All Barcelona fans know that former midfielder Xavi Hernández will end up coaching their team one day. Nonetheless, the timing is decisive, and maybe now is not the right time for that to happen.
Xavier Hernández, or simply Xavi, was not just one of those players that represent the peak of positional style player at FC Barcelona; rather, he was one of the fulcrums that made sure that the engine of the team worked as well as it did. Trained and graduated in the famed La Masía academy, Xavi went on to represent and be identified as the face of a brand of football that has become the signature of this club.
Which was why, even as he pulled the blaugrana colours for the last time, Barcelona fans believed that it wasn’t the last they were going to see of him at the Camp Nou. They knew that one day he will come back and run the engine of this team – albeit from the sidelines. This was underlined when Xavi went on to apply for a professional manager’s licence and qualified for it last year. With all the negativity that was surrounding the club, it was predicted that Xavi would take the reins soon and he would set the course straight.
“Everyone knows that coaching Barça is a dream”
This dream came way too close to becoming a disaster when the Barcelona board – as has become a habit with them – made a mess out of a managerial change this season. Managerial changes should ideally be at the beginning of the season; instead it was done midway. It should also have been dealt with delicately, but was done with utter insensitivity. They went behind the back of Ernesto Valverde, made it public, humiliated him, and at the end, tried to blame it on the players. After his dismissal, their first choice was Xavi. Xavi did well to refuse the offer.
A few months down the line, this whole discussion is up and running again. The team came back from the break caused by the pandemic, had a couple of tough results and the sword was up in the air again for coach Quique Setién. “Bring back Xavi” was the call, with no regard for the current boss, no patience for his project and utter ignorance of the shambles that he inherited, in the name of a squad.
That any manager deserves a proper full campaign to start from the scratch and a good transfer window to implement changes in the personnel is being forgotten here. But even if, for arguments’ sake, we agree that Setién’s time is up at Barça, does that necessarily mean the time is ripe for Xavi to take up this job?
Managing any world-class team is a challenge. Managing one that is so unforgiving and demanding one as Barcelona is on another level altogether. Success on multiple fronts is the bench mark. The style has to be maintained. But in developing it, the team should keep winning too! In addition, it would probably be difficult to find a fan community that is as spoilt as those of FC Barcelona.
Everyone knows Xavi Hernández will end up coaching Barcelona, but the ‘when’ is key | Photo by Denis Doyle via Getty Images
Make no mistake, the day Xavi takes up this role, he is not going to be just Xavi; he will be dubbed the next Pep Guardiola. Constant comparisons will keep haunting him, irrespective of the fact that these are two different people, and that the game itself has moved on from Pep’s days at Barça. The challenge, therefore, is real. But Xavi has made it clear that it is his dream to take up this job.
As cited earlier, Xavi Hernández is one of the best exponents of the footballing style ingrained in La Masía. But being a brilliant student does not automatically make one a great teacher. Xavi’s potential is there for everyone to see, but what about experience? Remember, Pep began with the Barcelona B team. He went on to win the Tercera División with them, before being promoted as the senior team’s coach. Xavi’s experience in coaching spans to little more than one year at Al-Sadd in Qatar. With all due respect to the latter, it would be wrong to assume that the next step then is the managerial post of Barcelona.
This is one side of the equation. The other is Xavi’s own admission that he wants to start a new project from scratch, where he would have the power to call the shots. That is the exact opposite of what the situation is right now. There is no clear cut project with this team right now, other than stacking up ultra-expensive players that do not fit the team. Nor is the manager given a clear decision making power, with personnel or the style of play.
“I’m a club man. I would like to return at the right moment to start a project from zero. I’ve said it a lot of times but I want to take footballing decisions at Barcelona”
The negativity that surrounds the team is so heavy that even experienced coaches would suffocate under its weight. What would that do to a comparatively inexperienced one like Xavi? It will simply burn him out before he even had a chance. And that would be a shame, for he has the potential to lead future Barcelona sides to glory.
The bottom line therefore is simple. If – and that is a big if – Quique Setién must be replaced at the end of the season, Barça must turn to an experienced face; someone who has spent years and even decades on the sidelines. Someone, for instance, like B coach García Pimienta. The sheer number of years he has spent moulding the academy sides would immediately garner respect from the squad. Xavi, on the other hand, should probably replace Pimi at Barça B, or maybe assist him in managing the senior side.
“It’s clear that after the [2021 presidential] elections the stage would be set, of course. I’m not ruling anything out. They [the Barcelona board] came for me in January, we were speaking. I told them the circumstances and timing weren’t right”
It is not just that there is no need to hurry; the fact is that it would probably be a grave mistake to hurry. And Xavi Hernández, of all the people, should know not to release the ball too early.
How should Barcelona line-up against Ferencvarosi?
“Sometimes, you have to get knocked down lower than you have ever been to stand back up taller than you ever were”
Come Tuesday night, Barcelona step into a Champions League clash for the first time since the debacle that annihilated them. That performance, that humiliation, that shattered confidence undoubtedly still runs feebly across the back of every Blaugrana player’s conscience.
The mighty Barcelona that once dominated the world had yet again fallen, not just meekly, but shamefully in a knockout match. The chokers tag that intimidated them before the game came back for another bite of flesh. Without a speck of doubt, it was rock bottom.
Barcelona must forget the distant disastrous memories of Lisbon. (Photo by MANU FERNANDEZ/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
However, life is always full of second chances. Football is a game synonymous with redemption. Every new season harbours with it a chance to fix things right—the opportunity to stand up once again and climb higher than you ever were. And Barcelona hope that Tuesday will be the start of a special run, one that begins right at the Camp Nou.
The opening clash features the Catalan giants take on the Hungarian champions Ferencváros. The Hungarians are unbeaten in the league so far, with four wins and a draw to their name. Ferencvaros have netted 12 times in their opening five encounters, having conceded just the three. And on the blue corner, we have Barcelona, who are coming off the back of their first defeat of the season. The Catalans have dropped points in their last two clashes and will be raring to make amends.
What to expect from Ferencvarosi?
After failing to qualify for the Europa League in 2018, Ferencvarosi announced the sacking of their manager. The club named Serhiy Rebrov the new man at the helm soon after, and a new era began. This followed a failure to win the domestic league for two years, Rebrov led the side to the title in his first season.
Things just got better for the Budapest outfit as they went on to defend their title in 2019-20 too. However, the biggest achievement for Serhiy was undoubtedly the Champions League qualification. It was a gruelling run, with tough sides including Celtic and Dinamo Zagreb challenging them for a spot. In the end, a fascinating two-legged tie against Molde saw Ferencvaros secure a spot in the UCL after 25 years.
Rebrov has done a fantastic job with his team in the recent past. (Photo by NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP via Getty Images)
Rebrov has preferentially stuck to a 4-2-3-1 during league games. However, they have moulded at times to a 4-3-3 during UCL clashes. Surprisingly, the team does not have too much wing play, something well associated with a 4-2-3-1. That said, while they can be lethal on the counter, they prefer to hold possession.
The buildup is usually central, with long balls being an ace up their sleeve. Of the two wings, the left is usually the more exciting one. They are not a side that likes to terrorize the opposition, rather preferring a conservative approach repeatedly. This is evident in their statistics from the Europa League, with under a goal averaged per game. The conversion rate, too, has not been as fierce as they would have hoped, but what matters is that they always get something over the line.
Tokmac Chol Nguen has been a menacing weapon for Rebrov on the left-wing. Though he does prefer to drift inside and operate in the halfspaces, his connection with midfielder Somalia and the fullbacks opens up activity on the flank. The Norwegian has already racked up four goals in as many starts in the League. Franck Boli is the manager’s second trump card in the attack. The full-backs are not extensively involved in the drives and tend to stay rather deep.
How should Barcelona line-up?
If there is one thing the Champions League has taught us over the years, it is never to take the opposition lightly. Every season brings with it new upsets. Teams from lesser-known leagues may not have the popularity or fame, but what they do have in abundance are confidence and determination. Heading into the clash as the underdogs helps them unlock a new stratum of freedom. Though Ronald Koeman’s focus will primarily be on the El Clasico and the mega-challenge against Juventus, he cannot afford to take Ferencvaros for granted.
🗓️ — Barcelona’s next 5 fixtures:— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) October 19, 2020
• Barcelona vs Ferencvaros
• Barcelona vs Real Madrid
• Juventus vs Barcelona
• Alaves vs Barcelona
• Barcelona vs Dynamo Kyiv pic.twitter.com/s8v73siF0G
Undoubtedly Koeman will require the right balance of prophylaxis and caution. Rotations will be undoubtedly necessary, however, not blown out of proportion. With the Clasico lurking just around the corner, this could be the best chance to rest Lionel Messi. Given that Antoine Griezmann is visibly low on confidence, Martin Braithwaite may be the ideal option as the #9. His work rate will be crucial to implement Koeman’s high press.
Ousmane Dembele should be provided with another run in the park on the left-wing; not only will it help him gain match fitness, it will help keep Fati fresh for the weekend. Fransisco Trincāo could earn his first start of the season on the right-wing, adding dynamism to the wider areas.
Given that Ferencvaros are overloaded in the centre, going wide seems to be the right way forward. After an impressive showing against Getafe, Pedri could well earn his second start of the campaign. His role in the centre will be crucial if Messi is rested, as he will be in the limelight for providing the creative spark.
The dying moments of the last game witnessed Koeman field a team with a single pivot for the first time. However, the Dutchman will be looking to stick to his basics with a double pivot. After not featuring against Getafe, Miralem Pjanic could be his first start in the famous garnet-and-blue. Alongside him will undoubtedly be Frenkie de Jong who still quite hasn’t set the season on fire, but has shown promising signs. The duo will be crucial to cut off the likes of Boli and Nguen from the midfield.
Since playing wide is the way to go, the fullbacks will be crucial to extract maximum productivity of the wings. Given the dire shortage of options, one would expect Sergi Roberto and Sergino Dest to hold onto their starting roles. Dest put up a particularly impressive display on Saturday despite being played out of position. He will certainly get a deserved start at left-back once again, this time in the Champions League.
Tomorrow might be the best time to rest Messi and Pique. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Much like Lionel Messi, this might be the best time for Koeman to give Gerard Pique some breathing space. With a congested schedule ahead, Araujo could replace him in the line-up alongside Clement Lenglet. The Uruguayan has proved to be reliable, and could well get Koeman’s nod to start. In between the sticks, Neto continues to impress with every passing game and will be looking forward to his first Champions League start of the season.