A memorable farewell
June 6, 2015: In the seventy-eighth minute, one of the finest midfielders of his generation, Xavi Hernandez came on as a substitute for another legend – Andreas Iniesta to make his final appearance for Barcelona, where he started his journey at a young age. It was a memorable farewell to the man with an illustrious journey – Barca lifted their fifth European title by beating Juventus at Berlin.
Xavi, as club captain, lifted the trophy. This made Barcelona the first club in history to win the treble of domestic league, domestic cup and European Cup twice. Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Gerard Pique, Pedro, Sergio Busquets and Dani Alves were part of both treble-winning teams.
It was meant to be.
Welcome home. pic.twitter.com/gdGdFedk7t
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) November 6, 2021
On May 21, 2015, Xavi announced that he would join Qatari club Al Sadd at the end of the 2014–15 season on a three-year contract. According to his agent, the deal would involve him becoming an ambassador for the World Cup in Qatar, and also commencing his coaching qualifications.
On May 2 2019, Xavi announced that he would be retiring from professional football at the end of the season.
Three weeks later, it was announced that Xavi would take over as manager of Al Sadd on a two-year contract. As a manager in Qatar, Xavi’s performance has been praiseworthy – In all, Xavi has taken charge of 93 games with the Qatari side, winning 63, drawing 14 and losing 16.
Most importantly, his style of playing the game attracted many because it was the reminiscence of the fluid football of Barcelona that charmed the world once upon a time.
Xavi has Al Sadd playing beautiful football 👏 pic.twitter.com/xVRMwCyeuJ
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 28, 2021
In Qatar, Xavi utilized a possession-oriented 3-2-4-1 shape that focuses more on winning the ball high up the pitch and then quickly creating space for the “4” in his 3-2-4-1 between the opponent’s midfield and attack. But the players actually shape up in a 3-4-3 formation and then switch accordingly to the demand of the situation – Xavi injected the Cruyff philosophy in Qatar which not only charmed everyone but paid rich dividends.
While Xavi was reaping a rich harvest in Qatar, back in Camp Nou, things were falling apart – the once-mighty Barcelona were gradually reducing to a mid-table team and despite various chopping and changing of coaches, officials and players – the situation remained poor.
Xavi returns home
A few weeks ago, Ronald Koeman had been sacked and the demand to appoint Xavi as the new head coach garnered enough momentum.
The pundits and fans of Barcelona demanded Xavi, who would be like their Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid and finally, their wish came true.
After hours of drama in Qatar, Barcelona finally announced Xavi Hernandez as their new manager late Friday night.
𝑀𝑖𝑠𝑡𝑒𝑟 X6VI pic.twitter.com/r7Z4Y4fB0L
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) November 6, 2021
Barcelona made the announcement at night, when the entire country was sleeping and when nobody expected an announcement.
But there was a twist in the tale late at night.
The former midfielder is set to sign a contract until the summer of 2024. President Joan Laporta was reportedly informed of the decision to make the announcement as soon as he landed on Vigo for the squad’s La Liga match against Celta. He’s been in constant communication with Rafa Yuste.
Xavi was spotted shedding tears for the successful period he lived during his spell with Al-Sadd.
Xavi and Barcelona’s lawyers have been penning the manager’s new contract without taking a break. They decided to not make any announcements until they were finished.
— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) November 5, 2021
Xavi is set to depart Doha on a plane that leaves Qatar.
He is expected to attend Camp Nou on Monday with fans in the stands for his expected presentation as the new manager. Expectation has been running wild amongst Barca supporters who believe Xavi can be the Zidane for them.
Due to a confidentiality agreement, Barcelona would not disclose further details about the deal they struck with Al-Sadd until Monday.
However, the club from Qatar is expected to charge the exit fee for the manager. Both the coach and the Catalan club are expected to split the €5 million fees.
In what could potentially be Xavi's final match in charge, @AlsaddSC played out a six-goal thriller against title rivals @DuhailSC in the 🇶🇦 @QSL_EN last night. #QNBstarsLeague pic.twitter.com/QnnMTNHCws
— ESPN Asia (@ESPNAsia) November 4, 2021
Barcelona welcomed Xavi through social media with open arms.
So, everyone is expecting the beginning of a new era in Camp Now.
But can Xavi fulfil the expectations or not remains a moot question!
In Barcelona, Xavi would face a stiff challenge – the challenge of reorganizing a unit that is mentally fragile and are in tatters.
“We need a coach with more experience,” said Laporta in February of Xavi, suggesting he should take over at Barcelona B first. However, after finally sacking Koeman, Laporta is turning to the choice of the people.
A legend on the pitch, with the soul of a manager pic.twitter.com/FFNvE98hNV
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) November 6, 2021
Laporta might have gone with the choice of the majority, but from the statement back in February, it can be assumed, Xavi is not one of Laporta’s favourite men as the coach, still, Laporta, who is a highly professional person, would always try to smooth things up for the new manager because, for him, the club comes first rather than personal liking and disliking.
According to Onza, Xavi feels an overhaul of the club’s medical services is vital. In this respect, Ricard Pruna, with 25 years of experience at the club, has been chosen to return.
On the bench, Xavi wants the backroom staff he’s had in Qatar: his brother Oscar and Sergio Alegre, fitness coach Ivan Torres, physio Carlos Nogueira and scouts David Prats, Toni Lobo and Sergio Garcia.
The third demand relates to signings.
It is expected, Laporta would coordinate accordingly with the new manager.
Can Xavi revamp Barcelona?
Xavi follows the philosophy of Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola. Obviously, he would try to organize Barca in that way.
To bring the best out of the 3-4-3 formation, Xavi needs to have players who are well-drilled and bears enough courage to move with such an attacking format.
He would have his Adoni Zubizaretta in between the sticks in the shape of Marc-Andre ter Stegen who is still good despite some sloppiness.
For the left and right centre-backs and play-making centre-back – I don’t think Barca have the best options and meanwhile, whenever they tried to exploit the three-men backline since Luis Enrique left, Barca had been exposed.
Imagina no confiar en Xavi Hernández cuando ha aprendido de todos estos. pic.twitter.com/sl70I4Yt93
— Culé per sempre (@SimplementFCB) October 27, 2021
From the play-making centre-back the moves toward the centre-midfielder, who acts both as a ball-advancing player and pivot in front of the defence. In the midfield, at present, coaches use the attacking wing-backs upfront to balance between attack and defence.
Sadly, Xavi might not have had the luxury at the start.
Jerard Pique has been badly exposed at centre-back, most recently by Luis Rioja in the 1-1 draw with Deportivo Alaves, while Sergio Busquets can be overrun in midfield. Roberto is regularly the target of whistles from a frustrated Camp Nou, while Jordi Alba’s defensive weaknesses can be exploited. Meanwhile, Sergino Dest can also be caught easily during the transition.
Frankie de Jong seems to have lost the confidence after being used at various positions by the coaches whereas; he could easily have flourished if played consistently at the central midfield. De Jong should suit well in the 3-4-3 formation, but his lack of confidence is a matter of concern.
"I'm pretty sure he'll do a good job" 🙌
— Manchester City News (@ManCityMEN) November 5, 2021
Riqui Puig might discover himself as a very important player in the Xavi era if De Jong fails to strike the right chord.
Another player, who is the shadow of the past is Philippe Coutinho –injuries and misuse have dented his development in Camp Nou and after the appointment of Xavi, he might discover himself in a tricky situation because, the Brazilian might not suit Xavi’s plans, who loves wider players, that are quicker on the ball at the attacking zone.
Ousmane Dembele is one player who would suit his plans if he is fit enough to play and then there would be Ansu Fati.
Xavi in 2020, 'It's my dream to coach Barcelona.' 🗣
— B/R Football (@brfootball) October 28, 2021
And in between the wings, he would prefer a Luis Suarez, which at the moment, is not available in Barca.
Luuk de Jong and Memphis Depay would experience a tough time in Barca with the arrival of Xavi.
The former, on loan from Sevilla, may already have played his last minutes for the club, depending on Sergio Aguero’s condition after he went off against Alaves.
Memphis, meanwhile, is an important part of Barcelona’s attacking line, but his risk-taking style does not gel well with Xavi’s tactics of keeping the ball.
The Dutch forward has been guilty of numerous turnovers in each game and always wants to produce a moment of magic that cannot happen every time.
Xavi needs to decide whether he wishes to invest time in rejuvenating the current players or sign new ones during the winter transfer who would suit his philosophy soon because this is not Al Sadd but Barcelona, where everyone demands a result quickly rather than waiting too long.
It would not be an easy task for Xavi in a club that is a mess right now and also, it would be funny for the fans to put Xavi and Zidane on the same boat as a manager – each manager has their own style and then there comes a unique legend like Zidane.