Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman has spoken exclusively to SPORT about everything going on at the club. He was true to his way of being, sincere and direct, even when it comes to his relationship -- good now but rocky before the summer -- with president Joan Laporta.
Do you consider yourself a club man, putting Barcelona's interests before yours?
Absolutely. I have always thought it's my duty to help the club and I am, looking for ways to improve the team without compromising the club. What's happening at Barça recently is very special. Everything's happened to me!
The first day I arrived, Messi wanted to leave with the famous burofax, then there's the financial situation, the vote of no confidence, Bartomeu and the board resigning... a lot of problems. It's not been easy. An example of me wanting to help the club is the Emerson decision.
I told the club if the money was important, they can sell Emerson because we have Dest, Mingueza and even Sergi Roberto. I didn't stand in the way because I could have said: 'He's not moving.'
Was it the same with Griezmann?
Yes, it was the same, with the additional problem that it happened on deadline day, with very little time to find a solution. It was not great. Griezmann had a big contract and if he left, it helped the club financially. For that reason, I accepted his exit.
Was the Luuk de Jong arrival improvised then?
No, because it had been looked at since the start of August. I wanted a different striker to what we've got and I thought of him because I know him well. In fact, I wondered how it's possible Barça didn't ever have a striker like Luuk. He gives us different options, above all in the air, from free-kicks and corners. We can play more direct with him. I am happy with his signing.
Do you ever regret letting Luis Suarez go to Atletico Madrid?
Regret, no. I arrived at Barça, they appointed me, to change things in the team and we thought it would be positive if Luis Suarez left. We thought he would go to Juventus, not Atletico, but you should never regret taking the right decision for the good of the team and the club.
After everything you experienced in those first months at the club, did you ever thing: 'Bloody hell, what have I got myself into?'
(Laughs) Of course! There are tough moments when you think that for an instant, but in the end you always have to look at the positives. And then I tell myself: 'Ronald, this is f----d, but we have to turn it around and overcome the problems.' We have to be able to move on from the best player in the world leaving, Leo Messi, the injuries we've had, the financial problems. I make it a challenge and that's motivation. In the end, what matters to me is the passion and love I have for Barça and for my job.
If we put everything in balance...
Without doubt more positives than negatives.
The best moment of 20-21?
Without doubt the Copa del Rey final against Athletic. It was the perfect performance from beginning to end, Messi was outstanding. We were great.
And the worst?
The Granada game at home, because if we won we went top and we were 1-0 up in the 70th minute.
After the Copa final, Laporta didn't back you. Did that hurt you?
Yes, to be honest. But no need to dwell on the past, but I admit I was angry and hurt. I thought he lacked respect.
On Monday he defended you on TV3...
I listened and it seemed perfect. That's how it should be. Everyone knows a coach's future depends on results but Laporta did well and it was important he made things clear. If there are doubts about the coach, we're on the wrong path, because then the coach, from the outside, doesn't appear strong or backed. I feel strong mentally. I don't care what happens in the future. I am relaxed in that sense. But I am grateful for Monday's public display of support because until then people had doubts. Now I think it's clear.
I imagine you flipped out when last Wednesday all the media published comments from Laporta about Riqui Puig, Samuel Umtiti, the system of play... and your possible renewal.
(Laughs) Yes! Two weeks and a half weeks ago there was a meeting with my agent, where the club told me that I was in the final year of my contract, that they're really happy, that they see a future with this squad, and they wanted me to continue for one more year. But they've not said anything since then, it was when Laporta spoke with the media that it all came out
Do you want to renew?
Of course I want to renew. I would love to be Barca coach for many years, despite the complications that exist at the club at the moment. But thanks to our decisions, Barca have young players (Pedri, Ansu, Gavi etc) with huge futures and I hope that, in the next three, four, five years, I can continue being their manager.
There's a belief that you have something against Riqui Puig...
Not at all! No! We've spoken with Riqui many times, in training, analysing what he must improve to get chances. People are looking to play us off against each other but the truth is: I want to win, the players want to win, the club want to win, the fans want to win... and I pick the best teams. If we win, I'm a good coach; if we lose, a disaster. That's how it is. At least let me take the decisions I think I should take.
Are you excited for Ansu's return?
Very. I know him well and I know what he can give us. However, we can't rush him and we will take zero risks. He's been out a long time so there's not rush. There's still a lot to do. It's the same with Coutinho.
Coutinho? Of course. I am still 100% convinced he's a player who can succeed at Barça. I like him a lot. The last injury was tough for him and he has to recover well both physically and mentally to be stronger than ever.
What do you expect from Dembélé?
Firstly, that he renews his contract. He's in the final year and it's important for the club that he renews.
What went through your head when you learned the Messi news?
It was a big blow. All the planning for the season was done with him in the team. Leo was super motivated as well. Losing the best player in the world like that is something that hurts. It wasn't just Messi, a symbol of the club left.
Do you have the squad you want?
There are always things to improve but I'll tell you one thing: if we have everyone available, we can do big things. We have a great team.
Can you win everything?
We have to be realistic, it will be difficult, but I am optimistic and ambitious.
Memphis Depay can mark an era at Barça?
No doubt. He has something that is essential to be a success here: personality and character. There's something different about him and he's really motivated by the challenge of being here.
A lot is said about the system. And some ask you to be true to the spirit of Cruyff...
There's a lot of literature on this issue but you have to remember that even Cruyff didn't always play 4-3-3. In my era, we played with three defenders, even with me as a pivot in midfield. I will just say one thing: the coach that doesn't want or know how to adapt to a certain need or problem is going wrong... The Barça that have played the best football with me on the bench, the most effective, conceded the least goals, has been when we played with a three-man defence. The data shows that. I will keep using 4-3-3 but if I think we need to go back to 3-5-2, I will. Always thinking about what's best for the team.