By the time most of Barcelona’s team had left, they were unaware that their coach, Xavi Hernández, had also departed. Renowned as a midfielder for his mastery over space and time, Xavi found managing a different challenge. On a Saturday evening, he was unexpectedly delayed after witnessing his team suffer a historic 5-goal loss at home to Villarreal, their worst in over 60 years, a defeat Xavi described as a reflection of their season’s self-inflicted and absurd struggles. Following the match, he expressed on TV feeling overwhelmingly impacted, akin to being struck by a sledgehammer, and faced the task of uplifting disheartened players. Meanwhile, he vanished from sight, leaving those he perceived as adversaries waiting in the Montjuïc press room.
Minutes passed, then hours, and finally, what seemed like an extra 90 minutes, which had no business being there. There was a noticeable lack of activity in the locker room and stands, as staff workers, clearly anxious to go, looked at their watches and shown symptoms of frustration. Xavi and the club president, Joan Laporta, were upstairs in a profound and significant talk. He announced his departure as coach after a period of time had elapsed, making a victorious comeback. The long-suffering spectators under the stands began to suspect something was amiss when he showed up at around 10:00 with his brother Oscar, wife Nuria, and other family, confirming their worst fears.
“I have decided I will not continue beyond 30 June,” Xavi told the press, before adding that he hadn’t told his teammates about the decision just yet.
Xavi’s Departure: The Inevitable Conclusion of Barcelona’s Trophyless Season
Xavi had announced his decision days prior, stating it was not a surprising outcome. His future with Barcelona was closely tied to their success in winning trophies, but the team faced a series of defeats: a loss to Girona in the league, a downfall in the Super Cup final against Real Madrid, and a defeat by Athletic in the Copa del Rey. In each of these matches, they conceded four goals. Just three days before his announcement, Xavi spoke of an impending new era that would commence without his involvement. The day before, he hinted at his limited time remaining with the team. At this juncture, Barcelona trailed by ten points from the league leader, not even ranking as the top team in Catalonia, let alone in Spain. Given these circumstances, it was widely anticipated that Xavi would not continue with the team for the next season, and many were in agreement with this outcome.
The announcement of his departure came unexpectedly, leaving many bewildered about the timing and reasoning behind the decision. It wasn’t a straightforward exit but rather a hesitant step, marked by a sense of ‘yeah, but.’ He proclaimed the need for change at Barcelona, yet his immediate departure was not on the cards, leaving things status quo for the time being. He believed this move would benefit the club, though the exact advantages remained unclear. His claim that the players, burdened by tension, would feel liberated seemed dubious, raising questions about the practicality of his assertion. At least, with his future no longer a subject of speculation, he hoped to salvage something from the remaining months, possibly just maintaining pride. Laporta, acknowledging his status as a Barcelona legend, accepted his decision to see out the season, respecting Xavi’s proposal despite the uncertainties it entailed.
Xavi’s Journey as Barcelona Manager
A watershed point in Xavi Hernandez’s career came in 2021, when he took over as manager of Barcelona. Both out of distrust in the club’s leadership and a lack of readiness, he had turned down the position twice before. At 41 years old, he jumped at the chance to finally realise a longstanding goal, even though he had very little experience (he had only coached in Qatar) and was surrounded by equally inexperienced backroom personnel. With little over two years under his leadership, he thought that the time was appropriate to announce his departure from Barcelona on a Saturday. Depending on the situation, he planned to remain for at least four more months.
The journey was intense. Under Xavi’s leadership, Barcelona secured a league title and a Super Cup. His tenure, though relatively short, felt much longer due to the intensity and pressure of the role. Xavi candidly described the position as “cruel” and “unpleasant,” a job where respect and appreciation were scarce. Departing felt like a “liberation” to him, despite the wait for his official departure. The toll on his mental and emotional health was significant, draining his energy and optimism.
Xavi has an intimate and profound bond with Barcelona. His signing with Barcelona at the tender age of eleven brought him 23 years of football, 17 of which he played with the first team. He was born in Terrassa. He gave his all to the club’s culture and the ideas put forward by the influential football coaches Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff. Despite facing criticism and scorn for his unwavering stance, his commitment to the club’s beliefs remained strong. But his leaving marked the conclusion of a chapter that had been a refuge in and of itself.
Xavi’s experience echoed that of his predecessors. Guardiola left to prevent mutual harm, and Luis Enrique departed due to exhaustion. Club president Laporta had hoped for a smoother tenure for Xavi, acknowledging the challenging circumstances that even Lionel Messi had faced. Xavi understood the complexities of managing Barcelona, a club where mere victory was insufficient and excellence was the goal, amidst political pressures and a critical environment. This challenging journey, while fulfilling a dream, also highlighted the harsh realities of top-level football management.
Navigating Challenges as Barcelona’s Spokesman
While understanding the dynamics of a situation is one aspect, experiencing it is entirely different. Xavi, having conducted over 250 press conferences, has often been the vocal face of the club in times of silence from others. He has frequently answered questions that arguably weren’t his responsibility, reflecting a sentiment similar to Van Gaal’s criticisms. Xavi attributed the players’ underperformance to media criticism, labeling it as “unjust” and “exaggerated,” and acknowledging its impact on the team. Despite not openly admitting it, he seems aware that criticism doesn’t emerge in a vacuum and also arises internally, as Ronald Koeman pointed out with his remark about being observant.
Initially aligned with Victor Font against Laporta, Xavi wasn’t always seen as the president’s preferred choice and often felt a lack of support. His influence waned further when Deco assumed the role of sporting director. This became evident during Barcelona’s crucial Champions League match in Antwerp, where his authority was notably challenged. Key decisions like the squad selection, which excluded Ronald Araújo, Robert Lewandowski, and Ilkay Gündogan, were overridden, undermining his position. The outcome was a 3-2 loss, highlighting the complexities and challenges Xavi faces in his role.
Analyzing Xavi’s Excuses Amidst Barcelona’s Mixed Results
Assuming he didn’t find media bias to be the most persuasive argument, it certainly wasn’t the least. Xavi has cited a long list of reasons for his team’s poor performance, including injuries, surface and player problems, too much pressure, defensive blunders, and missed opportunities. Surprisingly, he has also attributed troubles to matters such as the weather and good times. The club is like a construction site, according to Xavi, and Barcelona is going through a tough economic time. While there is some truth to what they say, these arguments usually come out as an effort to dodge blame instead of dealing with the obvious issues.
Intriguingly, Xavi scored his first league goal in his rookie season as Barcelona won the 2022–23 league championship despite all of these obstacles. Their victory sign said, “the league is ours, the future too,” which they used to rally support for their cause. But in practice, things were different. They won by razor-thin margins (a third of their wins were by a score of only one goal) and allowed just nine goals in the league all season long. Their performance in Europe, however, cast doubt on that. Barcelona finished second in one tournament and last in the other, with only two victories in eight games. His ideology and the team’s strategy are called into question since the expected transition to a more ‘Xavian’ style has not come to fruition. So, if a team’s performance is going downhill, can it still be said to be “under construction”?
Even though Barcelona hasn’t been playing well, the coach has continued to praise the squad in his postgame interviews, which has some fans worried. Notable players like as Lewandowski, Jules Koundé, and Araújo have not yet reached their full potential, while Sergio Busquets’s absence has not been well addressed. Marc-André ter Stegen and Gavi’s injuries have made an already difficult situation much worse for the squad. Season ticket sales have plummeted due to the team’s incoherent collective identity and the inadequacy of their temporary home stadium as a football facility.
Even during their wins, Barcelona’s performances have not been convincing, often winning by a slim margin. Their rare victories, like the narrow 3-2 win over Almería, have been marred by criticism from coach Xavi, who has openly expressed his frustration with the team’s lack of “soul,” concentration, intensity, and willingness to run. Early concessions and consistent failures to execute strategic plays have further troubled the team. Xavi’s personal disappointment is palpable, especially when players fail to deliver on tactics he excelled at during his playing days.
In the year 2024, Barcelona stands out in Europe’s top five football leagues for a dubious distinction: conceding the most goals. This disappointing performance led to the loss of every trophy that coach Xavi had targeted for the season. A particularly chaotic match against Villarreal epitomized their struggles. In this game, Barcelona initially fell behind 2-0, then surged ahead 3-2, only to ultimately suffer a 5-3 defeat. The fourth goal conceded by Barcelona was especially emblematic of their issues, marked by a level of disarray that seemed almost comical. Defender Ronald Araújo defended the coach, stating that the fault did not lie with Xavi if the team failed to execute basic defensive plays. Midfielder Frenkie de Jong echoed this sentiment, affirming the team’s support for their coach and accepting responsibility for their failures on the pitch. After the game, Xavi acknowledged these sentiments but maintained that he bore the ultimate responsibility. He then proceeded to inform the club president of his decision to step down.