It’s nearly official: Xavi will be making his return to Barcelona as the club’s new permanent head coach, taking over for Ronald Koeman who was fired after a challenging start to the new season. He makes the move from Qatari club Al Sadd which confirmed his departure in a statement. Barcelona has yet to confirm it.
“Club administration have approved the transfer of Xavi to Barcelona after the payment of the value of the penalty clause stipulated in his contract,” the Al Sadd statement read. “Xavi is considered an important part of our history and we wish him every success in the future.”
The 41-year-old Xavi was one of the stars of the Barcelona team that dominated world football and twice won a treble of trophies, wowing fans with its playing style under manager Pep Guardiola. While Lionel Messi often claimed the headlines, it was the central midfield featuring Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets that was the heart of those teams.
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Now Xavi gets to take over as Barcelona manager following Koeman’s 14-month reign which came to an end following Barca’s defeat to Rayo Vallecano on October 27, with the Dutch tactician failing to convince the Camp Nou board of his long-term value to the cause. Assistant Sergi Barjuan has since filled in as interim.
The managerial change comes in a season in which Barcelona is navigating financial challenges brought about by recent years of mismanagement. The purse strings have tightened, preventing it from re-signing club icon Messi during the summer and limiting spending on the player market. The situation has increased the club’s dependence on the youth products emerging from its famed La Masia academy, of which Xavi is also a graduate.
Why Xavi is the perfect fit for Barcelona
Xavi spent 17 seasons at the club and came through its youth system. He is one of the most decorated players in Barca’s history, having won 25 trophies at Camp Nou between 1997 and 2015, including eight La Liga titles and the Champions League. His 767 appearances for Barcelona have only been surpassed by Messi.
As someone who helped set the standard for the club during its glory years, he will be trusted and afforded time by supporters to help the team get back on track. Xavi is intimately familiar with the club ethos, he will back and develop the club’s young players, and he will not commit the same public missteps that Koeman did with some of his comments that didn’t sit well with the fanbase.
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The biggest gripe supporters had with Koeman was the direct playing style he was imposing on the team, heavily reliant on crosses, which was antithetical to the Barcelona philosophy but which he felt was necessary based on the available personnel. Xavi will surely get the team back to playing its passing-based style in which he was a central cog.
Xavi has already shown that he can implement that style when he became manager of Qatar’s Al Sadd in 2019 after playing four seasons at the club prior to retiring. He led the team to a league title in his second season at the helm.
Al Sadd won five additional trophies under Xavi, who has now decided the time is right to head back to Camp Nou, having rejected previous offers from Barca due to a lack of coaching experience.
He had made it clear to reporters that he wanted to head home when fresh rumors of a return to Catalunya surfaced. He said: “I really want to go home. I hope it happens. I have a contract [with Al Sadd] and now the clubs have to negotiate. They already know my position.”
Xavi has got his wish, with Barca officials flying to Qatar to sort out a deal with Al Sadd and their top coaching target before an agreement was finalized.
The task facing Xavi
It will take a monumental effort for Xavi to turn the team’s fortunes around following its poor start to the 2021-22 campaign.
Barca has already lost three La Liga games, including a painful Clasico defeat at home to Real Madrid. The Blaugrana are in 9th place (16 points) and nine points away from league leaders Real Sociedad. New signings Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia and Sergio Aguero have yet to reach their best levels, and Aguero will be out for three months while he’s monitored for a cardiac issue.
What might be most critical, and which would help explain the timing of the appointment, is that cash-strapped Barcelona find a way to advance to the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds to secure the lucrative payouts that come along with progress in the tournament.
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It currently sits in second place in Group E behind runaway leaders Bayern Munich, which would be enough to see it move on since the top two teams advance. But Barcelona is facing a must-win at home against Benfica on Nov. 23. Any result other than a win would likely see it surpassed on the final group matchday in December.
Xavi is expected to take over the reins during the international break for World Cup qualifiers. There is one La Liga match remaining before that break as the team travels to face Celta Vigo on Saturday. Then it will be time for the new boss to get to work and find his feet again in familiar surroundings. The first match after the break? A derby against Espanyol on Nov. 20.