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.
Why Erling Braut Håland should be Barcelona’s future number 9
While he would be an unconventional player at the club, why should Barcelona target Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Braut Håland after the departure of Luis Suárez?
A 19-year-old Erling Braut Håland took the footballing world by storm last year when he scored a hat-trick of goals on his Champions League debut and then went on to become only the second teenager to score in each of his first three appearances in the competition.
In the winter transfer window, Håland moved from Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg to German side Borussia Dortmund in hopes of both improving his game and leading Lucien Favre’s side to the Bundesliga title. The Norwegian wonderkid ended the Bundesliga season with 13 goals and 3 assists in 15 games, and Dortmund finished second on the table.
Håland’s 44-goal season put him on the radar of all the top clubs in the world, and while the striker is at the top of his game at Dortmund, his departure to a top European club in the future is inevitable at some point. Following club legend Luis Suárez‘s departure from Barcelona, the Catalan club is surely looking for El Pistolero‘s heir. With Barcelona looking for a top striker for the future, and the Norwegian machine looking at a European giant to move to, Håland might just be the name that reads on Barcelona’s number 9 shirt.
The transfer market is unpredictable, and Håland’s agent being notorious superagent – and supervillain – Mino Raiola, makes things even more complicated. Instead of looking at if Barcelona will seek Håland’s services, this article will look at why Barcelona should seek Håland’s services.
To begin with, let’s talk about Håland’s statistics. In the 2019/20 season, he scored 44 and assisted 10 goals. 10 of the goals were in the Champions League. He scored more goals than expected with his G90, 1.10, being higher than his xG90, 0.75. It has been established that Håland is a goalscoring machine. The Norwegian’s physique is absolutely astounding. At 6 feet 4 inches (1.94 metres), Håland provides quite the aerial threat, something the blaugrana club severely lacks.
In spite of his towering height, Håland is incredibly fast; he reached a top speed of 36 km/h and was 0.3 seconds off from breaking the world record for a 60-metre sprint. Football has evolved in recent years, with training facilities improving and more money being invested in fitness training, players have become more athletic. A striker who will face off against athletic defenders definitely needs to be a physical demon.
When at RB Salzburg, Barcelona rejected to sign Erling Braut Håland because he did not have the suited profile | Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos via Getty Images
Does Håland have the technical ability of a prime Luis Suárez or of a Samuel Eto’o? No. Would he be heavily involved in the build-up play like some of Barcelona’s preceding number 9s? No. If Håland was to join, he would be the most uncreative player in the squad, and believe it or not, that is exactly what Barcelona needs right now.
The recurring humiliations in the Champions League knockout stages have had one thing in common – apart from the poor defence –: the lack of a runner. Every elite team in Europe has elite runners: PSG have Kylian Mbappé, Liverpool have Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mané, Bayern have Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry.
The Barcelona team, all these years, has been stacked with players who love having the ball at their feet all the time – Lionel Messi, Philippe Coutinho, Antoine Griezmann…The reason Messi’s last few years have been wasted is that he hasn’t been provided with a runner to get at the end of his through balls. This problem cannot occur again.
Barcelona’s future lies with talented playmakers like Francisco Trincão, Pedri, Riqui Puig, etc, and these playmakers need a proficient and clinical striker with good off the ball movement, to score goals for the team. Håland doesn’t only have a good physique, he is also an intelligent footballer. He knows how to time runs, how to hold the defence, and is a lethal shooter of the ball.
Erling Braut Håland would be quite an unorthodox signing for Barcelona. Quite unlike all of his predecessors. But if the club’s transfer policy fails to evolve while the game itself is evolving, then the Catalan club is going to become a relic of the past. A player like Lionel Messi is never going to appear again. Thus, after his departure, if Barcelona want to dominate in Europe like they once did, the team is going to have to function like a system, and Erling Håland is the piece that fits the puzzle the best.
So apart from everything discussed in this article, why should Erling Håland join Barcelona? Well, in his own words: why not?