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A last goodbye to Xavi’s Barcelona – and one final silver lining in the clouds


Throughout all the turmoil Xavi has faced over the past few months, his special relationship with La Masia has remained constant — so it was fitting that one of its graduates provided the farewell gift in his final match as Barcelona manager.

Sunday’s 2-1 victory at Sevilla was decided by Fermin Lopez’s second-half matchwinner, as Barca ended the season 10 points behind new La Liga champions Real Madrid in second.

Fermin’s fierce low drive from outside the box capped an excellent performance from one of the few success stories of Xavi’s campaign. After scoring, he celebrated with team-mates and performed his familiar salute, before heading towards his manager by the Barca bench.

He hugged Xavi, in a gesture that recognised the support and trust placed in him. Last season, Fermin was playing on loan at third-tier side Linares, but the Catalan coach has helped elevate his game and on Sunday (along with Pedri) he was Barca’s biggest attacking threat. It was his 11th goal from 42 appearances this term.

“Xavi gave me the chance to make my dream come true, which was to become a Barcelona player one day,” Lopez said after the match. “Me and my family will forever be in debt to him.”

There were other gestures of support and affection before the game.

Having arrived at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium about two hours before kick-off, Barca’s players and staff took a stroll around the pitch. Fermin and Gavi — who is still recovering from his anterior cruciate ligament injury but travelled nonetheless — joined Xavi’s backroom staff.

Talking as they walked, the two players, accompanied by first-team analysts David Prats and Toni Lobo, eventually stopped in the centre-circle. With arms around  shoulders and smiles across faces, the four posed together for a photo.

Fermin would later settle the contest, but there were plenty of signs of what has gone wrong under Xavi this season too. Barca wasted several good chances to settle the match, hitting the post twice, and it almost cost them the three points as Sevilla stepped up. Barca were the better side, but in the end it was a struggle.

At least they have the kids. There was no pre-game picture with them, but this season’s emergence of Lamine Yamal and Pau Cubarsi — both of them started — has to be recognised as another positive of Xavi’s time in charge. He gave Yamal his debut aged 15 in April last year and the youngster has not looked back. The match against Sevilla was his 51st for Barca.

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Cubarsi made his debut in January just a few days before his 17th birthday and like Yamal, now 16, he has also progressed to the senior Spain squad. Promising full-back Hector Fort, 17, also got some minutes at Sevilla and, although he did not play, Xavi has also given chances to 18-year-old striker Marc Guiuwho scored a dramatic winner seconds after making his senior bow against Athletic Bilbao in October.


Fermin celebrates his second-half strike at Sevilla (Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

The circumstances of Xavi’s dismissal, and the long turmoil leading up to it, have been dramatic. In January he described the Barca manager’s job as “cruel” and said he would step down at the end of the season. In late April he announced a change of heart, only for the club to fire him one month later.

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Speaking after Sunday’s victory, he did not hide his feelings.

“I am sad tonight, as I was last night,” he said. “We wanted to stay at the club and were excited about next season. I have the feeling our work has not been fairly appreciated, given where the club comes from. We have not met the targets, but this is football and it happens.

“Everything I said while at the club caused a huge stir and has been used against me. I’ve been targeted from inside and outside the club. There have been bigger expectations with me because I was part of the best Barcelona ever, and that played against our project.

“I would tell my successor that he will suffer. This is a tough job.”

But there was still pointed praise for the youngsters coming through.

“They are a very good generation,” Xavi added. “For me, the legacy is the support I received from the players. We only wanted to help them. We’ve suffered together, but I think we made Barca fans happier in a lot of moments.”

Xavi’s offer of advice for his successor, expected to be ex-Germany and Bayern Munich manager Hansi Flick, was telling. And so were a couple of his other selection choices for Sunday’s final match of 2023-24.

In a match against Valencia in April, Raphinha had a heated exchange of words with Oscar Hernandez, Xavi’s brother and assistant manager, when he was taken off. Xavi later reprimanded Raphinha and told him he would not play the next game as “there are attitudes that can’t be allowed”.

Raphinha did not feature against Sevilla either. The Brazilian has had a notable end to the season, but he is one of the players Barca would happily sell if a lucrative offer were to come in.


Xavi and his coaching staff took charge for one final time (Jorge Guerrero/AFP via Getty Images)

Ronald Araujo is in the same category. The Uruguayan was an unused substitute on Sunday and has only played 28 minutes in the past four games. That came at Montjuic last weekend, where he could perform in front of the home fans for, perhaps, one last time.

Araujo has had some discomfort in his knee, and with the Copa America coming up there has been no reason to risk him. But at Barca’s executive offices there are big doubts whether he’ll play for the club again — he is another who may well be sold.

Robert Lewandowski was subbed off for the seventh time in the last eight matches, on-loan forward Joao Felix got half an hour but did not start, while Joao Cancelo was replaced late on by Fort.

Oriol Romeu played the second half, 45 minutes that were agreed as a gesture to a player who has not had a good season but did his best to help the group. He is expected to rejoin Girona in summer.

Now, it’s time to switch off, for Barca’s players. They will effectively be off-duty from Monday, and are free to join their international teams if they get called up.

In Xavi’s case, switching off sounds like exactly his plan.

“I am a professional and I will listen to whatever comes next,” he said of potential future job opportunities.

“But now, and I can say this 100 per cent, I feel it’s time to rest. I will spend some time with my family, and then we will see.”

(Top photo: Fran Santiago/Getty Images)



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