By Richard Martin
BILBAO (Reuters) - Embattled Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde is being treated unfairly by the Spanish media during the club's winless run of three La Liga games, says Inaki Williams, who played under him at Athletic Bilbao.
Barca, who are in Champions League action against Tottenham Hotspur later on Wednesday, lead the La Liga standings alongside Real Madrid with 14 points but Valverde has come in for heavy criticism following a 2-2 draw with Girona, a 2-1 defeat to Leganes and a 1-1 draw with former club Athletic on Saturday.
Spanish newspaper Marca ran an article after the draw with Athletic declaring: "Valverde, just go now", while Barcelona-based daily Mundo Deportivo published a critical piece on Wednesday, asking: "Why is one of the best squads in the world playing such poor football?"
Athletic forward Williams, however, said Valverde, who won a double of La Liga and the Copa del Rey in his debut season with Barca and lost only one league game, in the penultimate week of the campaign, deserved more respect.
"Barca have an important game tonight and if they win it everything will change but it's not fair to question him for two draws and a defeat after everything he’s done for Barca," Williams told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
"We know how it is here -- when everything goes well there’s nothing to say but when you lose or draw a couple of games it is a drama and everything is bad. That's not right."
Valverde, a former player for Athletic who coached the Basque club for six seasons over two spells, gave Williams his top-flight debut in December 2014, promoting him from the reserve side to the first team at the age of 20.
Three months later, Williams, born in Bilbao to parents from Ghana and Liberia, became the first black player to score for Athletic, who pick only footballers with ties to the Basque country.
"Ernesto has helped me in everything, he helped me grow as a player, he’s very patient, he tries to make his players always give 100 percent and that’s what he did, he really left his footprint here," added Williams.
"We qualified for Europe in every year he was here so his numbers speak for themselves; every player here is very grateful to him, especially me because he gave me my debut.
"I was playing in the third division at the time and it's a big step up to playing in La Liga but he made it seem small."
(Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Clare Fallon)