Barcelona legend Xavi set to return as manager after Ronald Koeman sacked

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Barcelona legend Xavi set to return as manager after Ronald Koeman sacked - AFP
Barcelona legend Xavi set to return as manager after Ronald Koeman sacked - AFP

Barcelona are closing in on the appointment of Xavi Hernandez as their new head coach following the sacking of Ronald Koeman on Wednesday night.

Xavi, an academy product who made 767 senior appearances for Barcelona, is ready to return to his former team as they look to kickstart their campaign and rebuild the club amid a gruelling financial crisis.

The pursuit of the 41-year-old has been complicated by the need to negotiate his departure from Qatari side Al Sadd, although Spanish sources do not expect those conversations to prove overly difficult.

In the meantime Barcelona have appointed Sergi Barjuan as their interim manager. Barjuan, another academy graduate who played for the first team, is the current coach of the club’s B side.

Koeman was fired following Barcelona’s 1-0 defeat at Rayo Vallecano, which left them in ninth place in the league table. They are also struggling in the Champions League, having lost two of their opening three games of the European campaign.

Xavi has no coaching experience in European football, but has managed Al Sadd since 2019. He is a genuine club legend at Barcelona, having won eight league titles and four Champions League trophies in his 17 years as a first-team player.

The former Spain international was a key member of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team from 2008 to 2012, and the club will hope he can replicate the success and all-conquering style of that side.

Guardiola was similarly inexperienced as a coach when he took over at the Nou Camp, having only spent one year at the head of the B team before his appointment as first-team manager.

Xavi was first approached for the Barcelona job at the start of 2020 but turned down the offer as he did not feel it was the right moment to make his return. Speaking this summer, he said he was now ready to manage the club.

“I don’t know when the moment will arrive but, for me, it would be a dream to return to Barca one day,” he said in June. “I am in no rush, honestly, but I hope it happens. I understand people may think I am not ready, but I want to make it clear that I am.”

In Catalonia it had long been considered only a matter of time before Koeman was dismissed by Joan Laporta, the club’s president. Koeman had been appointed by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, with Laporta now looking to install his own man in the dugout.

Koeman’s position was fast becoming untenable, and the Dutchman was abused by supporters following Sunday’s defeat by Real Madrid. Earlier this week the club condemned the “violent and disdainful acts” towards the 58-year-old, who described those who abused him as “uneducated people”.

If his appointment is completed as expected, Xavi will have to swiftly take control of an unbalanced squad which has been ravaged by the financial crisis at Barcelona.

The disastrous off-field situation led to the departures of both Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann this summer, with Barcelona only signing players on free transfers. The most high-profile of those arrivals, Sergio Aguero, has made only four appearances so far this season because of injury problems.

There is optimism to be found in the club’s young talent, though, with a series of academy graduates now featuring regularly for the senior side. Among them, Pedri Gonzalez and Ansu Fati are both regarded as future stars of the world game, while young midfielder Gavi recently became Spain’s youngest ever international player.

There are also high hopes for the likes of Ronald Araujo and Nico Gonzalez, while Sergino Dest and Eric Garcia will be expected to continue to improve in the coming years.

Xavi will also have the strange task of managing some of his former team-mates. Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique all played alongside Xavi for club and country.

A club in crisis, needing a mammoth rebuild... but this is still Barca

Rayo Vallecano fans taunt Koeman and his team after Wednesday's defeat - GETTY IMAGES
Rayo Vallecano fans taunt Koeman and his team after Wednesday's defeat - GETTY IMAGES

Furious fans, financial crisis and a Lionel Messi-shaped hole in the first-team squad: why would anyone want this job? There are few clubs in world football, if any, who need a more drastic rebuild than Barcelona, and there can be no hiding from the size of the task for whichever coach is hired to replace Koeman.

Barcelona are already off the pace in La Liga, where they currently sit in ninth place, and they have lost two of their three Champions League group games so far. The squad is unbalanced and too many of their star names are too unreliable, in fitness and in form.

And yet, this is still Barcelona. The chance to revive one of football’s great institutions will not be sniffed at by ambitious coaches such as Xavi Hernandez, who is so intertwined with the club’s recent history and success.

There is also optimism to be found in their young players. Despite all the chaos at the Nou Camp, a new generation is emerging which has enormous potential. Koeman has not been a popular figure in his unhappy spell as head coach but history may reflect more kindly on him if these young players go on to become key players in the club’s future.

Pedri and Ansu Fati are two potential stars of the world game, while there is also huge excitement over young midfielder Gavi, who recently became Spain’s youngest ever senior international. Sergino Dest and Eric Garcia are players who should keep improving, and there are high expectations for the likes of Ronald Araujo and Nico Gonzalez.

It is clear that there is an opportunity for this Barcelona squad to grow and mature as one, with the right support from above. The key question is whether the new manager will be able to provide this guidance, or whether the off-field chaos will prove too much to bear.

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