International Soccer

Barcelona made huge mistakes with handling of Xavi

The scrutiny that surrounds Barcelona is unbearable and exacerbated at the best of times. At the worst, it must be similar to the constant noise of scratching on a chalkboard.

Not even a Barca legend like Xavi is immune to the intense criticism brought forth by the Catalan media. When he announced his shock resignation from the head coach’s job back in January, he admitted the team was playing with “a lot of tension”, later revealed he did not feel appreciated and this decision had been brewing for a while.

Pep Guardiola defended him in the aftermath: “We cannot compare the pressure we have in England and Spain in my experience. It’s a thousand times higher and tougher there in Spain than here. Here for the managers is a real place to be. Obviously, there are a lot of games and six press conferences a week and a game every three days. But the pressure you feel in Barcelona is not comparable to another club. I understand completely.”

Prior to effectively handing in his notice, there were reports Xavi could have been sacked by Barcelona. Even after confirming he would stand down at the end of the season, club president Joan Laporta gave assurances Xavi would not be fired, though left a lingering implication this was due to his legendary status.

“I only accepted the proposal because it’s him,” Laporta said in February. “I never thought of firing him. I want him to stay until the end of the season. I’m not going to fire him whatever happens. He doesn’t deserve that. He deserves our backing.”

Whether internally or externally, Xavi clearly did not feel the love he deserved on his return to Barcelona, despite leading them back to glory and amid a number of extenuating circumstances.

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Xavi brought the Spanish title back to Barcelona / LLUIS GENE/GettyImages

It can’t be forgotten that Barca were outside bets to even finish in La Liga’s top four when he first arrived in November 2021, lingering in ninth and still reeling from the shock departure of Lionel Messi – literally the best footballer of all time – a few months earlier.

Barcelona would finish that season second, notably hammering rivals Real Madrid 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu along the way. He couldn’t rescue them from an early Champions League exit before falling to eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarter-finals, while there were also disappointments in the Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana, but his first season as a stabaliser was considered a success.

For Camp Nou’s temporary sendoff, Xavi delivered Barcelona their first La Liga title in four years against a backdrop of near-financial ruin, with the club mortgaging their future just to make signings in the summer of 2022. Barca also boasted a formidable defensive record, conceding only 20 times in the league – nearly half of which came in the final five weeks of the season.

Just as it seemed Barcelona had turned a corner for good, they had to leave Camp Nou for renovations, moving into the inadequate and soulless Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys – the former home of rivals Espanyol.

Even home games have felt like away games for Barcelona this season, yet Xavi has at least kept them firmly in the top four and now through to their first Champions League quarter-final since the height of the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve been drawn on the supposed weaker side of the draw and there’s every chance Xavi signs off his reign with a return to Wembley for a European Cup final.

All the while, Xavi’s had to navigate various injury problems and promote youth – including several 16 and 17-year-olds, for crying out loud – ahead of schedule. And yet Barcelona have thrived and survived.

There are few coaches who would have worked as well as Xavi under such pressure, who knew from the off the challenges ahead of him. Barcelona will do well to replace him and they are almost certainly going to wind up remembering his tenure as ‘the good old days’.

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