Eight things you might not know about potential Manchester United manager Ernesto Valverde

The odds on Valverde succeeding Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have been slashed and while his league record is good and his snaps are excellent, he's not so adept at hanging on to big Champions League leads.

Nothing is going to plan at Manchester United, and that's likely because they don't actually have a plan in place.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was eventually shown the door and the Red Devils are now scrabbling around for an interim boss for the remainder of the season.

After departing Barcelona in 2020, Ernesto Valverde is searching for a new project and he's been touted as the man to take temporary charge of United. Indeed, his odds on succeeding Solskjaer are now just 7/2.

But just who is Valverde and what makes him a potential United boss? Planet Sport digs out eight things you might not know about the 57-year-old Spaniard.

Nicknamed 'The Ant'

Before becoming a manager, Valverde was a forward who plied his trade in Spain. His career started at Alaves and Espanyol, but he also went on to make 20 appearances for Barcelona before settling down at Athletic Bilbao.

And it was there that he was given the nickname 'Txingurri' by Bilbao boss Javier Clemente. Translating to 'The Ant' in English, the name was awarded to Valverde due to his height and lack of physicality.

Valverde stands at 5ft 8in, but used his low centre of gravity to trouble defenders during his playing days. In total, he went on to score 94 goals in 360 professional appearances before retiring in 1997.

A debut double in Greece

Ernesto Valverde, Olympiacos

After hanging up his boots, Valverde entered into coaching where he rose through the ranks at Athletic Bilbao before taking over at another former club, Espanyol.

But his real managerial breakthrough came in 2008 when he was appointed the manager of Greek side Olympiacos.

He was an immediate success, and in his first season in charge he led the side to a league and cup double, before refusing to sign a contract extension due to financial disagreements.

Valverde then spent a spell in charge of Villarreal before returning to Greece and Olympiacos in 2010. On his return he led the side to consecutive league titles, as well as another Greek Cup win in 2011/12.

A keen photographer

While most know Valverde for his success in soccer, the Spaniard has also been hugely successful in photography - a hobby he has continued to pursue throughout his career.

Valverde's art work has particularly found a home in Athens, where it hangs on the walls of the Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center, as well as the Giorgios Karaiskaskis Stadium.

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In 2012, Valverde published a collection of black and white images, which have been described by Basque poet Bernardo Atxaga as "at once delicate and tough, as if produced by two different hands".

Clearly a talented individual, his artistry has also been recognised in the world of sport. After his departure from Olympiacos in 2012, Pep Guardiola suggested he was a fan. "Greece has lost a great coach," he said, "and we've got a great photographer back."

Evidently a fan of art and culture, United fans will hope his love for expression and beauty will be reflected through his playing style should he take charge at Old Trafford.

Breaking records with Athletic Bilbao

Athletic Bilbao, Spanish Super Cup, 2015

After leaving Greece, Valverde returned to Spain to take charge of Valenica briefly, and then former side Athletic Bilbao in 2013.

His first season in charge was hugely successful, as he inspired his side to finish inside the top four and gain Champions League qualification.

But his greatest achievement with the club came in 2015. After being Spanish Cup runners-up the previous season, Valverde guided his side to the Supercopa de Espana final.

Barcelona awaited them in the final, but Valverde's team produced a fantastic performance to beat the Catalonian side 5-1 on aggregate.

The silverware was Athletic Bilbao's first for over 31 years.

Admired by Guardiola and Cruyff

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola during Premier League between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at Tottenham Hotspur stadium , London, England on 15th August 2021.

Having enjoyed plenty of success on the sidelines, Valverde has received some of the best plaudits a manager could hope for.

Guardiola is not just a fan of his photography, recommending Valverde as his Barcelona replacement in 2012. The Spanish club opted for Guardiola's assistant Tito Vilanova instead, but they did eventually turn to Valverde in 2017.

But perhaps the biggest compliment Valverde has received is from his former manager Johan Cruyff.

Having played under the legendary Dutchman at Barcelona, Cruyff stated that even as a player, Valverde "had an impact on all of us".

Before Valverde started coaching, Cruyff wrote of him: "He was intelligent and always expressed his interest to learn. As a coach he'll be one of the most promising."

An unbeatable Barcelona

Barcelona celebrate in La Liga, 2017

As previously mentioned, Barcelona did eventually turn to Valverde to be their manager in 2017, and the Spaniard matched expectations.

His first season in charge saw Barcelona complete the La Liga and Copa del Rey double. Despite losing in the Champions League, the Catalonian side stretched their unbeaten La Liga run to 43 games and were only prevented from completing a full season without defeat when they lost their penultimate league game 5-4 to Levante.

After an average start to the 2018/19 season, Valverde's side hit form across the Christmas period, and again went on a 23-match unbeaten streak to seal back-to-back titles.

He departed the following season after a string of poor results. Nevertheless, Valverde still left with an impressive 66.9% win percentage as Barca boss.

Doing the double against Manchester United

Manchester United's manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reacts during the Premier League football match between Manchester United and Everton in Manchester

Valverde has faced Manchester United twice in his managerial career. Both games came against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side in the knockout stages of the 2019 Champions League.

Fresh from their remarkable comeback in Paris, United were drawn against Barcelona in the quarter-finals, but there was no miracle result this time around.

The first leg at Old Trafford ended 1-0 to the Catalonians after Luke Shaw scored a first-half own goal, but the second leg was far more convincing. Valverde's side ran out 3-0 winners thanks to a Phillipe Coutinho strike and a Lionel Messi double.

Late Champions League collapses

Roma, Barcelona, Champions League

While Valverde generally boasts an impressive record in the Champions League, the Spaniard has also been witness to some horrific collapses from his side late in games.

In 2018, Valverde's Barcelona faced Roma in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

His side gained a 4-1 lead in the first leg at Camp Nou and it looked like the tie was all but over - surely Barcelona would score again in Rome or simply shut up shop.

But instead fans were treated to a true European classic. The Italian outfit battled back to win the return leg 3-0, with Kostas Manolas' late goal enough to send Roma through on the away goals rule.

Just a year later, Valverde's side had progressed to the semi-finals, where they were pitted against Liverpool.

Again Barcelona played at home first and a resounding 3-0 win looked to have ended Liverpool's European dreams.

However, Jurgen Klopp's side produced a miraculous fightback in the second leg to win 4-0, thanks to a little help from a quickly taken Trent Alexander-Arnold corner.

Not a moment Valverde would want to capture for posterity.

READ MORE: The Analyst: Newcastle should pick up points under Howe but for bookings rather than wins

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