Mon. May 20th, 2024

Could Xavi really end up staying at Barca after all?

By Sanchez Apr 5, 2024
Could Xavi really end up staying at Barca after all?Could Xavi really end up staying at Barca after all?

Back in late January, after Barcelona were handily beaten by Villarreal in La Liga, Xavi announced, in no uncertain terms, that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season. Just eight months after claiming the Blaugrana’s first title in four years, the club’s manager was gone.

His decision certainly made sense. Xavi’s achievements from the previous campaign had been quickly forgotten in the mass of tabloid headlines and incendiary tweets that form the Spanish media landscape. Barca were all-but out of the title race this time around, had just been thrashed by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final and looked some way off challenging for the Champions League once the knockouts got under way.

Fast-forward two-and-a-half months, though, and things look slightly rosier. Barca haven’t lost since Xavi announced his departure, going 11 games unbeaten in all competitions, which included a win over Napoli in the Champions League that has set up a winnable tie against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals.

Meanwhile, various members of the club’s hierarchy have made it clear that they intend to convince Xavi to change his decision. Vice-president Rafa Yuste made that clear at the end of March: “I’m going to try to convince Xavi, but it’s a personal decision for him. There are still league games left, the Champions League… We have to let him enjoy it.”

This project, they insist, isn’t over yet.

Shock announcement

The timing of the manager’s initial resignation came as a shock. Xavi’s Barca had struggled for weeks, but he’d maintained the unequivocal backing of the board throughout the whole process. The manager wasn’t going to be sacked, regardless of how bad results got.

So, when Xavi revealed that he wouldn’t be Barca manager at the end of the season, it was a surprise. After all, if the club had offered so much support, how could he walk? In the weeks since, Xavi has clarified his stance.

“I believe that our work is not valued enough,” he said shortly after his shock announcement. “I had already decided on it a long time ago, since the beginning of the season.”

To an extent, things have changed. Barca are winning games again, and the football has certainly improved. However, in all likelihood this will still be a trophy-less campaign for one of Europe’s most-decorated clubs, and it’s difficult for any manager to survive that.

Few other options

Still, Barca might be more willing to move on from their legendary midfielder if there were a wealth of top-tier coaching options on the market and little competition from elsewhere. Instead, the Catalans are facing the prospect of needing a manager in the midst of one of the more turbulent summers for coaches in recent memory.

Liverpool and Bayern Munich are certain to need new managers, while Manchester United, Chelsea and Juventus could also be in the market for new head coaches. Top international jobs, such as those in charge of England, Germany and Argentina, may also become available after upcoming summer tournaments.

In short, there is the potential that there will be more elite-level vacancies than there are coaches available to fill them. Xabi Alonso figured to be the jewel of the market and take one of those roles, but he has since announced his intent to stay with Bayer Leverkusen for at least one more season.

Barca have reportedly shown an interest in hiring Thomas Tuchel, Ruben Amorim or Hansi Flick, amongst others, but aside from Tuchel’s vague admission that managing Barca might be fun, there have been no concrete links to any external candidates.

Financial constraints

Even if Barca did want a big name to come in, could they afford them? The club has been in financial trouble for some time, with the ripple effects caused by Josep Bartomeu’s cataclysmic presidency having been felt ever since he left in late 2020. There have been some signs of recovery – Joan Laporta’s rampant lever-pulling helped refresh the squad ahead of the 2022-23 title-winning season – but Barca still aren’t compliant with La Liga’s financial rules.

The club’s salary limit has been slashed to a meagre €204 million (£176m/$221m) – a massive blow for a team whose current budget for wages is in the region of €492m (£421m/$530m). This is not new territory, either; Barca have been operating above their limit for more than 18 months. Still, La Liga can now clamp down hard.

The club, officially, cannot make any new signings or hire a manager before making cuts elsewhere. That would seem to rule a number of potential candidates out, not least Amorim, Sporting CP’s shrewd tactician, who reportedly has a release clause north of £13 million ($16m).

And even if Barca were to find space to bring in a new manager – presumably on lower wages than they might earn elsewhere – their financial issues would be a hard sell for a coach who would hope to have funds to build a squad in their own image.

An impossible job?

Even if a top-tier coach could be persuaded to operate within Barca’s current financial constraints, why would they want to take on a role that so clearly takes it toll on whomever picks up the mantle.

After cutting a sombre figure during his resignation announcement, Xavi has shown increasing – and often brutal – honesty in his assessment of the role. He spoke honestly on the impact that being Barca manager has had on his mental health, while he warned his former team-mate and current Barca Athletic manager, Rafa Marquez, from taking the job amid rumours he was in the running to step up to the first team.

“They make you feel worthless every day,” Xavi claimed. “It has happened to all coaches. Speaking with Pep [Guardiola] he told me, [Ernesto] Valverde too. I saw Luis Enrique suffer. I think we have a problem regarding the demands of this position.”

Others have backed him up, too, with Pep Guardiola having spoken openly on the toxicity of the role, while Ronald Koeman also hinted at the difficulties which come with managing one of the world’s most-watched clubs.

Certainly Xavi is having to deal with plenty of issues, from being sent-off twice himself this season. to the lawsuit he is filing sagainst two journalists for printing falsehoods about him in the press. Nothing about managing Barcelona right now looks like being much fun.

Barca’s stance

Barca, for their part, have insisted that they want Xavi to stay. Vice-president Rafa Yuste has claimed that, two years into his tenure, Xavi is still in the early years of a long-term project. Despite poor results on the pitch, disgruntled fans, and a toxic environment around the team, there is a belief from within the club that there are reasons for optimism.

Laporta has said much of the same, teasing the possibility that Xavi might reverse his decision by the summer, believing that the club legend’s deep connection with the Blaugrana will be enough to convince him to change his mind.

“He already knows. I’d like him to stay,” Laporta said. “He keeps saying he’ll leave in June, but we’ll see. We don’t want to put this pressure on ourselves to make a decision for ourselves because the way things are going is working for us now.”

Certainly, the manager has always been keen to do what is best for Barcelona, and Xavi has admitted in recent weeks that his resignation is an exercise of selflessness, borne from the understanding that the club shouldn’t have to sack a manager who can no longer make the team tick.

“I am a club man and I will be until the end,” he said. “The circumstances, unfortunately, have been very negative. And a very good job has been done from within. I am proud, I have a very clear conscience. I have always prioritised the club and the footballers ahead of myself.”

Can Xavi be convinced?

So how can Barca convince Xavi to perform a U-turn in the coming weeks? Their finances are a mess, while their ageing players are underperforming and sucking up massive wages. Despite a strong recent run, there is still tension around the club, and not enough of a structure in place to suggest that things may improve.

Certainly the emergence of teenage talents Lamine Yamal and Pau Cubarsi offer hope for the future, and if midfield stars Pedri and Gavi can remain injury-free, then there is the makings of a squad that could grow together for at least a decade here. But there are too many ‘ifs’ that surround Barca right now to make the job particularly appetising, especially for someone who’s been in the role for two-and-a-half years already.

Xavi is unsettled, uncomfortable, and seems to be doing everything to show that he has no intention of staying on. The club legend may be infatuated with the team he used to play for, but he needs a break. Perhaps it’s better for everyone if Barca finally admit that to themselves, too.

By Sanchez

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