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Can Xavi fix Barca?

Can Xavi fix Barca?

Barcelona legend Xavi is back at his old club as manager. But the job ahead of him is one of the most difficult in world football.


Transcript

Hi, I’m Chloe, and this is the Playmaker. 

One story every day to make sense of the world of football. 

Today… can Xavi fix Barcelona?

***

Barcelona need a hero. 

And they need one quickly. 

Their financial crisis has forced them to sell their talisman, Lionel Messi – and without him their results have been dire. 

The Catalans are ninth in the table and they’ve lost two of their opening four matches in the Champions League. 

For context, Bayern are top of the group with maximum points, having scored 17 goals and conceded just two.

“And 3-0 is probably a fair reflection of the game as a whole. In truth, it could even have been more, really.” 

“Absolutely spot on. Bayern have battered Barcelona.”

Sky Sports

Barcelona are one of Europe’s elite clubs and results like this just won’t do.

So what can be done?  

Sometimes, in situations like this, it’s best to stick to what you know. 

And so they’ve appointed Xavi, a player synonymous with their glory days.  

“Xaviiiiii! Goooooooooaaaaal!”

Barcelona FC, YouTube

A home-grown player who played in midfield, Xavi won La Liga eight times and the Champions League an astonishing four. 

In many respects, he’s the obvious choice for Barcelona.  Sid Lowe of the Guardian describes him as “an idealogue, a defender of the faith.”

It’s a romantic notion, the idea that Xavi is going to restore a style of play that brought Barca so much success…

But while the “hero’s return” storyline is a journalist’s dream, the Barcelona Xavi is returning to is nothing like the one he left in 2015.

So the question is… can Xavi fix Barca?

We know that teams in crisis often turn to those who embody the essence of the club. 

If you look at Barca’s principal rival, Real Madrid, they did pretty well when they turned to their former player, Zinedine Zidane. 

He had no experience of managing a top-flight football club, yet he won three consecutive Champions League trophies when he took over.

Xavi has been coaching the Qatari side, Al Sadd, since 2019. He’s won seven trophies there. But the Qatar Stars League is not La Liga. 

“But is this enough, Craig, to take the step up, to Barcelona?”

“What, his managerial career at Al Saad?”

“Yes.”

“No, you can throw that in the garbage. Get it, throw it away and forget about it! Because a different…this is play, kids stuff compared to what he’s going into here. He’s going into, he’s going into a problematic club, going into a club that’s changed in terms of the President, it’s changed in terms of the personnel, it’s just sacked the manager, it’s had a poor start to the season…”

ESPN

Regardless of whether Xavi was earmarked for the job at Barcelona several years ago, it’s a huge step up.

And going back to former players doesn’t always work. 

Take Andrea Pirlo.  

He, like Xavi and Zidane, is one of a group of elite players who’ve made the switch to management.. 

Appointed as the Juventus under-23 boss in July 2020, he was bumped up to first team coach after just 10 days. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end…

Pirlo hadn’t finished his coaching badges, even. But, like Xavi, he’d been an integral part of a top team.  At Juventus, Pirlo won four consecutive league titles.

However, knowing what it took to win trophies as a player was no guarantee he could lead others to similar success. 

Juve’s squad had declined in quality since – just as Barcelona’s has since Xavi’s playing days.

Pirlo lasted just one season at Juve. They couldn’t stomach a fourth-place finish.  Being a former great at the club couldn’t save him.  He was sacked.  

“I’ll paraphrase some of what is a long and rather sort of flowery, colourful statement but they go to thank him and they call it a special experience together. Er they describe Pirlo as an icon of world football and they refer to him as the maestro, the coach, and they said it took courage to step into this role, especially with the world forced by the pandemic to re-invent its rules day by day. Erm, a brilliant career as a Coach no doubt is what they have said he will have, however, not, clearly at Juventus this season.”

Sky Sports

Xavi insists that he is ready to be a Coach at the highest level. 

His former boss… Pep Guardiola… says his protege  is “obsessed with possession.” But football has moved on since the days when the “tiki-taka” philosophy worked so perfectly for Barca. 

Liverpool had just 39% possession when they beat Tottenham in the 2019 Champions League final. 

Last year, Chelsea lifted the trophy with less possession and fewer completed passes than their opponents… Pep’s Manchester City.

Here’s Xavi talking about his approach. 

“It’s clear to me that my team has to control the ball. I suffer when I don’t have it. It happened to me when I was a footballer, and now even more so on the bench. That’s why I do everything possible to control the game, through the ball, through possession. How do I set up the team? Regardless of the system, the most important thing is this philosophy that we talked about. Total control of the ball – it matters a lot to me. I’m obsessed with possession.”

The Coaches’ Voice

And so we’ll watch keenly to see whether Xavi will be more Zidane than Pirlo. 

Barcelona fans will celebrate the return of their hero – he’s earned his place in their hearts. But he’ll have to win and keep on winning if he’s to keep it.

Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Studio Klong.