July 16, 2024
Xavi’s place at Barcelona: From successful La Liga to combating for his 
future

When Xavi was waiting for the Supercopa de Espana final week, he mentioned he hoped the four-team competitors in Saudi Arabia would give his underperforming Barcelona aspect an opportunity to lastly “click on” this season.

“We’re getting nearer to our sport,” he mentioned earlier than Barca’s semi-final in opposition to Osasuna. “We solely want this turning level, and that’s what we’d discover right here.”

Just a few days later, a traumatic defeat to Actual Madrid within the ultimate caused fairly a unique end result. No one witnessed any ‘click on’ from Barcelona throughout that 4-1 loss, simply the rising waves of intensifying stress.

As an alternative of the Supercopa — Spain’s expanded equal of the Neighborhood Protect in England — offering a springboard in the direction of success, because it did for title-bound Barca final season, Xavi’s undertaking has been despatched again to sq. one and his place has been left critically undermined.

Xavi, 43, was already below scrutiny as supervisor of the Catalan membership the place he had starred as a participant, with Barca badly off the tempo in La Liga this season and unconvincing of their model of play. Barcelona are nonetheless planning to evaluate Xavi’s function on the finish of the season, as reported by The Athletic, however there’s a rising realisation across the membership that he’s not the supervisor everybody hoped he can be — the determine round whom a renaissance might be launched.

After the Supercopa, retaining his job gained’t be a straightforward activity for Xavi. The supervisor who gained La Liga final season is now combating for his future. This is the reason.


Xavi has at all times carried an additional — and presumably unfair — share of expectations since being appointed as Barcelona coach in November 2021. A legendary participant who spent 17 years on the Camp Nou between 1998 and 2015, he took the midfield baton from fellow academy graduate Pep Guardiola and helped outline an period below him on the pitch. Parallels had been at all times going to be drawn with the now Manchester Metropolis supervisor.

Xavi’s return got here at a troublesome time. He inherited a squad quick on high quality and depth in comparison with earlier years, and with Barcelona simply ninth in La Liga after 12 video games of that 2021-22 season below Ronald Koeman, one other of the membership’s former gamers.

Firstly, there was a shade of suspicion over whether or not membership president Joan Laporta absolutely trusted Xavi, who had been a part of Victor Font’s rival candidacy throughout Barca’s 2021 elections. Xavi wasn’t his man, and Laporta tends to encompass himself with those that faithfully assist him, however these had been determined instances and the membership wanted the enhance somebody of his profile would convey.

In monetary phrases, Xavi has been extra trusted than the vast majority of his predecessors. In January 2022, his first switch window in cost, Barcelona’s board backed him with 5 signings to ensure of Champions League qualification. That mission was accomplished. Six months later, The Summer time of Levers arrived.

These two home windows noticed practically €300million (£257m/$326m at in the present day’s charges) invested in new gamers. Final season, Barca claimed a primary La Liga title in 4 years however since then, Xavi has merely not helped his aspect progress. It’s onerous to identify any participant acting at their easiest or children who’ve been skillfully developed by the teaching employees.

What’s most regarding, although, is the shortage of connection between the supervisor and the dressing room that Sunday’s Clasico defeat uncovered.


Barcelona’s gamers accumulate their Supercopa runners-up medals on Sunday (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP through Getty Pictures)

Xavi has tried virtually all the things to revamp the staff’s spirit in latest months, however seemingly with little success.

There have already been two vital clear-the-air staff conferences this season. The primary was in October after the 2-1 league Clasico defeat at dwelling, and new signing Ilkay Gundogan’s phrases of criticism that adopted. The second was after Barca had been overwhelmed 1-0 away in opposition to Shakhtar Donetsk within the Champions League group stage lower than two weeks later. Backroom employees left these discussions feeling reassured of the staff’s dedication, and anticipated a optimistic response on the pitch — but it surely by no means actually occurred.

Xavi typically selected to not publicly criticise his group, as an alternative blaming the media for spreading negativity, however after one other disappointing efficiency within the 3-2 dwelling victory in opposition to Almeria — the ultimate league sport of 2023 — that technique modified.

“There was no depth or aggressiveness, I informed the gamers that at half-time,” Xavi mentioned. “We don’t possess the 2010 Barcelona’s high quality, we simply don’t. We have to run our socks off. If we don’t run like animals, we gained’t win video games. This wants to alter and isn’t occurring once more. That is my duty.”

However solely 4 matches later, Xavi discovered himself admitting his staff “didn’t present up” within the second half of Sunday’s defeat by Madrid in Riyadh.

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Nothing has modified, and it leads individuals contained in the membership to query whether or not the gamers are usually not following the supervisor, or in the event that they merely wrestle to use his concepts on the pitch. Each eventualities can be regarding, however Xavi’s relationship with a few of them has actually come below pressure.

Pedri felt dissatisfied final season with the stress utilized on him to rush again from damage, which ultimately induced him a extreme setback. There was frustration from Ferran Torres, who was stored on a listing of potential departures all through the summer season, regardless of neither the supervisor nor Barca ever telling him immediately to seek out one other membership. The identical situation occurred with Ansu Fati and Eric Garcia, who each lastly opted to depart.

Earlier than the beginning of the season, Jules Kounde informed Xavi he didn’t take pleasure in being performed as a right-back, and that he would favor for use in his pure central defensive place. This noticed membership captain Ronald Araujo being relocated as a right-back extra often, however he has ended up complaining about this too. One other defender, Andreas Christensen, has turn into disgruntled over constantly being the primary participant to be dropped when everyone seems to be match.

There’s additionally the case of Robert Lewandowski, arguably the membership’s key senior participant, who has additionally seen his place on the membership, and relationship with the supervisor, change considerably of late.

As quickly as he arrived on the membership in the summertime of 2022, Lewandowski was thought to be a blessing by the teaching employees — a task mannequin and a benchmark by way of work ethic for the kids within the membership. Xavi even used him for example throughout staff talks and inspired different gamers to comply with the striker’s instance.

After the 2022 World Cup in November and December, Xavi modified to a brand new system, taking a winger out to get an additional midfielder on the pitch. By the top of final season, Lewandowski was feeling that this new construction didn’t assist the staff produce extra within the ultimate third, or present him with huge possibilities. He expressed his considerations in an interview with The Athletic throughout pre-season.

Xavi has switched to 2 wingers in a number of video games this season, however Lewandowski’s kind is method beneath his excessive requirements. The 35-year-old was taken off at Las Palmas early this month when Barca wanted to discover a aim to win, and it felt like an enormous second.

Backroom employees sources — who, like all these cited right here, most popular to talk anonymously to guard their place — have conceded their frustration with Lewandowski’s lack of luck in entrance of aim this season.


Barca president Laporta, pictured in December (Cristian Trujillo/High quality Sport Pictures/Getty Pictures)

In some ways, a lot of that is all a part of the traditional working of an elite soccer membership. No one can count on high athletes to be comfortable when issues aren’t going the best way they deliberate, and among the examples talked about above at the moment are thought to have been handled.

Barcelona held their first coaching session because the weekend’s Clasico loss yesterday (Tuesday). Earlier than the beginning of it, the teaching employees and the footballers had one other sincere speak to evaluate the state of affairs. After that assembly, sources from the backroom employees assured The Athletic that Xavi continues to be satisfied the overwhelming majority of the dressing room helps him.

Nevertheless, judging by what has occurred on the soccer pitch and in response to first-team sources, there are nonetheless varied free ends.

Xavi does have a transparent thought of how he desires Barcelona to play, however he’s not remodeled that into actuality. In opposition to Madrid on Sunday, he returned to the four-midfielder system used to such nice impact in the identical fixture final January. This time, it left Barca badly uncovered. Unable to function an efficient excessive press, they may not forestall Madrid simply dismantling their defensive position to attain twice within the first 10 minutes.

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Within the build-up to the Supercopa ultimate, Xavi had as soon as once more tried to persuade these listening that his aspect had been dedicated to the ‘Johan Cruyff DNA’. It may need been a transfer to guard his gamers from exterior stress, however now it appears like he went into that sport with out having noticed the most important warning indicators round his staff, and his pre-match phrases made the defeat much more damaging.

Regardless of all this, we must always not count on Barca to abruptly fireplace their supervisor.

Membership sources preserve insisting Xavi will proceed, that this can be a time to stay calm and {that a} definitive prognosis will probably be left till the summer season.

Sacking him now wouldn’t repair something within the short-term, and blame for the membership’s state should even be positioned on the door of these above him within the hierarchy, with an extreme wage invoice and a switch coverage extra based mostly on relationships with brokers relatively than an analytical mindset, in addition to Barcelona’s deeper cash issues.

And even when it’s determined that Xavi has to go in the summertime, what’s the different? The membership’s funds imply they might wrestle to even herald a modestly-paid alternative.

The one potential candidate who has been timidly lined as much as substitute Xavi in case of emergency is Rafael Marquez, the previous Mexico and Barca defender now answerable for Barcelona Atletic, a reserve staff largely consisting of academy graduates who compete in Spain’s third tier.

Marquez taking on would possibly make sense financially however he’s unproven as a supervisor at elite stage. Hiring him to guide the primary staff can be an especially dangerous gamble and would convey no assure the state of affairs would change.

Barca’s cash troubles and the way by which they’ve chosen to deal with them imply the membership want success on the pitch. When Laporta returned as president three years in the past, he did so promising to comply with the “virtuous circle” idea of his first spell; spending huge cash to usher in gamers who would assure titles — and the income that comes with them.

His plan crashed right into a wall in Riyadh on Sunday evening.

Now the membership have the ultimate 5 months of the season to work out the solutions on the pitch.

(High photograph: Aitor Alcalde Colomer/Getty Pictures)


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