February 22, 2024
“President, I’d like to talk with you.”

Barcelona’s traumatic 5-3 dwelling defeat towards Villarreal prompted an agitated night behind the scenes at their non permanent dwelling floor on Montjuic on Saturday.

Membership executives instantly held an pressing assembly after the ultimate whistle on the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys, simply subsequent to the VIP packing containers, the place different board members have been nonetheless having dinner.

Alongside Barca president Joan Laporta was vice-president Rafa Yuste, sporting director Deco, director Enric Masip and Laporta’s closest confidant, Alejandro Echevarria. The subject of debate was Xavi’s place. At that assembly, Laporta determined he needed to keep true to the convictions he had held over the previous few weeks and preserve Xavi as supervisor.

All of a sudden, because the assembly got here to an finish, he felt his cellphone buzzing.

Xavi’s message to Laporta asking to talk prompted a dramatic flip of occasions. High executives feared the supervisor had determined to desert his function that exact same night time, leaving Barcelona in a troublesome place. The choice had already been made to not sack him, partly as a result of it could have been exhausting to herald a substitute as a result of monetary state of the membership. Barca are over La Liga’s restrict on wage spending, which makes it robust to register new gamers; the foundations apply to managers’ wages, too.

One of many executives current at that assembly even texted Xavi again, asking him to not “take remaining choices in heated moments” and to “let the scenario calm down”.

However Barcelona’s legendary former midfielder, who led them to the Spanish league title in his first full season in cost final time period, had made his thoughts up. He couldn’t preserve carrying the identical quantity of strain and wanted to inform the board.

Nicely-placed Barca sources — who, like all these cited right here, most popular to talk anonymously to guard their positions — advised The Athletic that Laporta was very shocked by how nicely Xavi articulated his message after they finally spoke and that he rapidly understood this was a choice he had deeply thought of.

The supervisor’s want to step down not now however on the finish of the season would additionally give them a while to make plans and Laporta accepted his request.

On this piece, we clarify:

  • How Barcelona’s toxicity ended up sporting down Xavi, a person who is aware of the membership in addition to anybody however who might nonetheless not escape its distinctive pressures and noticed his household affected
  • When Xavi made his determination and why it ended up being revealed so abruptly, with gamers listening to the information by means of social media
  • How the dressing room reacted, with some relationships with the supervisor deteriorating and others open to seeing him staying
  • What went improper from final season and why, regardless of being a person of the membership in robust occasions, gamers and executives believed Xavi ended up underperforming

“Xavi slept higher tonight than he had in a very long time,” sources near him advised The Athletic on Sunday morning. They stated he felt liberated after making recognized his determination to go away the membership on June 30 — and so did his entourage.

The coach had been mulling over the choice for months, but it surely was solely after the 4-1 defeat towards Actual Madrid within the Supercopa de Espana remaining that he made it recognized to these closest to him: his brother and assistant supervisor Oscar Hernandez, his spouse Nuria Cunillera and some most trusted members of his employees. Not many knew.

That they had devised a plan to make his determination public, with the concept to inform the gamers at a coaching session the day earlier than a match over the upcoming weeks. He would then give a press convention with the board to clarify it to the media. As a substitute, every thing got here to a head after Saturday’s sport with Villarreal.

Barca misplaced the match regardless of getting back from two objectives down to guide 3-2, struggling a 3-5 defeat that leaves them fourth within the desk, 11 factors off shock La Liga leaders Girona (on whom they’ve a sport in hand) and 10 factors behind rivals Actual Madrid.

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The defeat primarily noticed them say goodbye to a 3rd competitors in 15 days. First, the Supercopa de Espana, then the Copa del Rey (Athletic Bilbao knocked them out final week), now an nearly definitive farewell to the league title they have been defending.

After the ultimate whistle, Xavi did a number of flash interviews with broadcasters and no one might have guessed what was going to occur subsequent.

After Xavi wrote the message to Laporta, he communicated to the board that he was leaving the place. In line with sources near the coach, he then went to search out the gamers within the dressing room, hoping to inform them himself earlier than they heard it elsewhere.

In their very own post-match interviews, Frenkie de Jong, Joao Cancelo and Ronald Araujo had all strongly defended the coach, with De Jong saying: “It’s our fault, not the coach’s.”

Xavi wished to speak to them, however by the point he was able to, over an hour after the ultimate whistle, that they had all left the stadium already.


Barcelona conceded two late objectives towards Villarreal (David Ramos/Getty Photographs)

Xavi had already stated a number of occasions at latest press conferences that if he ever grew to become “an issue” for the membership, he would go away.

There have been a number of causes behind the choice.

After struggling one other defeat, Xavi might see per week of polls within the media coming, asking whether or not Laporta ought to sack him or not — a turbulent week wherein Barca needed to play two video games that have been now key to maintaining the tempo within the race for Spain’s Champions League spots.

He wished to calm the waters and face the top of the season with out the additional rigidity and uncertainty. He felt the membership wanted a change and one of the best factor to do was to make it clear that he could be leaving.

However there was additionally another excuse. In line with sources near Xavi, he was fed up. The toxicity of being within the Barca setting not solely affected his temper but in addition had penalties for his closest household.

Membership sources noticed him as being overwhelmed. These sources additionally stated that some Barca board members had been calling for his head for a while and that this additionally affected him, although Laporta had defended him. He felt this solely added strain to an already crucial setting.

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When Xavi left his assembly with the board after Saturday’s sport, his solely concern was how the gamers have been going to take it. He felt dangerous that he had not spoken to them earlier. His announcement took the squad by whole shock.

When the supervisor and gamers did lastly get an opportunity to talk at coaching the next morning, a number of membership sources advised The Athletic that the group was affectionate in the direction of him. A few of them approached Xavi on the finish of the session to ask him if there was something they may do to make him rethink and keep.


Xavi and Lewandowski embrace throughout Saturday’s defeat (Alex Caparros/Getty Photographs)

It could be stunning to listen to that Xavi, a person who spent half his life at Barcelona and is aware of the ins and outs of the establishment higher than presumably anybody else, simply couldn’t take care of its distinctive calls for. However this was really a significant component behind his determination to step down.

“During the last weeks, you possibly can see that he was not going by means of a great time,” a membership supply stated. “He was not having fun with his work and he was particularly affected by the very fact all of the strain was not simply impacting him, however his household.”

The membership’s hierarchy anticipated Xavi to take care of the calls for of the job in a extra wholesome means given his background. Xavi performed for Barcelona for 17 years, making 767 appearances (solely Lionel Messi has extra, with 782) and profitable 25 trophies.

Strain has grown on him because the begin of his tenure in November 2021. He arrived at a troublesome time for the membership, amid monetary struggles and with a weakened squad, however because the years glided by and endurance ranges have been examined, Xavi started to face the type of criticism any supervisor deemed to be underperforming will likely be subjected to at Barca. This grew to become an issue for him.

“He centered an excessive amount of on realizing every thing that was stated round him and even adopted day by day radio programmes and TV exhibits,” a membership supply stated. “He additionally learn the press an excessive amount of, and it didn’t do Xavi any favours.”

Those that have labored with Xavi on his backroom employees level to the strain of the cruel Barcelona ‘entorno’ as the primary purpose for the supervisor’s downfall.

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The Spanish phrase ‘entorno’, actually translated as setting or environment, was coined by Barca legend Johan Cruyff when he was the supervisor in 1992 to explain the noise that’s continually generated across the membership: the media, the followers, the politics of its govt board, or different main figures throughout town and wider Catalonia area.

“Right here, everybody belongs to 1 facet or ideology,” a membership supply stated. “Each journalist, media outlet or one who can provide an opinion has their very own agenda and makes use of no matter occurs on the pitch to show the tide to their favour. There have been fixed assaults on Xavi and barely ever a will to construct on and assist the challenge.”

But it surely’s not solely within the media the place Xavi felt unnoticed and mistreated: he’s been progressively remoted inside the membership as nicely.

Xavi was conscious that a number of Barcelona executives have been criticising the staff’s performances for months, in addition to an alleged lack of depth within the coaching periods his employees led. Some have been even pushing for president Laporta to sack him after the Supercopa de Espana remaining.

Wanting again to the top of final season, simply after Barca received La Liga, there have been indicators of Xavi’s affect being eroded. The day after the bus parade by means of town, the place the Spanish league title was celebrated with followers, then-sporting director Jordi Cruyff introduced he could be leaving.

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Cruyff and Xavi had established a detailed bond. The Dutchman was an ally to the Catalan’s imaginative and prescient of how the squad needs to be assembled and defended it to the board of administrators. However Barcelona’s senior administration was already engaged on the arrival of Deco within the sporting route division and Cruyff finally felt there was no area left for him.

Just some months later, Cruyff’s companion within the function, Mateu Alemany, additionally left. Regardless of initially not being as near Xavi as his colleague, over the last months of his tenure, that they had labored collectively in planning for the longer term.

When Alemany departed in August and Deco stepped up as the primary chief within the sporting route division, it left the latter and Laporta as the 2 most lively voices in shaping the squad.

Xavi has publicly acknowledged his relationship with former team-mate Deco is completely superb, however final summer season’s switch exercise merely reveals how his place has been weakened.

The largest funding Barca made through the low season was in 18-year-old Brazilian striker Vitor Roque, for whom the membership paid €30million (£25.5m; $32.5m), plus a possible €31m extra in add-ons. Roque has performed 86 minutes in 5 matches since arriving this winter, not beginning a single sport. Within the supervisor’s eyes, he has been behind 18-year-old La Masia graduate Marc Guiu within the pecking order.

Xavi’s largest precedence final summer season was the addition of a brand new holding midfielder to interchange membership legend Sergio Busquets, who left to hitch Inter Miami. Whereas the supervisor put the names of Martin Zubimendi, Joshua Kimmich or Marcelo Brozovic as his three priorities, Barcelona have been solely in a position to herald Oriol Romeu, whose affect has been disappointing, to say the least.

Additional proof of Xavi’s waning energy inside the membership got here within the build-up to the ultimate sport of the Champions League group stage this season, away at Royal Antwerp, which they misplaced 3-2. With Barcelona virtually certified, the membership’s board interfered within the supervisor’s squad choice, pushing him to make all of the staff’s high weapons journey as a substitute of giving them a relaxation, as had been his intention.

All this doesn’t exempt Xavi from a share of duty over what has undoubtedly been a disappointing follow-up marketing campaign to the success of 2022-23. By way of recruitment, he has nonetheless been part of the membership and has sanctioned the strikes which have taken place. He might, and maybe ought to, have raised his voice as quickly as his authority started to return beneath risk. Once you spot issues contained in the membership however don’t stand of their means in some method, you would possibly as nicely be thought of a part of it.


Xavi alongside his brother and assistant coach Oscar Hernandez (Gongora/NurPhoto through Getty Photographs)

It must also be famous that Xavi was closely backed available in the market throughout Barca’s notorious ‘summer season of levers’, when, again in 2022, the membership made a collection of future asset gross sales to finance a transformative spend within the switch market.

None of these signings (Ferran Torres, Andreas Christensen, Franck Kessie, Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha and Jules Kounde) will be, proper now, deemed as a profitable deal.

All of them have been closely uncovered and contrasted by the brilliance of a number of rising La Masia abilities, with 16-year-old Lamine Yamal (who made his debut aged 15 final season) the most important attacking risk for the membership in latest weeks. Pau Cubarsi has simply turned 17 and has impressed extra at centre-back in two video games than Christensen or Kounde have all season.

A number of months into the 2023-24 marketing campaign, teaching employees sources complained about final summer season’s signings and assessed their attacking line as being removed from one of the best within the nation, however there’s a brutal actuality in Xavi’s tenure: he’s been unable to make the staff progress regardless of having been financially supported with transfers.

“He has not proven his gamers that he has the tactical stage to be thought of a top-level coach,” stated a supply near one of many present Barcelona gamers. The actual fact Xavi’s solely managerial expertise earlier than touchdown at Camp Nou was in Qatar additionally performed a component of their evaluation.

Nevertheless, Xavi’s belief within the kids from La Masia can’t go unnoticed. Fermin Lopez, Yamal, Cubarsi and Hector Fort are all names that many now consider are able to enjoying on the membership for years. With different managers, they could have struggled to discover a pathway to the primary staff.

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However equally, Barca’s supervisor has additionally needed to take care of the deterioration of the dressing room’s concord beneath his watch, with a number of examples already reported by The Athletic not too long ago.

Earlier than the beginning of the season, Kounde advised Xavi he didn’t get pleasure from being performed as a right-back and that he would favor for use in his pure central defensive place. This noticed membership captain Araujo being relocated as a right-back extra recurrently, however he has ended up complaining about this, too. Christensen has turn into disgruntled over constantly being the primary participant to be dropped when everybody in defence is match regardless of by no means complaining and performing nicely final time period.

There’s additionally the case of Lewandowski, arguably the membership’s key senior participant, who has seen his place on the membership, and relationship with the supervisor, change considerably all through the previous yr.

The 35-year-old has turned from a dressing room function mannequin to an expendable asset within the eyes of the teaching employees. In line with sources near the participant’s camp, the striker’s dip in kind because the World Cup break for Qatar 2022 owes extra to a change in system that didn’t profit him, though they admit he’s been removed from his finest. Lewandowski himself spoke to The Athletic about such issues throughout Barca’s pre-season tour of the US.

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In some ways, a lot of that is all a part of the traditional operating of an elite soccer membership. No person can count on high athletes to be pleased when issues aren’t going the best way they deliberate and a few of the examples talked about above at the moment are thought to have been handled. Others haven’t been tackled in time.

There’s nonetheless part of the dressing room that actually believes within the supervisor, particularly gamers who broke into the primary staff because of him or ones who got a second probability.

Some 20 minutes after Xavi revealed his determination on Saturday night time, Gavi posted an image with the supervisor on social media with a caption that learn: “At all times backing you, boss.” Native radio station Cadena SER Barcelona reported that, on Sunday morning, membership captain Sergi Roberto advised Xavi in entrance of the entire dressing room that he’d assist him if modified his thoughts and determined to remain.

The underside line, although, is that Xavi himself doesn’t consider he can flip the scenario round.


Joan Laporta accompanies Xavi on the day the Barca legend was introduced as supervisor in 2021 (Lluis Gene/AFP through Getty Photographs)

Xavi stated he couldn’t perceive why his staff misplaced within the Copa del Rey towards Athletic Bilbao. He additionally believed they deserved to win towards Villarreal and particularly towards Girona in December’s La Liga assembly, a defeat that badly broken him within the eyes of Barca’s hierarchy.

There was additionally a way that Xavi failed in makes an attempt to enhance the narrative along with his phrases in press conferences. He went from defending gamers to then calling them out by admitting they weren’t following what he practised in coaching. He additionally described perspective issues after struggling to beat bottom-side Almeria on the finish of December and promised followers his staff would by no means replicate that. Three weeks later, Barca have been being outplayed and outrun by Actual Madrid in Saudi Arabia.


So what now?

There’s nonetheless the potential for Xavi not lasting the remainder of the season if he doesn’t handle to reverse the staff’s dynamic within the 4 months remaining. The board has taken the choice to attend and see. Membership sources advised The Athletic that the supervisor has already written off any wage associated to subsequent season.

Barcelona’s board are already on the lookout for a brand new supervisor. Throughout his marketing campaign for the Barcelona presidential elections again in 2021, Laporta stated his choice was to herald a German coach at a time when Thomas Tuchel, Jurgen Klopp and Julian Nagelsmann have been at their peak.

Nevertheless, there are sections of the board who’re very hesitant to herald a coach who doesn’t communicate Spanish as they consider it could make the scenario tougher. They need to see how the gamers react, in the event that they battle to climb the desk and in the event that they battle to go so far as doable within the Champions League.

Xavi tried every thing and nothing labored. Sacrificing himself was his final determined transfer – one to ease the strain across the gamers and defend his legacy on the membership. On the identical time, it pushes Joan Laporta and his board to identify additional issues inside Barcelona and determine who has to guide the membership’s new challenge for the foreseeable future.

(High photograph: Aitor Alcalde Colomer/Getty Photographs; design: Eamonn Dalton)