Barca’s ex-playing master Xavi takes over the reins of a shattered squad

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After two years at the head of the Qatari club of Al Sadd, the former Spanish midfielder Xavi Hernandez returns to the fold with the heavy task of restoring color to a dying FC Barcelona.

Expected like the messiah in Catalonia, the former glory of FC Barcelona Xavi Hernandez left his Qatari exile to take over from Ronald Koeman with an immense challenge: to rebuild a team in ruins to raise it again to the top.

FC Barcelona confirmed on the night of Friday 5 to Saturday 6 November the return to the fold of its former glory. “It’s time to come home. Welcome, Xavi,” Barca tweeted.

Xavi Hernandez will arrive this weekend in Barcelona and will be presented on Monday at noon in a public ceremony at Camp Nou, the club said in a statement.

The Qatari club of Al Sadd, which Xavi had coached since 2019, had announced a few hours earlier that they had reached an agreement with the Catalans and had posted on social networks images of the Spaniard bidding farewell to the players.

After a game of seduction that lasted several years, the marriage is finally celebrated between FC Barcelona and one of the men who best embody the club. A union awaited by a large fringe of Blaugrana supporters.

After leaving Barcelona in 2015, the brilliant midfielder took charge of Al Sadd, in Qatar, where he ended his playing career (2015-2019) before starting an immediate conversion as a coach. After two years at the head of the Qatari club, he has already won the championship, the national cup and the Super Cup of Qatar.

“Barça is my home”

But above all, in a short period of time, Xavi managed to install in Qatar principles of play that are dear to him. Those learned in the ranks of Masia, the prestigious Catalan training center, and refined with a trainer like Pep Guardiola: a possession game, made of short passes in small spaces. In short, the basics of “tiki-taka”, the famous Catalan game launched by icon Johan Cruyff in the 1990s.

Contacted in January 2020 to replace Ernesto Valverde on the Barcelona bench, then the following summer to succeed Quique Setién, Xavi has so far always declined the club’s offers, refusing to take charge of a team without a clear project and without fixed course, but reiterating each time his love for his heart club.

“I’m not hiding it, and I’ve always said it, my main goal, when it can be done, is Barça. It’s my home, and it would be a dream,” Xavi said in an interview in the daily Marca, in July 2020.

In May, Xavi extended his two-year contract with Al Sadd, until 2023. But Barca’s appeal was too strong.

The site is immense. Xavi will have to tune his violins with Laporta, and especially to deal with the enormous financial worries which plague the Catalan club, in debt of more than one billion euros.

Recover a game identity

On the pitch, his objectives are clear: sportingly, Barça, current ninth in Liga nine points behind Real Sociedad and eight behind their great rival, Real Madrid, must at all costs return to the top of the standings. He must also try to ensure a qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League, despite the two initial slaps received against Bayern Munich at Camp Nou (3-0) and against Benfica in Lisbon (3-0).

But above all, Xavi must restore his playing identity to the Blaugrana club, based on the young generation with, in the lead, the prodigies Ansu Fati, Pedri and Gavi, and other early talents like Segiño Dest or Frenkie de Jong.

The difficulty for the “Maquina” (“the Machine”, in Spanish) will be to achieve all this without coming into conflict with her friends from the old Catalan guard who are reaching the end of their career: the Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and other Sergio Busquets. And he will have to deal with the shadow of his former teammate Lionel Messi, who left for Paris Saint-Germain last summer and for whom Barça is still struggling to mourn.

If Koeman was the one who laid the foundations for post-Messi Barça, Xavi will have to be the architect who will definitely turn the page, to write a new one.

With AFP


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