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A circus story: How Barcelona have terribly handled Xavi’s reign



Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

A circus.

That’s exactly what the men in sharp suits at the offices of FC Barcelona are running at the moment. An absolute circus.

Joan Laporta, the ringmaster of this show, has sacked head coach Xavi Hernandez.

While it was an outcome that had been coming for some months now, the emotional see-saw and embarrassing sporting indecisiveness that ensued, was a massive mess, to say the least.

First Act

On 28th January 2024, after a shocking and devastating 5-4 loss to Villarreal at the Montjuic, a defeated Xavi announced his decision to leave the club at the end of the season, convinced he couldn’t take his team any further. He was clear about the team needing a change in dynamic.

But why end of the season? Was it his his decision? Or another play by Laporta and his staff?

As it turned out, Barcelona were still in a situation that could be recovered from, having qualified for the Champions League knockouts and still having a reasonable distance to chase Real Madrid in the league.

Not to forget, since there weren’t any suitable coaches in the market that there could be a consensus about at that moment, Xavi and Laporta decided it was best for the former to stay on until the last day of the season.

This way, much of the pressure on the coaching staff and the players would be relieved, and the team could manage a run of good performances and results in the meantime.

Both things did happen.

A lot of the negativity around the club dissipated and the team played some highly efficient football during the business end of the season and when it mattered the most, got the job done against the likes of Napoli, Atletico, and even PSG (almost).

A lot of the players tried to convince Xavi to change his mind, but the coach was determined. So was the team.

Then came the anomaly.

After an impressive 3-2 win over Paris Saint-German in the first leg of their Champions League Quarter-Final, Xavi and his men had their fate in their own hands going into the second leg.

Barcelona celebrating the victory over PSG in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Things seemed to be looking bright when Raphinha put Barcelona ahead thanks to some magic from Lamine Yamal and the Blaugrana gained a foothold through their two-goal lead in the tie.

In a matter of minutes, a silly red card for Ronald Araujo clipped Barcelona’s sails with 60 minutes yet to play and the Catalans suffered yet another heavy defeat under the European lights.

With the painful loss, the positive dynamics that powered the team through a difficult patch, one that came with Xavi’s announcement to leave, evaporated inside a week as the Blaugrana let another El Clasico slip through their fingers and kissed their chances of retaining the La Liga crown goodbye.

A twist in the tale

After such a tumultuous week for the club, the coach’s eventual departure seemed like a wonderful idea, one that worked well for all parties involved.

Xavi was able to squeeze one last run of good form out of the team and then leave the club on his terms, as a legend of the club.

This is where the mess starts to pile up. In the four months of Xavi’s notice period, no effort was made on the part of the board and sporting area to find a replacement for Xavi.

They had a plan, however. And not a very good one. One that could see them land right on their faces.

When Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel announced they would leave their clubs at the end of the season, the boardrooms of Liverpool and Bayern Munich immediately began searching for their replacements with utmost diligence.

What was Joan Laporta doing in a similar scenario? In stark contrast, he begged his coach to stay for another year until the end of his contract to save up on some finances.

More than that, it was becoming fairly obvious, that Laporta and Deco had no sporting project to sell in order to attract a top coach. Neither could he guarantee any promises with respect to transfers due to the purse strings being a little too tight still.

So, pleading and convincing Xavi to change his mind and reverse his decision seemed to be the only way forward for the board.

Laporta confirmed that Xavi would stay at the end of the season. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

And to their surprise, and none to the fans’, Xavi did agree to stay. More motivated than ever to lead this Barcelona team onto the pitch, for the next season atleast.

As much as the Xavi’s postponed departure helped to clear some of the uncertainty regarding Barcelona’s next coach, it really exposed the board’s inefficiencies at large. Which only got more blatant with the passage of mere weeks.

After it was confirmed that Xavi would stay, Barcelona again picked up a bit of form, losing only to Girona in the process albeit in some fashion, and secured second place.

But things can only seem normal or functional at Barcelona for so long.

The Meltdown

In a pre-match presser ahead of an away trip to Almeria, Xavi probably gave a very realistic view of the strained financial conditions and admitted it wouldn’t be possible to bring in their desired targets to build a complete squad.

As honest as it was of an assessment, brutal if I may add, Xavi’s comments certainly rubbed President Laporta the wrong way, a sign of betrayal as reported in the media. In a fit of anger, Laporta decided to sack Xavi and relieve him of his services.

All over a moment of honesty.

After a few days of absolute chaos and tension at the club’s offices, Xavi was shown the exit door, with Hansi Flick set to come in and takeover the reigns.

Xavi leaving the club was never seen to be a scenario that was uncalled for or in contrast to what the club needed, but as long as he was leaving on his terms, it seemed like a novel one.

But the intervention on part of the board, really toyed with the emotions of the fans and the coach himself.

Is that the way the club treats its legends? Is it fair to succumb a man of the club, a revered figure who in a way has given all of his life to the success of this historic institution, to such intense rupture of emotions?

The impact Xavi has had during his time here shouldn’t be forgotten. In short; he found the club at an embarrassing state left by Ronald Koeman and led this team to domestic dominance, winning the LaLiga and Supercup titles in emphatic fashion over rivals Real Madrid.

A contribution not worth this treatment. Not even close.

Even Xavi’s counterpart in his last game managing the club against Sevilla, Quique Sanchez Flores admitted his surprise and disappointment at the handling of legends during Laporta’s second tenure at the club.

With all said and done, it is head-scratching, to say the least to understand the rationale behind Laporta’s frantic scramble to sack Xavi, the manager he reasoned with ever so emotionally to stay.

It’s been a recurring theme really, how the board goes about settling important decisions and conducting their business. Untimely and acutely unsettling.

A penny for the thought of the dressing room too. How would they be feeling to see the manager they strived and gave their all for so he could stay, only for him to be banished to the sideline?

Even Xavi can’t afford to stay at the club any longer. In an environment with no respect for his decisions, his word, and now his dignity, it’s better for his self-respect that he leaves the club. It’s certainly not what he deserves. And if the club even were to make another dramatic U-turn, it will leave Barcelona’s image in tatters, if it wasn’t already.

Should Xavi be leaving Barcelona? Probably. He had reached his ceiling at the club.

Should it have been done the way it came about? Absolutely not.

Joan Laporta has some serious soul-searching to do on this one.

Read also: Xavi’s final press conference as Barcelona manager

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