After Real Betis’ thrilling 4-3 victory over Barcelona in November 2018, midfielder Sergio Busquets gifted then-Betis manager Quique Setien his shirt with a personal message written on the back.
“For Quique, with appreciation and admiration for the way you view football,” it read.
It remains Barcelona’s only defeat at the Nou Camp since September 2016 and many of the qualities Setien’s side showed that day are what convinced the Barcelona board he was the man to replace Ernesto Valverde.
“Not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this,” the 61-year-old said at his first press conference. “I have to thank the club. I’m excited about this challenge and this project.
“Yesterday, I was walking past the cows in my village and today I’m here at Barcelona managing the best players in the world. I’m at a huge team, I will never be able to do better. This is as good as it gets.”
Setien is a self-confessed disciple of Johan Cruyff – the legendary manager who gave Barcelona its footballing identity – and in brief but scintillating spells, his Betis side was unplayable.
Two captivating years in Andalucia were bookmarked by a remarkable 5-3 win over bitter city rival Sevilla, two victories against Real Madrid and that stunning defeat of Barcelona.
READ: Why did Barcelona sack Ernesto Valverde?
READ: ‘Total Football’ pioneer – Johan Cruyff remembered
Those victories meant he became the first manager to win away at both Real Madrid and Barcelona in the same season since 2003.
But when the team wasn’t at its swashbuckling best, Setien was able to mold Betis into a solid, cohesive unit that would eventually finish as high as sixth in La Liga.
His second season in charge was a frustrating one, as the club languished for much of it in the bottom half of the table and failed to build on the previous term’s success.
On the final day of the season, Setien’s team achieved a 2-0 win away to Real Madrid to secure a 10th-place finish but he was sacked in acrimonious fashion just an hour later.
Many Barcelona fans will breathe a sigh of relief at his appointment, as they had become frustrated with Valverde’s pragmatic style of football, despite the considerable success he had in his two-and-a-half years at the club.
For a club with the history and tradition of Barcelona, how the victories are achieved are almost as important as the victories themselves.
“Setien: a coach with Barca DNA and ‘in love’ with Messi,” wrote Spanish newspaper Diario AS about his appointment.
“It’s a luxury to have coincided with Messi,” Setien once said, after the Argentine’s hat-trick condemned his Betis side to a 4-1 defeat. “Messi is the best player I have ever seen.”
Barcelona-based newspaper Sport asks: “Who is Quique Setien, a man in love with Barca and Cruyff?”
The paper focuses on the coach’s other passion, a sport that helps him think tactically about football.
“He could have been a great chess champion,” it says. “In fact, he played international competitions in this discipline, coming to play simultaneously with (former world champions) Kasparov and Karpov.”
Indeed, Setien once admitted he often prefers playing chess to watching football.
It’s no secret that Setien was not Barcelona’s first choice to replace Valverde.
The club made a widely publicized approach to former midfielder and club legend Xavi Hernandez – currently in his first managerial position with Qatari side Al Sadd – but was rejected and reports suggest former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino was being considered, although the Argentine has previously said he would never manage Barcelona given his ties to rival club Espanyol.
Despite the widely perceived ineptitude of the current board in the way Valverde was sacked, it might have arrived at just the right option in Setien, albeit in a roundabout way.