the 2016 FA Cup.

His imminent redundancy was, however, trailed online by the BBC's Dan Roan - one of many pressmen 'briefed' about Jose Mourinho taking over - less than an hour after United had beaten Crystal Palace.

This prompted a chaotic post-match press conference in which Van Gaal, bombarded with questions about his future (or lack of it), was denied the opportunity to enjoy the finest moment of an admittedly underwhelming two-year tenure.

As philosopher George Santayana once famously uttered: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Belfast Telegraph