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'I'm focused on Athletic' - Valverde relaxed amid familiar Barcelona talk

9:07 PM SGT 3/3/17
ErnestoValverde - cropped
The 53-year-old is unaffected by Luis Enrique's impending departure at Camp Nou, insisting he is just focused on seeing out the season with his team

Ernesto Valverde shrugged off reports that he was set to leave Athletic Bilbao to replace Luis Enrique as the next coach of Barcelona, saying there is nothing new to the reports.

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In the aftermath of the Spanish champions thrashing Sporting Gijon on Wednesday, Luis Enrique announced he would stand down when his contract expires at the end of this season.

Valverde was mentioned in dispatches around the Barcelona job either side of Pep Guardiola's glorious 2008-2012 reign and after his late successor Tito Vilanova stood down due to ill health.

The 53-year-old's impressive job since rejoining Athletic for a second spell in 2013 – he also boasts two stints at Greek giants Olympiacos and tenures with Espanyol, Villarreal and Valencia – has done nothing to quell enthusiasm for his talents.

Like Luis Enrique, he is out of contract at the end of the current campaign, and Valverde, who played for the Camp Nou club between 1988 and 1990, is reported to be an early frontrunner alongside Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli.

However, Valverde was unassuming when he responded to questions on his future, telling reporters: "I have nothing to do with a manager leaving a team or not, that is none of my concern. I'm focused on my team.

"I understand all the reports around the managers. Sometimes they give you a team, sometimes they leave you without any. I understand that this is part of the game, but I'm not affected. I'm focused on what's ahead.

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"What I consider right now is Athletic."

Asked how he was coping with being a preferred option of the Barcelona fans, Valverde added: "Pretty good, I'm very relaxed. I say this because I've seen my team doing well [against Sevilla]. I was focused on the bench.

"We are all used to this kind of thing, [speculation] to give you a job or to take it away from you. Nothing more.

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"This is not the first time this happens to me when I was in another team. It's one circumstance. I don't want to be rude, it's just that the existence of reports doesn't mean we have to comment on them. I understand them, but that's it."

Valverde led Athletic to a fourth-place La Liga finish in 2013-14 and qualification for the Champions League.

In 2014-15, they were beaten 3-1 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final but gained a measure of revenge at the start of the following season with a 5-1 aggregate triumph in the Supercopa de Espana.