Xavi is set to return to Barcelona following the departure of Ronald Koeman.
Koeman’s departure came as a surprise to no-one. Barcelona currently sit ninth in La Liga and have lost three of their last four games in the league.
The atmosphere at the club had become toxic. Fans made their displeasure clear during the recent Clasico loss by jeering throughout the second half and then surrounding Koeman’s car as he left the stadium.
So, Xavi has a substantial task at hand, but you could be forgiven for wondering if he is the man to bring about change.
Recent years have seen a number of high-profile ex-players taking charge of former teams, with fairly poor results.
Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer and Frank Lampard were not abject failures but lacked the pedigree to take their sides to the next level. Andrea Pirlo fared even worse during his time at Juventus.
The former Barcelona man, though, is not entirely without experience.
Xavi: To Barcelona from Al-Sadd
Xavi has spent two years at Al-Sadd, a club in the Qatar Stars League. The numbers from his time there are impressive.
2 years have bought 7 trophies, including a domestic treble in 2019/2020. Al-Sadd had not won the league for five years prior to his arrival, so this is no mean feat.
Marcus Bring, European football expert, has been impressed with more than just the trophy haul during Xavi’s reign:
“On top of great results he has implemented his possession based philosophy in a good way with some clear structures which have worked out well.’
Of course, the level of football in Qatar is much lower than in Spain, but it’s easy to see how some would draw parallels with a certain Pep Guardiola who cut his managerial teeth at Barcelona B.
Bring said: “Al-Sadd and Barça B have different goals. Where Al-Sadd are opting for silverware while Barça B simply want to develop players for Barça’s first team.
“But most of all it is and was a preparation job for both Xavi and Pep, so in that way that comparison makes sense.”
Pep Guardiola went on to revolutionise Barcelona and create arguably the greatest club side football has ever seen, but these are different times for the Blaugrana.
The team Guardiola took over was far from perfect, but in no way comparable to the institutional car crash Xavi is being parachuted into. This means the goals are harder to judge.
What would class as success for Xavi at Barcelona?
Barcelona, more than any other club in the world, are obsessed with a certain style of football thanks to Johan Cruyff’s influence.
Bring argued: “Barcelona will always opt for the “Barça way” with lots of possession, high press. The hope and expectations are for Xavi to re-implement this philosophy.”
Anyone who has watched Barcelona recently, though, will know that this current side don’t play football remotely resembling Cruyffian principles. So reimplementing this philosophy might seem like a hard task.
The current squad isn’t anywhere near the quality of the last Barcelona team to truly play the Barça way. Its possible previous coaches thought this squad simply couldn’t play that way.
Bring thinks otherwise, though, saying: “For me it’s all about the coach at this point, someone needs to coach this squad in a proper way and get the structure right. If that’s achieved, Barcelona will be a much better team”.
Barcelona’s uniquely bad financial situation means competing for the biggest honours in European football is unrealistic right now.
This means playing with style is an important yet achievable goal for Xavi.
This will hopefully bring some short-term improvement as well. Despite the issues at the club Barcelona should be far better off than they are currently.
Reasons for Optimism
Barcelona still has a squad littered with top class players. Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets may be in the twilight of their careers but have not become bad players overnight.
There is a massive stockpile of young talent at the club, too. Ansu Fati, Pedri, Gavi and Frenkie De Jong are all more than capable of playing at a high level already despite their young age.
The combination of these factors should mean give Xavi confidence that he can improve this side.
“I believe there is a good chance the immediate effect will be positive due to Koeman’s heavy underperformance this season. To steady the ship shouldn’t be too hard.”
What Xavi will certainly have on his side is stature, being arguably the greatest centre midfielder of all time comes with its benefits.
Bring argued that after implementing a good structure the most important thing Xavi can do is command respect. This shouldn’t be an issue.
He said: “The second thing will be the least of all potential issues, he’s a Barça legend and everyone knows it.”
Of course, this wasn’t enough for Koeman. It also wasn’t enough for Pirlo or Lampard. But there’s probably never been a better time to take over Barcelona, strangely.
Xavi won’t have massive egos to deal with. Barcelona’s lack of superstars means he will be able to play how he desires.
The intense pressure will also be slightly lifted as everyone knows Barcelona aren’t currently an elite club.
These factors combined with the promising signs Xavi has shown so far in his fledgling managerial career will give Barcelona fans enough hope that this could be the start of a new era.