Inside the world of the private, 'shy' Ernesto Valverde
Shy, intelligent and calm; Valverde is above all a mediator
He loves photography, one of his favourite activities in his spare time
"His photographs show a world that is not home, it's not a house or a country, with spaces that are hotels, aeroplanes, busses, football pitches, tourist zones and in general solitary places or places in which any person would feel alone. Solitary people are, effectively, the majority of people that appear in them." In his book Medio Tiempo (Half time), Ernesto Valverde's first publication, the writer Bernardo Atxaga wrote about what the new Barcelona coach was doing.
"Deep down, he's shy," say people that know him well. A shy person who likes his space, who enjoys moments alone. In his era as a player it was usual for him to disappear during trips away or in the 'concentrations' before home games. At Espanyol, for example, he left the hotel, camera in hand, and added to his collection of photos.
The less well known the city and town, the more interest it awoke in him. From this era at Espanyol in the late 80s, he is part of a Whatsapp group, although he rarely comments.
From then he has lived with his suitcase by the door, the life of a nomad, something reflected in his photographs. He is a measured type, discreet, a pacifist. "Fire is put out with water, not petrol," he said.
Those who shared a dressing room with him in the late 80s and start of the 90s didn't know they were dealing with a future coach. Valverde was a rare type of player. Beyond his passion for photographer, he wasn't a big fan of the "third half" - discussing the game. He was not crazy for football and in the dressing room he preferred listening to speaking.
Even now he is not obsessed with post match detail. When he arrives home he disconnects from football.
Pichi Alonso remembers how well he took being a substitute, even in the most important games. "He never complained, not even when he knew he wouldn't start against Leverkusen (UEFA cup final with Espanyol). He never lost his head, he was more for listening than shouting."
It was Javier Clemente who gave him a nickname that would never leave. He told Deia: "I had a boat called Txingurri, ant in Euskera. When Ernesto was 22 he was short and little and for that I called him Txingurri. It turned out that he did not like it and I did him over because it's stayed forever, but it was a loving nickname."
So, since then he's been The Ant, an institution at Athletic Bilbbao, the club that he leaves a legend. But contrary to that, Valverde grew up supporting another side. "The team of my youth was not Athletic, it was Deportivo Alaves," he told Sport in 1988.
At Barcelona he is remembered as a classic winger and despite his short stay he left a Cruyffista aroma. Athletic had a tradition of direct football but he was capable of changing that with players like Benat.
But Valverde was never a radical. He always had a great adaptability. "You don't win with possession, but with chances," he said while at Espanyol. His teams have had various styles and although he likes the 4-2-3-1 it would be nothing strange for him to stick with the 4-3-3 at Barcelona.
"Fires are put out with water, not with petrol"
53 years old, married, with three kids, Valverde now takes on the biggest challenge of his career. But when things get tough, the Ant's Basque veins stand out. "If I'm going on an adventure it has to be a bit difficult. Those that seemed easier have never gone well for me."
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