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Xavi becomes the latest victim of Joan Laporta’s same old tricks at Barcelona

“Xavi will leave the club at the end of the season.” This is a sentence that would’ve made no sense last year, perfect sense three months ago, no sense again three weeks ago and three days ago would’ve felt inevitable. Feels like some sort of twisted riddle? Ask any Barcelona fan how this season has gone.

The die has now been officially cast, and after the most tumultuous, topsy-turvy campaign in recent memory, culminating in arguably the craziest managerial saga of all time, the footballing legend that is Xavi Hernandez has been sacked. He will be replaced by Hansi Flick, whose CV includes becoming the second manager ever (we know the first) to win six trophies in a single season with Bayern.

As far as the result, it must be said that this story did not end poorly for either party. Xavi performed a very commendable (and often under-appreciated) job in taking a beleaguered, dysfunctional Barca side languishing in ninth and rediscovering its identity. But at the same time, this past season has made it fairly clear that as much as he bleeds Blaugrana, he is probably not the man to take us to the next level, and while Flick is certainly a risk, we can be cautiously optimistic that he is an upgrade.

Xavi Press Conference

Photo by Joan Valls/Urbanandsport /NurPhoto via Getty Images

And for Xavi, he made it clear when announcing his departure in January that he is tired; he used phrases like “cruel and unpleasant” and cited mental health concerns, so he now gets some well-deserved rest and relaxation. Further down the line, maybe he finds his way home again.

So all in all, Xavi’s departure and Flick’s impending arrival weren’t the worst case scenario by any means. With that said, the circumstances behind Xavi’s departure, the decision-making from top to bottom, and most importantly, the direction from the head of the snake, club president Joan Laporta, absolutely were.

When Xavi first announced his departure in January following a shocking 5-3 defeat to Villareal, Laporta trusted Xavi’s decision was for the best because “he is an honest person, and he is a person who loves Barca”. And yet, Barca’s form took a turn for the better. Ten wins and 13 games unbeaten followed Xavi’s announcement, including an impressive quarter-final victory against PSG, as Laporta began working both publicly and privately to convince his manager to stay.

Ultimately, though, this season was defined by a few key games where Barcelona capitulated under pressure, none worse than Ronald Araujo’s red card in the second leg against PSG. Nonetheless, recognizing strong improvement in 2024, Xavi announced shortly after that he’d be staying on for another year. Laporta was seemingly over the moon with what he called great news, expressing that Barca had no other talks with other managers, rather just “waiting for Xavi to change his mind”. But then came trouble.


Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images

The infamous press conference occurred following an uneventful win against Almeria in May. Xavi said: “We are going to try to compete [with Madrid]. The fans understand that the economic situation is very difficult. We are not in the same conditions as other clubs that have far more favorable Financial Fair Play conditions. The fans must understand that we need time, but this does not mean that we are not looking to compete and fight for titles, we will do our best to try and compete.” And Laporta exploded.

Reports came out immediately after that Laporta was furious, that he felt personally betrayed by Xavi, and that his continuation at Barca was no longer assured. Laporta began to negotiate with other managers, Flick included, without telling Xavi a word. In other words, Xavi was receiving information about his future the same way as everybody else: from Gerard Romero, Toni Juanmarti, and journalists like us.

For all the talk of what a legend Xavi is, how he has always acted honestly and put the club first, etc. Laporta didn’t even do him the courtesy of a phone call asking him to explain his words. Xavi didn’t say anything incendiary, he clearly didn’t blame Laporta for anything, and most importantly, he didn’t say anything that even the least involved of Barca fans don’t already know: the economic situation is messed up.

Maybe one could argue his comments were slightly pessimistic and not motivational. Did they need to be said? No. But were they bad enough to elicit a complete reversal from the man that publicly petitioned for him to stay? In the words of the great Jordan Belfort, absolutely f****** not. Laporta’s response is truly baffling: to ultimately sack him over these comments defies all logic and reason.

About two weeks, and only three matches, passed between when Xavi announced he was staying and when the rumors came out that Laporta wanted him gone, but the season was basically over at that point anyway so a footballistic decision wouldn’t make sense in this timeframe. The Vitor Roque drama could have been a factor, but again, it’s hard to believe Xavi would be sacked over one player: there has to be more to the story. We arrive at a more challenging supposition, because what else defies all logic and reason? Ego.

Laporta has always been as charismatic as he is enigmatic, and in his first stint with the club, history mainly saw the best of him: presiding over arguably the greatest team of all time (with Xavi as a staple) made results speak for themselves.

Members of the Barcelona squad, (Top L-R

Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

But what is often glossed over is that just before he made the life-changing decision to promote the Barca B manager in 2008, he had faced a vote of no confidence where over 60% of socios called for his dismissal (just below the two-thirds majority needed), and following the vote, eight members of his board resigned in protest. In 2005 he had also seen five board members, including his eventual successor Sandro Rosell, leave their post, reportedly calling Laporta a megalomaniac.

While we should of course take anything Rosell says with a pinch of salt (his two years in jail on corruption charges dictate that), it remains true that Barcelona’s success in the latter half of his presidency papered over the cracks of some pretty heavy criticism leveled at Laporta.

His second stint the club has been different; after being financially and morally bankrupted in large part by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, Laporta inherited a Barcelona that was in shambles, and to his credit has taken it quite far. He is a successful lawyer, businessman, and politician, but every so often, the ego rears its ugly head.

The way that Xavi, a true legend of the game and faithful servant of our club, has been treated these past few weeks has been nothing short of disgraceful. As a player, he left when he could no longer give his best to Barca, and as a manager he promised to do the same, hence why he announced his departure initially.

FC Barcelona v Rayo Vallecano - LaLiga EA Sports

Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

It’s no secret that Xavi should’ve done better with the squad at his disposal this season, but he was the first to take responsibility: he resigned, so Mr. Laporta, accept it and move on. Flick was available then, too. The million-dollar question remains, why would he beg Xavi to stay just to fire him?

This is where the ego comes into play again. For Laporta, it is not the same look whether Xavi resigns or gets fired. One is a situation of control, while the other may feel like his employees are making decisions without his involvement. As far-fetched as this troubling theory may initially sound, there are more examples that support it.

Starting with the most famous case, Messi wanted to leave Barca in 2020, but Bartomeu slammed the door in his face, and eventually he agreed to stay for one more season. When Laporta took over in early 2021, he pushed for months for Messi to reconsider, and once the Argentine finally did, Laporta independently announced that Messi had to leave. Sound familiar?


Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

After the various economic levers he pulled to sign a 35-year-old Robert Lewandowski on a high salary, among others, Laporta cannot hide behind the financial situation for the Messi saga. Gerard Pique left on bad terms with Laporta in the middle of the following season, too: how many club legends, especially Masia products, leave their teams in January? And while his sacking was deserved, what about Ronald Koeman, another legend that Laporta dragged through the mud?

The last and most curious example is that of former sporting director Mateu Alemany, who is very highly regarded by all for his stellar work amid the financial crisis. He announced in May 2023 that he would leave at the end of the season, and he, too, was convinced by Laporta to stay. However, in August Laporta gave his friend and Raphinha’s agent Deco (with zero experience as a director, having simply facilitated this one transfer) full control of the sporting department, Alemany’s area of expertise, without negotiating at all or even informing him beforehand. Again, sound familiar?

In every single one of these cases, Laporta faced the voluntary departure of important people within Barca and convinced them to stay, only to then unilaterally decide not to keep them. It could be to boost his image for the fans, to exemplify his role as an authority figure or any number of possible reasons, but the pattern is clear. It’s obviously not proof of anything, but it’s certainly not negligible either and not small enough to ignore.

Equally striking is that he replaced Messi as the figurehead and major attraction at the club with Lewandowski, the client of super agent and close friend Pini Zahavi. He replaced Alemany with Deco, a friend and former player from his first stint as president. He then used his friendship with another super agent, Jorge Mendes, to sign Joao Felix and Joao Cancelo on loan, and despite neither of them doing anywhere near enough to justify a permanent transfer, there are concerns he will attempt to negotiate out of goodwill to Mendes, who also represents Alejandro Balde and Lamine Yamal. And now, he has replaced Xavi with Flick, client of who? Pini Zahavi. His backup option? Rafa Marquez, friend of both Deco and him, manager of the B team and a clear downgrade from Xavi.

FC Barcelona Atletic v CD Arenteiro - Primera RFEF

Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Laporta has manipulated the exits of several notable club members to give himself the decision-making power, and each time has replaced them with friends or like-minded associates. These are two separate ideas, but they are interconnected: they both reek of an authoritarian leader, and with Laporta’s past, the accusation is not unjustified.

The Barca president has managed to surround himself with an inner circle that largely consists of people he has pre-existing relationships with, which diminishes his sense of accountability and provides significant free reign in his direction of Barcelona, which has always prided itself on its democratic values. On top of that, he has shown no remorse, regard, or loyalty towards even the most important members of the club.

He has been successful in many ways as president, but there are very worrying signs that key decisions of his are driven by his ego and desire for control, which could well come back to bite Barca one day. Xavi is just the latest example, but Laporta has burned a lot of bridges at the club, from players to managers and even directors, and all the stories seemingly come back to one simple, critical note: he can’t be trusted.

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