Xavi Hernández: The Sacrifice of a Legend
A club legend returns to FC Barcelona – but has his time arrived too soon? Calum Muldoon takes a look at why Xavi’s appointment as Barça manager may well have come too soon.
Right now, if you were to think of a club in world football who are struggling, and I mean really struggling, there’s a good chance you’d think of FC Barcelona. For a number of reasons, the Catalan giants have completely crumbled and with no real leader at the helm, they are steering themselves into the treacherous waters of mediocrity. The departure of club icon, Lionel Messi, has been the latest in a long series of issues…
Back in the 2019/20 season, the Catalonians failed to win a trophy for the first time since 2008. The following year, they finished third; their worst finish since that 2008 season. Now, they find themselves ninth in the table, with progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League up in the air.
While poor form on the pitch carries a bulk of the blame, a distinct lack of finances could also be held accountable for the inability to fill in the gaping holes in Barça’s squad. This year alone, the club reported that they are over £1 billion in dept, and one of the reasons that Messi departed was due to the fact that they simply could not afford to offer him a new deal.
With errors being made across the board, the club looked at different ways to bring honour back to Camp Nou. The newly elected president of the club, Joan Laporta resorted to dusting off a cog from the greatest team of all time, and brought legendary midfielder Xavi Hernández back to the club, replacing Ronald Koeman as manager.
Xavi bled blue and red. Born in a city on the outskirts of Barcelona, Xavi dreamt of playing for his club. He joined the youth academy when he was 11 and within seven years, he was in the first team. The man was instrumental in the success of the Barcelona side which would win 14 trophies in four years and would be seen as one of the greatest midfielders of all time.
He is a legend in Barcelona. No doubt about it. But something seems off about his appointment. It all just seems like a façade. Xavi is still relatively new to management, having only coached at Al Sadd in Qatar for two years, so why hand a man with very little experience as a manager the responsibility of turning a bog-standard squad of players into champions once again, without any real financial backing? Perhaps it is a desperate reach in the dark in the hopes that they will somehow find a trophy. Perhaps his success at Al Sadd was enough to catch the attention of Laporta. However, it could be argued that this was to buy the Barcelona board some time.
When you hire a well known name, there will be a lot of buzz about it. Whether you hire a top manager or a club legend, fans will look forward to seeing what they can do and eagerly line up to pick up their tickets for their debut. Xavi has just saved the hides of Laporta and his lackeys on the board. Before Laporta came back in to fix the mess that is FC Barcelona right now, a series of poor signings and lavish contracts led to the club running out of money. Unable to sign anyone and barely managing to keep their head above La Liga’s financial rules has led to the club visibly falling apart in front of a horrified fanbase.
With success coming and going just like that, fans demanded answers and the board’s answer was another former player in the shape of Ronald Koeman… I know. Don’t get me wrong, the former Everton and Southampton manager is a fine coach, but with Barcelona, you just need someone special and Koeman is far from that. With the club seemingly circling the drain, rather than targeting one of the world’s top coaches, they have once again pinned their hopes on a perhaps under-qualified Barça legend.
It always seemed inevitable that Xavi would one day return. Ever since he said his goodbyes in 2015 to the teammates and fans he has played for since 1998, the media has speculated over when he will swoop back in and take the reins. However, no one would have expected that moment to be now. The 41-year-old was expected to take his place in the dugout of the Camp Nou in a much more ceremonious and positive affair, but being offered the job in these circumstances just gives off the impression that the board are trying to keep fans happy while they scrape enough cash together to properly rebuild the team.
It is hard to say if we will see silverware under Xavi based off the tools he has been given. Having won seven trophies with Al Sadd in Qatar, thanks to his incorporation of the tiki-taka style of play we saw from the Barcelona of a decade ago, there’s no doubt that he has the potential to become a brilliant manager one day. However, while he could have been working with the likes of Luis Suárez and Messi, he has instead been left with an injury prone Ousmane Dembélé and Martin Braithwaite.
It is a shame that Xavi is being given the role of his dreams now. I am sure he could do great things with Barcelona but right now they don’t need a club icon, they need a demolitions expert. The club needs someone who can and will scrape to the bottom of the barrel and rinse this football team clean. A manager who is willing to do the ugly part of rebuilding a mess of a squad and even sacrifice trophies. A proper rebuilder. It is frankly a great disappointment to sports that a man like Xavi, a legend at the club and with such deep connections to the team and its fans with so much potential, is being given that nasty job. But who knows, perhaps he will do the impossible and turn Barcelona into the goal scoring machine that it once was.
As the world sets its eyes on Barcelona to see what this beaten down dog of a club can do, fans and shareholders hold their collective breath tentatively to see if Xavi is the elixir that can bring this once great club back to life.