The crisis and opportunity facing Xavi as new Barça boss
Crippling finances and imperative for success heaps on the pressure, but an exciting young squad can offer a blueprint for glory
In his first press conference as the new manager of FC Barcelona, Xavi Hernández was clear that what he would bring first and foremost was hard work.
The former blaugrana captain takes over with the club in complete crisis, but on the edges of the dark clouds is a thin silver lining that Barça fans hope the new man can turn into gold.
Xavi played 767 games in 17 seasons with FC Barcelona, picking up 25 trophies along the way, including four Champions League titles. Now, fans hope that the former club captain can bring some of the same success back to the team that has been lacking in clarity.
‘Work’ and ‘demands’ were words that he repeated numerous times during his first day on the job in a message that will be received not only by fans but the players too: the squad will be pushed to their maximum, while the exact style of play can be worked out later.
To begin with, Xavi will opt for substance over style. It was a beginning of a new chapter in Barcelona’s history that got off on the right foot with the legendary former captain saying all of the right things.
Pep Guardiola brought much of the same when he first landed in the Camp Nou hot seat in 2008, giving the players a jolt of the work rate required to reach the summit of European football. Xavi experienced that first hand, and both he and the fans will be hoping that he’ll be able to replicate what the current Manchester City boss did back then.
However, the context surrounding their appointments are almost entirely different. Xavi arrives midseason, whereas Pep had a full preseason to implement his vision. The financial situation of the club then and now will mean that Xavi will have to work under far more constraints than his mentor could. In 2008, Barcelona had some of the world’s best players among their ranks, while the same cannot be said for today.
Pep’s team were able to spend money on new arrivals too, although to varying degrees of success, but Xavi’s side will have to work on a shoestring budget with debts counting around €1.35 billion.
The disastrous financial situation not only has made building a competitive squad more difficult this season, but it also adds to the huge pressure that Xavi and Barcelona are under. There is no room for mistakes as the club will almost certainly be banking on finishing in the top four in La Liga and counting on the money that comes from being in the Champions League next season. Anything less, for a club the stature of Barça, is unthinkable.
Failure to make Europe’s premier tournament next campaign would likely mean even further asset-stripping and firesales in an attempt to balance the books, which would, in turn, make the task of finding success on the pitch next season even more difficult. A vicious cycle could be facing Barcelona in the near future unless Xavi can deliver results immediately.
Many fans are very excited to see Xavi take over at the Camp Nou, but there is also a huge sentiment of reservation about the appointment, with some fearing the timing nor conditions make it the right time.
Pau, one FC Barcelona fan Catalan News spoke with on the day of the new manager’s presentation, admitted he's a little worried about Xavi returning "in these circumstances because the team right now is really bad."
Despite the obvious perils and downsides of taking over as Barcelona manager at this moment, there is a counterpoint to be made that suggests this could be the perfect time for Xavi to arrive.
On a personal level for the new coach, failure is almost impossible given the situation he is walking into. If Barcelona fail on the pitch, miss out on the Champions League, and the financial crisis deepens, it will be difficult to blame Xavi for any of this. However, if he does well, success will be so much sweeter, and the victory will be his.
Additionally, even the more pessimistic fans such as Pau acknowledge that there is a fantastic opportunity to work with extremely talented young players in the squad. Xavi now has the chance to mould them into potential superstars.
"I think Xavi will bring a very clear style of play and this will surely help the young players grow," Pau said. "I have a lot of confidence in Xavi in this regard, but we'll see what happens," he concluded, without allowing himself to get too excited.
There is a very strong core of a team already in the squad that Barcelona will rely heavily on in the coming years. The defence line will be upheld by Eric García (20 years old) and Ronald Araújo (22), while Alejandro Bale (18) is also starting to break into the first team; the midfield boasts the breakout star of Euro 2020 Pedri (18), as well as newcomers who already look like Champions League quality players, Gavi (17) and Nico (19), not to mention the slightly more experienced but still very young Frenkie de Jong (24); while up top, there will be the new crown jewel in this Barça team and the successor to Leo Messi’s number 10 jersey, Ansu Fati (19).
At the moment, these players are too young and haven’t achieved enough in their short careers to date to be considered some of the best in the world, but with the right management, work rate, and dedication, they definitely have the potential to become just that.