MADRID: Spanish champions Barcelona, turned down temporarily at least by old star Xavi Hernandez, have appointed Quique Setien as new coach in place of sacked Ernesto Valverde writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Valverde was dismissed immediately after the squad’s return from Saudi Arabia where they lost in the semi-finals of the new-style Spanish Supercup.

Setien has signed a two and a half year contract taking him through to July 2022. It will be a surprise if he lasts that long given the clubn’s interest in Xavi – currently coach of Al Sadd in Qatar – and old hero Ronald Koeman, current boss of the Netherlands national team heading towards the Euro 2020 finals.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said: “We made a change now because we are halfway through the season and we needed some new momentum to face the final stretch of the season as we always have very big objectives.

“Even though the results were very good we knew that there was room for improvement in the team’s play and we spoke to Valverde about this and in the last few days we had told him that the team needed to improve.”

Setien had already been linked with Barcelona on several occasions on the basis of impressive work with Las Palmas and Betis. His coaching idol was Johan Cruyff.

Setien began his coaching career with home-town Racing Santander who he led to promotion into the top tier. Appointments followed with the national team of Equatorial Guinea, Logroñes and Lugo before koving on to Las Palmas and then Betis whom he led to the Spanish cup semi-finals.

Barcelona have reached the second round of the Champions League but will be without injured Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez for the rest of the season.