Tactical Insights

The pros and cons of Xavi staying for another year at Barcelona

Xavi’s tenure as Barca boss has been a rollercoaster of success and failure.

With his second full season in charge winding down, the party line according to the man himself, is that he won’t return to see out the final year in his contract.

When he made the announcement at the beginning of the year, it came at a time when Barcelona looked to be heading over a cliff. The team seemed incapable of buying a result against even the worst opponents in Spain.

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Still, it’s impossible not to respect Xavi.

As a player, he was one of the best midfielders of all time, and yet, he always came across as so humble and uninterested in the attention that came with it.

As a manager, he came to Barcelona, not because of his ego, but because he genuinely wanted to coach at the club of his dreams. The fact that he came to take over from Ronald Koeman at such a critical time was another sign that there was more at play for him than winning trophies and showing off his brilliance as the next big thing.

I think we’ve learned more about the man through his time on the touchline, than we ever truly understood from his time on the field.

Athletic Club v FC Barcelona - Copa del Rey

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Xavi is blaugrana through and through.

It seems clear to me that he wanted to do what he could to help the club at a time of crisis.

And it also seems clear that he believed in himself as a manager, as he did as a player.

If he didn’t think he could do the job, he would have never accepted the position in the first place. And that’s also why he’s so willing to walk away, if indeed he thinks his services are no longer required.

But the truth is, he was exactly the right man for the job when he took over.

He inherited a roster of players with a lot of talent, but very low self confidence after months, if not years, of major embarrassments.

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Koeman did nothing to build their confidence. In fact, he let them off the hook, consistently trying to persuade the media and the public, that the team was incapable of playing at a higher level.

Xavi came in and set the record straight.

The players were at Barcelona because they were world class. They were here to win trophies, and to put in quality performances.

From the beginning, his players responded and played with heart for a manager who lived and bled the colors.

In hindsight, it really is quite the miracle that Xavi’s Barcelona was able to win La Liga in his first full season in charge.

For all the disappointments in this campaign, the team is in a distant second place to Real Madrid domestically, but in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Joao Felix of FC Barcelona (L) seen celebrating a goal with...

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Granted, they have had a fairly gentle go of it from the group stage to their round of 16 matchup. Nonetheless, they are back where they belong, with a serious chance to make it all the way to the final.

I for one have already written a piece suggesting it would be a bad idea to reverse course on the decision.

For Xavi in particular, I think it would make sense to move on with his head held high. He did the job. It was an act of service. He wasn’t perfect, but he was without a doubt successful given the context of the situation he was working in.

But you can also see why Joan Laporta is keen to keep every option on the table. Including, retaining the services of the current manager.

Unionistas v FC Barcelona - Copa del Rey

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For one, Xavi is still under contact. For a club still undergoing financial troubles, this is a big plus. There is always a cost to bringing in a new manager. Even if Xavi steps down willingly without demanding the wages from his final year on his deal.

Beyond that, there is uncertainty that any new manager you bring in will do well. Or even that they will be an improvement on their predecessor.

Unless that man is named Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola, there are no guarantees on the managerial market.

Perhaps, forgive the phrase, it’s better to go with the devil you know.

Xavi may be young and naive at times, but he has the dressing room.

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And that’s an important detail when you consider that Barcelona looks very limited on options this summer when it comes to spending in the transfer window.

Xavi’s third year in charge could be like his first year in charge, or it could be like his second one. Regardless, he’s likely to keep the team competitive across all competitions. At worst, he’ll keep the team, and the club, afloat, while they look for a longer term solution in the summer of 2025.

At that time, bringing in Klopp, Luis Enrique, or a Julien Nagelsmann, could be a more realistic possibility.

The biggest knock against Xavi is that he’s already shown how green he actually is.

That’s not to say he can’t develop into a truly great manager. In fact, most of the greats need time. There are very few geniuses out there like Pep who take off like a rocket from the beginning and never look back.

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But in order for Xavi to take the next step forward as a manager, I think he’ll need a change of scenery.

It would also be strange at this point, if not an outright PR distraction, for Barcelona to make a show of things, and bring back a manager who has already declared his intentions of stepping away.

Barca needs to look serious, and they need to act serious in the boardroom.

An argument can be made that Deco is as much to blame for the failures of this season as Xavi.

Behind the scenes, the men in suits need to be doing their homework, and they need to get this big assignment right.

FC Barcelona v Royal Antwerp FC: Group H - UEFA Champions League 2023/24

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In the end, much will depend on whether Barcelona can get past PSG in the Champions League quarter-finals, and how they do in the upcoming Clasico against Real Madrid, which could make the title race something to pay attention to again.

For me, regardless of those outcomes, at the end of this season, I hope Xavi is able to step aside with dignity.

And that we all give him the gratitude that he deserves.

In the meantime, let’s hope the legend still has some magic left in him.

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