Valverde relaxed amid familiar Barcelona talk

Speculation that Ernesto Valverde might become the next head coach of Barcelona is nothing new for the Athletic Bilbao boss.

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

Valverde, who played for the Camp Nou club between 1988 and 1990, 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 is reported to be an early frontrunner alongside Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli.

Athletic fell to a battling 1-0 loss at surprise title chasers Sevilla on Thursday and the future of both coaches was the main matter for discussion afterwards.

Sampaoli offered emphatic commitment to Sevilla, stating: "I am connected with the sporting project to death." Valverde, however, offered the cool detachment of a man who has been here before.

"I have nothing to do with a manager leaving a team or not, that is none of my concern," he said. "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.

"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.

"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 LaLiga 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.

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