As they have returned from their summer breaks, the Barcelona players have found a new Ronald Koeman. From the first day of preseason, the Dutch coach and his staff have transmitted a clear message: what was acceptable last season will not pass this time around. With Barça now in Germany for a mini-tour, Koeman's still reinforcing the same phrase.
Koeman kept his job despite the new board's doubts. There was an agreement on two key points: strengthening the team and demanding more from the squad. The first has been done within the club's financial means and the second point is in Koeman's hands. And he knows it.
Two weeks of preseason have been enough to give the players the same sensation: the coaching staff have raised the bar. The atmosphere is good, yes, but it's not been confused at all with a state of relaxation that did exist not so long ago. The culture of working hard every day isn't recovered overnight. Assistants Alfred Schreuder and Henrik Larsson are there to maintain that message.
The fitness coaches are pressing to make sure things are done at the correct intensity. That's one of Koeman's big things. He was the one who insisted on the need to make the trip to Germany to work in tactics and fitness. He hasn't forgotten the start to last season and wants the players switched on from the start. Leagues aren't won in October but they can start to be lost.
"This year we have to give much more." This is the message from Koeman to the group. Not just in group chats, but also in one on one talks with his players. The coaching staff were happy with the team's growth last year with an asterisk: at certain moments they committed mistakes. If last season served to recover the competitive spirit after an 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich, the new season must serve to take the next step forward. "Errors at key moments killed us, we cannot repeat them and win titles," Koeman insists.
From the dressing room, they explain that Koeman seems more confident and also tenser. Not nervous, but demanding, because he knows his future is now linked to success this season. In permanent contact with the hierarchy over squad planning with more players to go and hopefully come, he feels stronger now. In part, because it's the president who has repeatedly asked for the level of demand to be lifted. "We have to end with this 'if we lose nothing happens' mentality," Laporta has said.
The board and the coach are on the same page that the squad can and must give more. With difficulties last season, they came close to turning things around in the year, and the demand must go up now. Koeman's activated 'Sargeant Mode.'