An 86th minute Angel Correa goal in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final against Barcelona was the tipping point in the Catalan giants’ team management in the 2019-20 season.
Barcelona had just lost 3-2 to Atletico Madrid and were dumped out of the revamped Spanish Super Cup in January this year. The excruciating loss put Ernesto Valverde, the erstwhile manager of the club, out of favour.
The Blaugrana had previously given up 4-1 and 3-0 leads against Roma and Liverpool respectively in the UEFA Champions League knock-out stages over the last two seasons, and the Super Cup loss was the final nail in the coffin for Valverde.
The Barcelona board immediately looked towards Xavi Hernandez, one of the greatest players in the club’s rich history.
Xavi, who is currently managing Qatar Stars League side, Al-Sadd Sports Club, is someone whose influence over the fans and the players could just have been the solution to an ailing and unmotivated Barcelona side.
When asked about his possible return to Barcelona as a manager, Xavi said:
“I am clear that I want to return to Barcelona, I am very excited. Now that I have seen myself coaching, I think I can bring things to the players. But I made it clear to them that I saw myself in a project that started from zero and that decision-making was mine.
“I can’t hide my dream of training Barcelona one day, and I would like to train Barça, but now my focus is on Al-Sadd. I can’t talk about Barcelona because I respect the club and Valverde.”
Xavi decided against taking over the reins at the Camp Nou and former Real Betis manager, Quique Setien was announced as the new Barcelona manager.
Setien came in with a lot of promise and his tenure at the Benito Villamarin Stadium was one of the most talked-about projects after he arrived in Barcelona.
Betis was known for playing possession-based football under Setien, and it excited the Barcelona fans.
He was deemed as a Johan Cruyff-loving alternative to Xavi. However, with no say on the player roster and with a mentally depleted side at his disposal, Setien has pretty much failed to turn the tables in Catalonia.
Barcelona were in a comfortable position when Quique Setien came in, with the club being level on points with Los Blancos. But the Catalans ultimately finished the campaign five short of their arch-rivals.
Setien has also failed to deliver on the style of play as well, with Barcelona not playing attractive and possession-based football, as promised by the 61-year-old.
With the presidential elections slated for next summer, Barcelona may need to have a change in personnel in the team management to enjoy immediate success.
Xavi taking charge of Barcelona seems a matter of when and not if
Xavi spent 24 years of his life at Barcelona. He joined the esteemed La Masia academy at the age of 11 and left the club after winning the treble in 2015 at the age of 35.
Xavi played 767 games for the Barcelona first-team and is one of the most decorated players in the club’s history. He was at the heart of Barcelona’s successful years under Louis van Gaal, Frank Rijkaard, Pep Guardiola, and Luis Enrique.
His partnership, understanding and telepathic connection with Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi made Barcelona one of the greatest footballing sides of all time.
With one sextuple and two trebles, Xavi, who boasts an embellishing club career, was also a key member of the Spanish national team which won two Euros and a World Cup between 2008 and 2012.
If he indeed returns to Barcelona, it will only be a step forward for the Camp Nou outfit. A Catalan nationalist, who has played for the Catalan national team in non-FIFA friendly games, Xavi is easily the greatest ambassador of Barcelona.
He has that Barca DNA, which took shape under the leadership of Johan Cruyff in the esteemed La Masia and formed the genesis of the future first-teams.
He knows the ins and outs of Barcelona’s style and has been a great advocate of the same. And at such difficult times, when Barcelona’s identity is under threat, Xavi is an ideal candidate to steady the ship.
Xavi Hernandez has always been an ardent fan of the Barcelona style and once said:
“Coaches may come and go, but the Barcelona style must stay. A new manager may fail to achieve success with the Barcelona playing style of keeping the ball and passing around; the next manager should never abandon the Barcelona style. Even if the club fails to get success for 200 years, our distinct playing style which allowed us to reach the pinnacle of world football should never go.”
When Xavi took charge of Al-Sadd, he said:
“My philosophy as a coach reflects the style that we developed for many years under the influence of Johan Cryuff at La Masia. I love to see teams that take the initiative on the field, attacking football and go back to that place we all loved since the days of our youth: possession-based football.”
Such advocacy for the Barcelona style, which was made and developed under Johan Cruyff, and taken forward by the likes of Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique, only serves the cause of Xavi returning to Camp Nou as the head coach.
Former Barcelona right-back Dani Alves once said,
“If FC Barcelona were an automobile, the Cruyff era would be Mach 1. Pep Guardiola’s tenure would be Mach 2, and Xavi Hernandez would be Mach 3.”
Former Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes also feels Xavi would be a good managerial fit at the Camp Nou:
“If Xavi comes back and takes charge at the club, Barcelona’s future will be in safe hands.”
Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi is another one who backs Xavi to return to the club. The Argentine once said:
“Xavi saw everything from the pitch. He led us and was the leader in the midfield. I am sure Xavi will come back and take charge at the club.”
Messi’s Barcelona teammate, Sergio Busquets also added in the same interview:
“Xavi wants to return and he will.”
Former Barcelona boss and current Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola too has the same notion about Xavi. He said:
“Xavi was already a manager when he played. His eyes sparkled watching football; He will be a manager for sure, some people play and never say they will be managers. This is not the case with him. Xavi could be a manager wherever he likes, not just at Barcelona.
“But you have to give him time, sooner or later, he will manage Barcelona. He is still young, he knows football, he watches it, he has passion, dedication, he is brave and bold, and he says things very clearly too. It would excite me to see him manage Barcelona. On top of everything, he likes to manage, and he focuses on everything.”
Guardiola’s words are a testimony to the fact that Xavi Hernandez managing Barcelona is just a matter of time.
Moreover, Xavi is a natural leader. He was the vice-captain to Carles Puyol and became the Barcelona captain once the veteran defender left the club. The former midfielder also acted as a bridge between the players and the coaches.
Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, and Luis Enrique all used Xavi to rally instructions from the sidelines. He used to convert the manager’s instructions into action on the pitch by leading the team.
Xavi’s charisma and influence will also work wonders for Barcelona. He can be someone who would not crumble under the pressure of the board and make wrong decisions like Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien.
He will also not allow veteran players to use their experience in the club to toxify the dressing room and indulge in lobbying. Xavi’s stature at Barcelona is massive, and he can solve the political side of the club’s problem.
Xavi will also bring a change in policy with his stature. He will not be afraid to take brave decisions and promote youngsters, at the cost of veteran and ageing players at the club—something which has been effectively implemented by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard at Manchester United and Chelsea respectively.
But is Xavi ready?
Is Xavi ready to take the job at Barcelona? Barcelona are no ordinary club. After their success under Johan Cruyff, Frank Rijkaard, Pep Guardiola, and Luis Enrique, they are a major European club, who intend to win every competition they participate in.
Xavi Hernandez is in his first year of coaching, but his managerial debut at Al-Sadd has been quite impressive. Al-Sadd are top of their AFC Champions League group and third in the Qatar Stars League table.
With 15 wins, nine losses and four draws, it is still early to judge Xavi as a manager. In an ideal world, he would have entered the La Masia system as a youth coach and risen through the coaching ranks at the club.
However, it is not an ideal world, and it seems unlikely that Xavi would manage the youth teams before taking charge of the Barcelona first-team.
The perfect model for Xavi to enter the Barcelona coaching ranks at this moment would be if he is appointed as an assistant manager.
As an assistant manager, Xavi would learn a lot from the sidelines. Observing and assisting the manager would allow him to understand and grasp the dynamics of communication slowly, the pressure to win games, and change strategies as per situations.
He would also not need to face the fans and the press in situations where the team underperforms. The manager would take all the blame, which would allow Xavi to develop as a dynamic manager without crumbling under pressure.
He can then slowly take charge of the first-team. Tito Vilanova, under Pep Guardiola, learned everything by observing. His smooth transition to the Camp Nou hot seat showed how serving as an assistant can ease the situation for all parties involved.
Zinedine Zidane learned a lot under Carlos Ancelloti at Real Madrid before taking charge of Los Blancos and guiding them to a plethora of trophies.
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal got the better of Pep Guardiola-managed Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals recently. It is another example of how being an assistant is the perfect platform for budding managers, with Arteta working under Guardiola at the Etihad.
Xavi has always been tipped to return to Barcelona as a manager, but the timing was and is still undetermined.
With the Catalan giants in the midst of a crisis, it would not be an incorrect time for Xavi to enter the fold at Barcelona, and as the presidential elections are scheduled to take place next year, the 40-year-old’s possible arrival could be an effective solution to the political and footballing mess at the club.
Also Read: Johan Cruyff — The architect of simplicity