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'Nobody knows him, how can he give orders to Messi?' - Setien's raging assistant Sarabia under the spotlight

09:00 GMT 06/03/2020
Quique Setien Eder Sarabia Barcelona
Eder Sarabia has been described as the new Jose Mourinho due to his temperament on the sidelines and his behaviour in the Clasico is causing fuss

One of the doubts about Quique Setien’s Barcelona appointment was whether he could manage a dressing room crammed with big names and bigger egos, having spent most of his career coaching at lower levels. Some players are sceptical about the Cantabrian and his staff, and it reared its head this week in the furore surrounding his assistant Eder Sarabia.

Setien’s No.2 was caught raging on camera by TV stations Movistar and Gol, as Barcelona lost 2-0 in the Clasico last weekend at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Sarabia blasting several players in foul-mouthed outbursts in the dugout, angering the squad. However there is a split in opinion over Sarabia, with some figures higher up at Barcelona and a big chunk of supporters backing Setien’s assistant.

Eder is the son of legendary Athletic Club player Manu Sarabia, who grew up supporting his father’s club but also was hugely influenced by Barcelona’s ‘Dream Team’, which won the club the European Cup for the first time in 1992, as well as La Liga four times running between 1990 and 1994.

His father Manu played with Setien at Logrones while Eder was eight years old and it is thanks to that connection that Sarabia found his way onto Barcelona’s bench. Setien invited him to join as his assistant at Las Palmas and they have been linked ever since, operating together at Real Betis afterwards, and now in Catalonia.

As the Spanish media have pointed out this week, Setien and Sarabia is a good cop, bad cop partnership. While the veteran coach, 61, is reserved, Sarabia, 39, gets caught in the heat of the moment, as involved on the sidelines as if he were part of the starting XI. While the cerebral Setien loves chess, Sarabia is a cycling nut, a sport befitting his intensity.

Managers at Barcelona have often had influential and punishing assistants, with Sarabia potentially the Jose Mourinho to Sir Bobby Robson, or the Henk ten Cate to Frank Rijkaard. Sarabia has been sent off six times in his career, although not yet at Barcelona, and even opposition players have complained about him.

Jose Luis Gaya, the Valencia defender, complained that Sarabia was trying to put him off last season when Los Che faced Real Betis in the Copa del Rey semi-final. “He spent the whole game shouting at me, telling me to stop diving and trying to get me out of my place,” Gaya told Cadena SER radio. “It’s not the first time he’s done it. I asked Setien, ‘how can you let your assistant do these things?’”

This time around, though, the controversy rose up after he was spotted insulting his team’s own players.

“It’s sh*t, sh*t, sh*t, those f*cking sh*tty long passes,” he said of Gerard Pique’s distribution.

“He’s not doing anything he’s supposed to be doing, f*cking hell,” Sarabia grumbled about Nelson Semedo.

“Again, Arthur, f*cking hell,” said the assistant, as Barcelona’s Brazilian midfielder became the target.

Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets also fell into his bad books at times and were also rebuked.

“Griezmann is a world champion. Who is Eder Sarabia to tell him he’s not doing what he’s supposed to do?” questioned French journalist Fred Hermel on Gol TV . Another clip showed Sarabia shouting at Messi, trying to get his attention. “Lio! Lio!” yelled the assistant brusquely at the six-time Ballon d’Or winner and perhaps the best player in the history of the game.

Barcelona’s players are said to be angry with Sarabia’s behaviour, and the fact he has no history of his own has not helped the issue - he’s never hidden the fact that his father’s status has opened doors for him.

“It seems he rules more than the coach and nobody knows him because he’s done nothing on a professional level, how can he give orders to Messi?” a Barcelona source told ABC newspaper.

Setien has told Sarabia to calm down a bit and the Barcelona coach admitted on Thursday that he and his assistant apologised to the players.

“This situation has affected me a lot, it’s something I’m worried about,” said Setien in an interview with El Periodico . “They can criticise us for making bad substitutions, for planning the games badly, for whatever, but not for behaviour.

“Eder is a kid who has a big temperament, which for a lot of things suits us brilliantly, but he has to learn to control himself. He’s working on that, trying to improve, because we’ve had these situations. He’s trying to fix it.

“He’s a young boy, an impulsive boy, who has so much energy and for a lot of things that’s really positive. But we’re on the bench for the club we represent and our behaviour must be exemplary.

“We’ve spoken about it, he’s worried too. We have apologised, and above all I have, because in the end it’s my fault, I should control these things.”

Despite Setien’s remorse, Sarabia has his backers. According to Diario Sport , Barcelona don’t think that his ferocity is a bad thing, although they don’t like that it has been exposed publicly.

El Periodico say clubs have complained to La Liga over the television companies filming the benches and putting together subtitled videos using lip-readers. Fans voting in a poll from Gol have backed Setien’s assistant, with 76 per cent of respondents saying Sarabia’s reactions were ‘normal’.

Plenty of Barcelona supporters would have been as frustrated themselves as they fell a point behind Madrid in La Liga, offering an impotent second-half display at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Sarabia is in charge of the attacking and defending set pieces, rather like Juan Carlos Unzue was under Luis Enrique, as well as driving the team on in training. With Barcelona chasing Madrid in La Liga and attempting to end their Champions League drought, they need unity.

“When the player sees two fundamental things, that you are fair and that you are making him better, he goes with you to the death,” Sarabia told Panenka magazine in 2018.

He has a job on his hands convincing Barcelona’s stars either of those.