Former Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal revealed his four options to replace Ernesto Valverde at the helm of the Nou Camp were Mauricio Pochettino, Xavi Hernandez, Quique Setien, and Max Allegri.
The Frenchman, who won honours aplenty with the Blaugrana as a player, returned to the club as a sporting director in the summer of 2018. However, he was ultimately sacked in 2020 on the back of Barcelona's historic 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League.
In a wide-ranging exclusive with The Telegraph, Abidal opened up about his tenure at the club, saying he had the four aforementioned names lined up as potential replacements, with the Argentine being his first choice to replace Ernesto Valverde in January 2020.
The former Barcelona defender revealed;
"On my list was Mauricio Pochettino, Quique Setien, Max Allegri and Xavi Hernandez. Quique was appointed, but my first option was Pochettino."
Despite Barcelona's interest in the then-Tottenham Hotspur manager, Pochettino's history as both a player and manager of the Catalans' cross-town rivals, Espanyol, proved to be a stumbling block. Abidal continued,
"I told the board, 'I have to bring the best coach we can in the market. I'm not here for politics because he was before in Espanyol'. For me, it's not politics."
"I wanted the best, and Pochettino is one of the best in our game. He reached the Champions League final with Tottenham [Hotspur], you have to respect this, he has a good philosophy of playing, a good philosophy of training, players love him, and I think he would be a better coach now for this situation, but with a real project."
Abidal did, however, mention that it wasn't just a case of Barcelona viewing the matter from a political lens, given that Pochettino himself was strongly against the move. The current Paris Saint-Germain boss once famously claimed he would rather work on a farm back in his homeland than coach the rivals of his former club, Espanyol.
"I knew there was a political problem because I gave my argument to the board, and some answers were focused on Espanyol and not on the technical part."
"And I think he [Pochettino] did an interview many years ago, I will not say he talked bad about the club, he said something about going to Argentina first before he will train Barcelona. This was a problem for some people’s egos and they said ‘no because he’s not respecting the club’."
Abidal then cited the example of ex-Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho, who went on to coach Barcelona's fiercest rivals despite a spell at the Nou Camp. He remarked;
"But many years ago [Jose] Mourinho said Barcelona was always in his heart and he became the coach of Real Madrid because this happens in careers and different situations present themselves. You don’t have to mix politics with professional decisions."
Jose Mourinho famously wanted to take over at Barcelona in 2008 following Frank Rijkaard's exit, but the Blaugrana handed the job to Pep Guardiola at the time. The former midfielder went on to guide Barcelona to a historic treble and a staggering 14 trophies in his four years at the club.
Eric Abidal reveals he wanted Barcelona to sack Ernesto Valverde in 2018
Despite Ernesto Valverde's two sublime LaLiga Santander-winning campaigns, questions were raised about his long-term future at the helm of the Nou Camp due to their European failures.
Abidal revealed he had suggested Barcelona to sack Ernesto Valverde back in 2018 after a 'full analysis' of the situation. Then-CEO Josep Maria Bartomeu went against his word and offered Valverde a new deal instead, only to sack him just over a year later.
The former French defender explained;
"In December 2018, after a full analysis of the coach, his staff and the team, I recommended that we should change Ernesto Valverde. I said to the president 'I think this is the decision you have to take now'. And he told me 'no, it's not easy'."
"Instead, he took the decision to renew the contract of the coach two months later - the opposite of what I had suggested. Of course, I accepted the decision and continued to give the coach my full support, but it was a little bit strange for me after I said to the president that it was better to change him."
Valverde was replaced by Quique Setien, who lasted for a mere seven months before being sacked. The Spaniard's exit was announced by the club a day after their 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich. They were linked with Pochettino for a brief period once again before ultimately appointing Ronald Koeman.