As Xavi Hernandez prepares a return to Barcelona, we can expect changes that help the club restore their identity.
The decline of Barca over the past year has been shocking and to bring back an iconic player as the new coach is no surprise.
The temptation to call on greatness from past eras has been evident across some of the world’s biggest clubs in recent seasons — see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo, even Ronald Koeman — and Xavi has been carefully working his way into the world of coaching at Al Sadd.
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He’s done so with success, having won seven trophies since 2018/19. Yet the jump from Qatar to Catalonia and one of the world’s biggest clubs is huge.
It would be a risk, yet understandable. Importantly, sources are indicating that he is up for the challenge of restoring Barcelona to the peak of their powers and feels with the club at this low point, the only way is up.
Here we take a look at some of the key aspects of Barcelona that could change when he is unveiled as the new boss at Camp Nou.
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STYLE OF FOOTBALL
Xavi is obsessed with possession based football and one of his first priorities would be to ensure Barca are taking full control of games. It’s unlikely you’ll see many long balls.
The emphasis is for the team to do damage with the possession, though. Having the ball for the sake of it means little to him and Xavi has a philosophy to attack.
Formations can be flexible as he likes to adapt depending on the opponent. Wide players will be high up the pitch to make it as big as possible and full-backs would be encouraged to progress forwards. A player like Sergino Dest should enjoy it.
Ultimately, he wants his team to be controlling, to have numerical advantages in key positions, and to ensure that every move is made with purpose and intent. That certainly would be a welcome change.
This is going to be key as such a young group of players are learning on the job. Ansu Fati was thrown into the first team and had to adapt fast to survive and Pedri has done the same. We are now seeing Gavi and Nico Gonzalez having to learn quickly and there are others too that will benefit from the fact Xavi likes getting to know each player on a deep level.
Technical players will benefit from his insight and Frenkie de Jong and Eric Garcia should improve.
One-on-one chats with players to gain an understanding of their feelings around the team and the game will help Xavi form opinions on form and his best line-ups. There is also the fact that so many of the team will look up to him.
Koeman was direct with players in his time at Barca and had to make some big calls during difficult times. The environment he was working in meant it was best not to be too critical. Yet his overall personality did not help the club or players in times of need and with Xavi there would be hope that his inspiration and spark would be more beneficial.
Xavi will be under no illusions as to the situation he is coming into. At a time when finances are tight, transfer activity will be limited and Barca are going to have to, largely, produce their own superstars.
Signing up Fati and Pedri to new contracts with €1billion release clauses is an indication of where the club is at right now - yet Barca will soon start to be linked with some of the game’s elite players.
As transfer windows in January and then June approach, it is expected some funds will become available. The club are also trying to come up with some smart ways to strengthen.
We will have to see how the landscape opens up over the coming months but in the meantime it is worth taking a look at five of the big names that will be linked, and how likely they are to become possible…
There is no doubt that Sterling has become frustrated at Manchester City as he feels his progress has stalled as he has fallen down the pecking order among Pep Guardiola’s forward options.
Sources close to the player are indicating he is very keen to test himself abroad and that Spain would be his ideal landing spot.
Sterling has been considered a £100million player by City and while that is probably not realistic given his current form, the fact he is contracted until 2023 means he would still hold a lot of value.
There have been reports that Barca might try a loan offer so that could prove interesting, though City would want some longer term promises over what happens afterwards.
He played in the Barcelona academy for seven years from the age of nine and there has been a real interest in bringing him back.
Now 23, the RB Leipzig midfielder has regularly been linked and in August the German club made clear it would cost €75million to sign him.
Barca could not bid that high so decided to wait and might look into the situation again in January, depending on Leipzig’s outlook.
Currently they are bottom of their Champions League group and sixth in the Bundesliga - so it might be feasible that he seeks a move.
His contract at Manchester United expires at the end of this season and his representatives will speak with new clubs in January about a move.
There are plenty of people within Barca that have always admired him and he has been tracked by their recruitment staff. However, they consider he would be out of reach - even on a free transfer.
That is not only because he is expected to seek wages of around £400,000-a-week on his next contract but because on top of that there would be huge commissions and fees that Barca just could not meet in their current financial situation.
Paul Pogba, Manchester United
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Quality in the back line would be a boost for this team and Sevilla’s centre-back fits the bill due to the fact he has such a good understanding of La Liga and is considered one of the league’s best defensive talents.
They have been scouting him, due to his impressive rise, yet a €90million release clause causes obvious problems. So, again, Barca are going to need to find some sort of miracle to finance it - or look elsewhere for other options.
Real Madrid are favourites to sign him, interest from the Premier League will not go away, but with a release clause set for summer 2022 there is no way Barca do not get another mention before he decides his next club.
Haaland’s agent Mino Raiola visited the club president Joan Laporta in April so we cannot totally rule them out, yet sources at the club are currently indicating it would not be possible to land him because of the additional payments and commissions that would be expected by people around the deal.
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