Talks of getting the club legend as the next manager have sprung up recently.
Xavi Hernandez’s return is a fairytale that was written on the day he set out to Qatar. The midfielder, given his capabilities to dictate play and read games, was always looked upon as an equally capable future manager. Barcelona’s heritage – from Pep Guardiola to Luis Enrique and many others – pointed in the same direction.
Now that FC Barcelona are in a crisis, one that they invited themselves, the club legend’s return is more talked about than ever. Enjoying his third season as a manager with Al Sadd, Xavi’s move will see him take on a complex job. The misery that started with Ernesto Valverde‘s sacking will seek to find an outlet with another former player in charge.
Since the talks are on, let’s analyze whether the 41-year-old fits in Barcelona’s bracket.
How can things go any worse than this?
Barcelona’s start to the season has not been anywhere close to a good one. Under Ronald Koeman, the side has failed to win six out of their 10 league games. They also suffered defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica in the Champions League. FC Barcelona now face the danger of not qualifying to the knockout stages of the European competition on one hand, while finishing outside the top three in La Liga on the other. Having a squad that has fixable issues to work with seems to be the only positive at the present.
It’s fair to say that FC Barcelona are now a completely new side. With Lionel Messi’s departure, the last fully functioning lineage of Pep Guardiola came to an end. Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, and Jordi Alba are in the dusk of their careers. This calls for a complete overhaul of the squad. In that regard, Barcelona seem to have a bright batch of young players coming up. The switch, however, has not and will not be smooth. A ‘long project’ is long due and Xavi’s hands might be on that project if he comes.
Xavi, as a manager, can directly benefit from this. With a group of young players, he will have a bit of time to instill his philosophy on the squad. Working with a bunch of kids developed from La Masia, who are comfortable with the ball, can reap benefits. For example, Pedri and Frenkie De Jong fit ideally in the midfield with their capabilities on the ball. The rise of Gavi and Nico Gonzalez, two promising and essential profiles hint at a working space for him. In addition, having Ansu Fati as the talisman coupled with talents like Balde makes things more interesting. With things going downhill, throwing Xavi in with a promise of patience and a long-term project might make him an ideal replacement to Koeman.
How compatible is Xavi tactically for the rebuild?
Ever since Pep Guardiola broke his teeth with a modern approach of Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels’ brand of football, FC Barcelona have been adamant about their philosophy. The search for a ‘Cruyffian’ manager that plays the “Barcelona way” led them to an unsuccessful Quique Setien tenure too. However, the hunt for a manager at the Catalan capital starts with the quest for a manager with matching philosophy. Xavi fits into the bucket. His possession-based football that involves playing out from the back and constantly forming passing triangles makes him the ideal candidate.
Xavi will certainly need to reconsider his approach of three at the back. However, his ideology fits in a broader way. Although robust about the ideology of keeping the ball, the approaches that Xavi has taken have been flexible at times. Al Sadd have occasionally fielded a 4-3-3, in addition to their regular 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2. Joan Laporta, too, has emphasized playing a 4-3-3 with a possession-heavy approach – establishing another point of confidence in the 41-year-old’s appointment. In this regard, the glimmers of Xavi’s tactical implementations in Qatar and the expectations of the club might mingle to establish him as an ideal candidate.
Does Xavi have the experience to manage FC Barcelona already?
The main argument against Xavi’s appointment has been the stature of the league where he is currently managing. While the Qatar Stars League is no match compared to La Liga‘s quality, Al Sadd’s ever-dominant presence makes up another point of discussion. A relatively easy league with the most dominant side might not yet be the test that he would preferably have in terms of experience.
Al Sadd, who recently clinched their 76th club title beating Al Rayyan in the Amir Cup final, have no match domestically. Only Al Duhail might make a case of getting close to the Wolves. Consequently, Al Sadd are unbeaten in their first eight league games after an unbeaten triumph in the previous season.
The squad is dominated by more than half of Qatar national team stars. It also has some of the best foreigners in the league. The side accommodates the likes of former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla and Ghanian captain Andre Ayew as the foreign recruits. With the domestic dominance almost guaranteed, Al Sadd’s real test under the Spaniard has been to perform at the Asian stage. In his two seasons, however, Al Sadd have failed to do so. Not only that, their defensive frailties were clearly exploited on both occasions.
Will Barcelona’s overall situation better to suit Xavi?
For many, taking the FC Barcelona job after Setien’s tenure was a complicated move. Koeman was the one that showed courage, leaving his Dutch national team duties. How it went is open to anyone’s interpretation – Radamel Falcao’s goal became the final nail on the coffin for the club legend’s stint as the manager. If Xavi takes this job, he’ll be in a similar – if not worse – position from where his predecessor started.
In addition to their on field woes, Barcelona’s finances have been horrendous. With more than a billion euros in debt, a premium signing for at least another season looks unlikely. With how things are, FC Barcelona might need to reinforce their defense to progress any further. Xavi will be unlucky in this aspect and will most likely be expected to work with the squad as it is. The Spaniard’s weak link in Qatar has been his attack-heavy approach. If he gets little backing in terms of the defensive profiles, things do not look that sound.
In addition, despite all the promise, the patience can only last as long in a club like Barcelona. The Blaugrana go all out for every trophy that they play – not winning one is a failure in one way or another. In order to maintain his stronghold, the pressure will be on Xavi to start winning sooner than later. With the club going through a crisis in and out, the consequence will relatively be higher for Xavi than the club if he comes and fails in his first big European job.