The modern era of football has shown, time after time, that there is no room for error when it comes to being the manager of a club as renowned as the likes of Chelsea, PSG, and of course, FC Barcelona.
Die a hero, or live long enough to become the villain
It is no secret that many have tried and failed when returning to their former clubs as coaches. A place they once called home turns out to be quite the opposite in terms of the reception they receive. This, of course, is contrary to their experience playing in front of these fans who would hold them in such high regard, so far as to call them ‘club legends’. Frank Lampard is a prime example of a star player who was brought back to Chelsea and entrusted with leading them to success. However, after two poor tenures in charge, his relationship with the fans deteriorated considerably and his legacy in relation to the club is forever tainted. Ole Gunnar Solksjær failed on his return to Manchester United, and other great players who failed as managers include Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney: the list goes on and on. Managing is substantially different from playing - it’s a discipline, not a sport - it involves intricacy like no other profession.
Since joining mid-season in November 2021, Xavi has had a tough couple of years, to say the least. He joined at a time when the Catalan giants were 9th in LaLiga, and implemented some much-needed principles to take them up to 2nd place by the end of the season. Replacing Ronald Koeman, who, safe to say, fell short of the mark in his time as manager between 2020 and 2021. When Joan Laporta, the club president, hired Xavi for the job, he surely felt some degree of safety employing a legendary ex-midfielder who was tied inextricably to Barcelona. The state of the club at the time at which he joined, however, raised some unavoidable doubts as to whether he would be successful or not.
Was he given enough time?
Many fans have questioned the former number 6’s decision to step down after the season finishes. This concern stems from Xavi’s few, but significant successes: in only his first full season as manager, he led the club to their first LaLiga title since 2019, simultaneously granting fans the satisfaction of defeating rival teams like Atlético Madrid and the famously emphatic 3-1 victory over bitter rivals Real Madrid. Keeping these triumphs in mind, one wonders whether he’s announced his departure too soon. On the other hand, it is difficult to ignore his awful European record. The men in red and blue were unsuccessful in qualifying for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League two years in a row, suffering haunting, back-to-back defeats against Bayern Munich in particular. Failure to meet these targets for a club of such magnitude was nothing less than unacceptable, and therefore Xavi’s future was always going to be in jeopardy thereafter.
Doomed to fail
Like any other coach in history, Xavi has his fair share of managerial woes. He is often criticised for picking the wrong line-ups, playing certain people in the wrong position, and making unwarranted substitutions. However, as mentioned above, no manager is without his faults, even the greatest in the world. Pep Guardiola, one of the best managers of all time, is infamously known for overthinking simple decisions and making unnecessary changes that end up hurting his team. José Mourinho, despite his unbelievable achievements, is known for applying overly defensive tactics that have often proven to be ineffective. It would be wrong to say Xavi’s own inefficiencies were the only underlying factor to his downfall; Barcelona’s immense financial debt caused them many problems in the transfer market where they faced unique FFP (Financial Fair Play) regulations. Furthermore, the club’s previous managers (especially Ernesto Valverde), were notoriously dependent on having arguably the greatest player in the world, Lionel Messi, on the team. His exit left many cracks in the team and the club as a whole, and Xavi was faced with the mammoth task of rejuvenating broken spirits. Furthermore, the Nou Camp undergoing construction has meant that Barcelona are without their home stadium, making things more hectic for the Spanish boss. This, added with a series of unfortunate injuries of key players such as Pablo Gavi, Ter Stegen, Pedri, and more, meant that Xavi’s journey ahead was going to be extremely difficult. In a way, he took on what is possibly the hardest job in the world.
Perhaps if he were to join a few years down the line, things would be different, but for now, Xavi Hernández is preparing to wrap up what has been a somewhat forgettable two and a half or so years. There is still a lot to play for, including the Champions League and a very unlikely LaLiga trophy, but the recent 3-5 loss at home to Villareal was the final nail in the coffin as the Blaugrana’s defensive errors and lack of composure left them completely exposed. Inevitably, and for any manager, performing as the head coach of FC Barcelona is a gruelling task, and it will be interesting to see who takes the reins next season.
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