The Barcelona team is the weakest in recent seasons. The team’s infirmary has seen 20 players pass through its facilities since the start of this journey. The club is embroiled in an acute economic crisis, with debt of 1.35 billion euros and negative equity of 471 million euros. But Xavi Hernández showed up this Monday at Camp Nou and something changed at Barça. Football is an illusion and nothing better for this moment in Barcelona than the return of a symbol. “I’ve seen people excited like never before and that’s Xavi’s fault. He is a man of the house. Today is a day that will mark the history of Barcelona“, declared the president, Joan Laporta. It was an unprecedented event in Barça history: for the first time the stadium doors were opened to welcome a new coach and 9,442 fans came to celebrate the former captain’s return to the club. “I’m very moved by the way the fans received me”, confessed Xavi, who, encouraged by Laporta, even dared to sing a day of departure (Barça fans corner).
“I have the feeling that this is the moment,” confessed Xavi Hernández, 41, who signed a contract on the Camp Nou lawn until 2024. The coach was able to return to Barcelona in January 2020, when the club fired Ernesto Valverde. A few months later, in the summer of that same year, then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu knocked on Xavi’s door again in Qatar. Found the same negative answer. “The first time, we didn’t feel it, either on a family level or in me. I needed more margin. Then [em referência à segunda oferta] there were elections in the middle and there was a lot of uncertainty. It wasn’t the time either. But this time Jan [Laporta] called me. I have always said that he is the best president in the history of Barça. It’s going to be expensive,” explained Xavi. And, for the avoidance of doubt, he insisted: “It’s time.”
Laporta had also denied Xavi twice. He considered, as well as the technician, that it was not his time. He did it during the season — “Xavi is not on my club’s offer,” he said in February — and also didn’t see him as a replacement for Ronald Koeman — “he lacks a road,” he said last summer. The president deleted what was said. It’s time to look to the future. “I always said that Xavi would coach Barça, but I didn’t know when,” he said on Monday. The president changed his mind, and even lamented the group that hands him over: “I would like to give him a better squad. But he will have our support if things get tough. And if they get even more difficult, he’ll have our support until everything works out.”
Xavi left Camp Nou six years ago: in 2015, after the second triplet in the club’s history and after 17 seasons in the starting lineup. So, there were in the Barcelona dressing room Ter Stegen, Jordi Alba, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto. Today the four Catalans are the leaders of the group. “I have a friendly relationship with all the captains. With Marc the relationship is very good. I spoke with several of them. They are the ones who have to help us and the young people,” said Xavi. The Catalan coach clarified, in any case, that there will be no exceptions. “As I know them, they’re the ones I’m going to push the most. I know what foot they use. I see this as an advantage. Gerard, Busi, Jordi, Marc and Sergi have to pull the car. But, like everyone else, they start from scratch”, explained the Barça coach. Xavi trusts the old guard, will bet on the base and hopes to revitalize Dembélé. “He could be the best player in the world in his position. Its renewal is a priority for me“, he revealed.
Among the challenges posed by the new Barcelona coach is to redirect discipline in the team and establish “order” and “rules”. Xavi finds himself in a locker room without Messi, but will have to change the old guard’s attitude. The coach wants the players to have breakfast and eat in the Sports City, will seek to improve physical preparation and increase the intensity of work sessions, greater control of performance and more care in preventing injuries. In addition, it will try to encourage group activities to generate more unity in the locker room. “I can’t talk about what happened in the last few seasons because it wasn’t. But when we had rules and requirements, we were fine”, stressed Xavi. And, just in case, he clarified: “You don’t have to be tough, you have to establish rules and follow them. It’s not discipline, it’s order.”
Laporta joined Xavi’s club vision. “He has to command. It’s hard for him. It’s a complicated situation because it’s a team that still has to be done. He convinced me because he told me he can get a lot out of this team. Rijkaard also had difficulty because the team had not yet been assembled, while Pep [Guardiola] it was easier because the team was ready”, recalled the president. Xavi seeks to make his way away from that shadow of Guardiola that has haunted him for years as a player: “To compare me to Guardiola is a success, for all he has given to football and Barcelona. For me, he’s the best coach in the world, but any comparison for me is bad right now.” “He doesn’t have an easy task, but with his knowledge and his will, we’ll make it,” concluded Laporta.
Xavi returns to Camp Nou and Barça breathes. Or at least come back to life. A not to despicable feeling in a sporting and economically distressed club.
Ambiguity about the clause and not to the Brazilian team
Joan Laporta did not travel to Qatar to arrange Xavi’s departure from Al-Sadd as Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Zani wanted. The coach wanted to end his time at the club in the best way — he is an ambassador for the 2022 World Cup — and Barça wanted to avoid paying the five million severance clause. The president of Barcelona, however, avoided answering on three occasions if the Catalan club had paid something to release Xavi. “It was a termination of the contract, by both Xavi and the club, and we did everything possible to reach this agreement. We made an effort to resolve the clause issue. The relationship between Barça and Al-Sadd is open. Let’s see how it evolves”, stated Laporta.
Xavi’s return to Camp Nou will not change the rules of fair play imposed by LaLiga. “LaLiga looks at everything with a magnifying glass. Every day they invent something. Now they do a counter-audit on us. They want us to sign operations that we don’t see clearly. If you want to review this operation now, we will be open as always. In that sense, we don’t have much salary margin, but we still have some. I hope LaLiga thinks the same,” said Laporta. And he looked at the club’s football director, Mateu Alemany. “There will be no problem,” added the executive.
With no problems with LaLiga and with Xavi’s departure from Qatar resolved, the coach revealed an important offer he received from South America. The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) offered him to act as Tite’s assistant at the next World Cup and, later, remain as the coach of the Brazilian team. “It’s true that I had this possibility, but my idea was always to come to Barça”, explained Xavi.
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