Why Xavi will be next Barcelona boss – despite president’s uncertainty

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October 30, 2021
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    Guillem Balague's BBC Sport column

    Barcelona legend Xavi will be confirmed as the club's new manager soon.

    And now, in this period of crisis, it's time for a leap of faith from club president Joan Laporta not dissimilar to the one he took when he promoted Pep Guardiola, then Barcelona B team boss, 13 years ago.

    The difference this time is, that while he admired, respected and had faith in Guardiola, he does not have the same feelings toward the man from Terrassa, less than an hour's drive inland from Barcelona. Or not yet.

    Until recently Xavi, currently managing Al Sadd in Qatar, and Laporta hardly spoke to each other. But in football as in life, needs must when the devil drives, and recently they have built their communication, albeit through intermediaries, and are by all accounts getting closer.

    On Wednesday night Laporta made a call to Xavi. Job done.

    Xavi certainly won't have the sort of power with Laporta in charge that he would have had if Victor Font had been elected president – Xavi was going to create a new football structure at the club with himself in charge had Font won.

    But he will certainly be looking to bring some of his staff with him and hopefully tick more boxes than merely the one of head coach.

    That fact Ronald Koeman survived as long as he did, before being sacked on Wednesday, probably has much to do with the fact Laporta wasn't as sold on the idea of Xavi taking over as much as many others seemed to be.

    Eight months ago he told journalists that Xavi was not ready to take the job as Barcelona head coach, an assumption arrived at probably not just for footballing reasons, but also because Xavi had thrown his hat in with Font during the presidential elections.

    It's also fair to assume that some of his advisors had probably warned him that Xavi was not ready to take the job because while winning titles in Qatar – where he has managed Al Sadd since 2019 – is one thing, it is a million miles away from what was needed to take on a club like Barcelona, club legend or not.

    Xavi and his coaching staff, of course, have always begged to differ.

    I met Xavi back in the summer and what shone through was his determination to become the manager at Barcelona.

    But is Xavi prepared?

    Quite clearly the experience the 41-year-old has had in Qatar has been about managing more than anything else. His teams have played in a style that, should it be replicated in Barcelona, will certainly please the fans.

    He is an avid student of the game and has studied in depth what each position has to do, with – and without – the ball.

    First and foremost he will look to put the structure in place on the pitch. If he can achieve that then it is almost guaranteed that this Barcelona will get better because, without structure, the players are lost and need to know what to do.

    Most of them developed in a way of playing that he plans to restore, but to do that he will need time and the patience of everyone at the club.

    He is more than happy with the youngsters that are coming through, which is just as well because the only guarantee he will have is that there will not be large amounts of money available to strengthen the squad.

    Either by luck or design – or probably a mixture of both – this is a Barcelona currently replete with fine young talent, although at the moment they are little more than headless chickens because they have not been given enough instruction for them to shine.

    What he will also find are the four captains at the club, Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique, plus Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who are all former team-mates, and are players he will face difficulty with in trying to maintain their levels of performance. It won't be an easy ask.

    Rayo Vallecano's goal on Wednesday night was a direct consequence of an error of attention from Busquets and neither was Pique's defending against Falcao of the standard one would have expected.

    Alba is not the threat he was and commits defensive mistakes. Sergi Roberto does not know what to do in the team as he keeps getting moved around. And few would claim keeper Ter Stegen has been anything like the brick wall he has been for Barcelona in the past.

    On the plus side, at least he won't have to deal with the perennial "what shall we do with Messi?" conundrum that perpetually reverberated around the building when the Argentine maestro was at the club and entire sides were built to play around him.

    And the million dollar question, of course, is do Barcelona have enough quality in their ranks to be a top four side? Because if they don't then they certainly don't have the money to ensure they become one.

    What happened to Koeman?

    The biggest surprise in the wake Koeman's sacking is not the fact that they have dismissed the Dutch coach, but that it took them so long.

    Koeman was a 'dead man walking' from the moment Laporta became the club's president for the second time back in March and Barcelona's tardiness in dispensing with his services tells us a lot about the current state of the club.

    The decision taken following Barcelona's defeat at Rayo Vallecano – their fourth in six games – is in theory one taken by director of football Mateu Alemany and his team, although in reality the man behind it is Laporta.

    Koeman's intransigence did not help his case. As good as he was at managing situations and people he fell well short as a coach trying to build a team.

    Style is king at Barcelona – as important, if not more so, than substance. It is not so much the results that cost Koeman his job but rather how they came about.

    The team did not train enough and came onto the pitch with not enough information about what they had to do.

    Koeman survived as long as he did because he was giving youth a chance, not just because of his faith in them but mostly because he didn't really have any other choice.

    He was a shield to the president and the general view was that this was Barcelona and, irrespective of style, the dynamic of the team would improve and they would qualify for the Champions League because that is what Barcelona do.

    The reality, however, is that this Barcelona currently look as far away from being a Champions League side as is possible.

    Another reason they held back on his dismissal was the small matter of the €12m (£10.16m) they will now have to pay Koeman to leave, which was given some perspective when they finally realised that failure to qualify for the Champions League next season will cost the club €16m (£13.54m).

    By the way, the club still owes money to Quique Setien, the previous manager before Koeman.

    Following the defeat against Rayo Vallecano and after hearing all the old familiar excuses coming from Koeman (the team had played well, but were not efficient enough) Laporta decided that enough was enough, finally pulling the trigger and putting an end to the Dutchman's 14-month tenure at the club.

    It was another emotive reaction from the board's top man who, unlike during his previous time in the role, can no longer benefit from the advice of the late Johan Cruyff.

    This time around you get the impression he is merely following what he believes is the Cruyff way of doing things.

    His conversations with Guardiola back in the day surely give him food for thought, but at the end of the day it is a presidential-like way of running things in which he is the one with the ultimate decision.

    Source

    READ:  'Why this week will make or break Newcastle's season'
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