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Messi will be the 'queen' for chess-obsessive Quique Setien

15:48 SAST 2020/01/15
Quique Setien Barcelona
A lifetime spent poring over chess and the football of Johan Cruyff has prepared the new Barcelona boss for the job at hand at Camp Nou

It's all a game of chess to new Barcelona boss Quique Setien, and Lionel Messi will be his queen at Camp Nou.

The veteran coach, who has previously worked at Real Betis and Las Palmas, loves the board game more than football and has learned from various aspects of the strategic battle, using them to shape his coaching.

“[Chess teaches you] patience, the capacity for analysis, control of your emotions,” Setien said in an interview with El Periodico in 2018.

He has even faced former world champions Anatoli Karpov and Garry Kasparov.

“It was an incredible experience, and in an era in which I was totally hooked on chess,” he explained. Did he win? “Get out of here! They play against 30 people at once and beat them all.”

Perhaps one day he will play Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian grandmaster whose interest in football saw him rise to the top of the Fantasy Premier League rankings earlier this season.

But, for now, Setien’s chequered battlefield is Camp Nou and his pieces are some of the most expensive players on the planet.

“Yesterday, I was walking around my home town with cows around me and now I’m here at Barcelona managing the best players in the world,” explained Setien at his presentation, surprised himself that he got the call from Barcelona.

He is delighted to have the opportunity to work with six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi, a player he has repeatedly stated his admiration for. “He is the queen; he does it all well,” Setien told El Periodico.

Nothing on the 61-year-old’s CV suggests he should have been a candidate for an elite club, given he has no honours to his name.

Instead, he has been called to Camp Nou because of something intangible, a feeling that he’s right for Barcelona aesthetically and tactically, after the colourless Valverde years in which the club lost their identity as a team that loves the ball.

Setien has signed on until 2022 but there are concerns that he will not be able to handle a dressing room full of big names and egos.

“I do not agree that the coach has to adapt to the players,” said Setien previously. “There was a time when I thought it, but that was because I did not understand football.”

On one hand, Barcelona could benefit from a shake-up. On the other, he may upset some players, although the heavyweights appear to be on his side.

Messi has previously given Setien a signed shirt, while Sergio Busquets did the same after his Betis side beat Barcelona 4-3 at Camp Nou in November 2018.

“To Quique, with appreciation and admiration for the way you see football,” wrote the midfielder.

That dramatic victory was the last time any visiting team has triumphed at Barcelona’s home stadium – Setien passed his audition with flying colours; he just had to wait a year or so to get the job.

He had long been linked with Barcelona, primarily because he is such an avid follower of Blaugrana legend Johan Cruyff, although he would have liked to get to know the Dutchman better.

“I told Cruyff I’d have given my little finger to have played for his team, but not just to play at Barcelona but for how they played, because I saw how the players enjoyed themselves,” Setien previously admitted.

Bringing delight back to Barcelona’s stars will be crucial in getting the best of a bunch who have practically won it all.

With rivals Real Madrid reinvigorated, Barcelona desperately hope Setien’s arrival will give their team the impulse they need to hit top form and kickstart their bid for the treble.

After finishing sixth in his first campaign in Andalusia, things began to sour in the second and Real Betis fans turned on Setien, turned off by his tactics and ideals, but Barcelona supporters are expected to warm quickly to him for his Cruyffian ways.

As a player, Setien made his name with hometown side Racing Santander, helping them get promoted to La Liga in 1992 during his second stint at the club.

He toughened up at Atletico and in the late 80s he faced Cruyff’s Barcelona and that was a formative experience, which shaped the rest of his career to date.

“From then on, I started to make sense of what I had felt throughout life, through my career,” Setien told The Coach’s Voice.

"I started to really watch football. To analyse it. To understand what I felt, and what I wanted to put into practice when I became a coach.”

Setien admitted he hasn’t decided whether Barcelona will play in 4-3-3, 4-4-2 or another formation, but was visibly thrilled as he faced the media with president Josep Maria Bartomeu and sporting director Eric Abidal.

This is the opportunity of a lifetime for him and finding out whether a diet of Cruyff and chess is enough to succeed at a club like Barcelona will make for a fascinating second half of the season.

As Valverde found out, with two La Liga titles in the bank and the team top of the table once more in his third season, it only takes a few wrong moves at Barcelona and it’s checkmate.