Barcelona have taken evasive action in a bid to turn around their floundering season with the appointment of club legend Xavi as manager.
The former Spanish international spent almost all of his playing career at the club having joined the academy as an 11-year-old in 1991.
By the time he left 24 years later in 2015, he was regarded as one of the greatest players to ever play the game having been the midfield orchestrator for both Barca and Spain during their most successful periods.
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Xavi ended his playing career in the Middle East for Al Saad in Qatar before going on the manage the Doha based side.
Last season, he led the team to the Qatari Stars League title, going unbeaten throughout the campaign.
This achievement, in addition to an impressed 67% win ratio in over 100 matches in charge of the club, naturally caught the eye of the club where he made his name.
'His lack of experience isn’t a worry'
Barca’s current issues are well documented. Financial issues, managerial issues, the departure of Lionel Messi and all too frequent humiliations on the pitch in recent years have brought the club to its knees.
The sacking of another club legend in Ronald Koeman was as inevitable as it was drawn out. A fresh start has been needed for sometime and for returning president Joan Laporta, Xavi is the man to oversee this.
“The Barça fans trust Xavi,” says Eurosport Spain’s Samuel Garcia. “And they believe that he is the right coach for the coming years and for the team to improve."
Xavi naturally arrives with affection from the Barcelona fans and those behind the scenes at the Camp Nou due to his connection to the club. However, the former midfielder cannot be expected to be a miracle worker.
His one sole managerial spell in Qatar, with the greatest of respect to Al Saad, brings nowhere the scale of pressure needed at a club expected to compete at the very top of La Liga and in the champions League.
Are there fears over his lack of experience? Garcia thinks not. “His lack of experience isn’t a worry since Xavi knows the club very well and even better the football model that the fans like."
Xavi takes Barcelona training for the first time as he starts work as head coach
'There will be patience'
Barca are currently slumped down in 9th place in La Liga, a hefty 11 points behind leaders Real Sociedad.
In the Champions League, the team have recovered from back to back 3-0 defeats to Benfica and Bayern Munich respectively, to twice beat Dynamo Kiev.
However, despite sitting in second place in their group behind the Germans, they are only two points ahead of Benfica with the reverse fixtures against both still to come.
“The fundamental objectives today are to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League and be among the top four in the league,” says Garcia, setting out what are perhaps scaled back expectations for the new boss.
“There will be patience with Xavi because it is one of the last options for the president Laporta.”
Joan Laporta and Xavi Hernández
Image credit: Getty Images
Last option does not necessary mean last resort, however. The feeling is that Xavi was always one day set for a Nou Camp return, although current circumstances may have hastened the decision.
“Undoubtedly, Xavi was always the first option [to replace Koeman],” states Garcia. “Xavi said in his presentation that Barça wanted to sign him on two previous occasions”
When these two occasions were is unclear, although many would suspect one would have been during the summer when Laporta and Koeman seemed at loggerheads over the Dutchman’s tenuous position.
Xavi returns as manager but will find a number of his former teammates still playing at the club. Garcia thinks this ought to ease the transition period as he gets accustomed to the current team and players.
“The players should feel good about Xavi since many - Piqué, Busquets, Alba, Ter Stegen - played with him as a player.”
Unfortunately, the most notable name missing from that list is of course Messi who left for Paris Saint Germain, dealing a major blow to the team.
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Rumours have suggested that with Xavi back at the club, Messi could be tempted back to re-start his story in Spain.
However, this is something Garcia doesn’t believe will happen, although, in the future the two could yet work together at the club.
“Messi's return as a player is practically impossible. But in future years it is likely that he will return to be part of the club's organization.”
A student of Pep Guardiola, Xavi's role as the ‘metronome’ in the all-conquering, possession dominant side has left him under no illusion as to how he wants his Barcelona team to play.
“My DNA didn't change,” he said at his presentation. “We need to take charge, have the ball, create opportunities.
“We have a mission to rescue many things that were lost."
Garcia is concerned this may not be the easiest task for Xavi with the current playing squad but backs hiM to give it a good go.
“It's difficult because Barça don't have as good players as in previous seasons. In recent years, they have lost Messi, Neymar and Suárez in attack and they still miss the midfield that was formed by Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets.
“What is certain is that Xavi is going to try to play the football he likes at the Camp Nou, attack and touch.”
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