COLUMN: What kind of coach does Xavi Hernandez want to be – and why don’t Barcelona fans know?

As we head into the last five games of this season of La Liga, it seems like this season’s closing stages will be a duller affair than usual. The league title is practically decided. Atletico’s victory over Athletic might have settled the battle for Champions League spots, and I can’t mention that game without mentioning yet another incident of racist abuse. The battle to avoid relegation also looks increasingly free of drama, with Almeria formally relegated this weekend, Granada soon to follow, and Cadiz looking likely to go down. If we consider the declines of Sevilla and Real Betis too, it’s been a generally awful season for the region of Andalusia.  

With the league in this quiet state, it shouldn’t surprise us that FC Barcelona’s endless drama became one of the week’s talking points. After months of the Barca board attempting to persuade Xavi Hernandez to continue as coach and Xavi insisting he would leave, a change of heart occurred last week. Xavi decided to remain in the coaching seat for next season and finish his current contract, which expires at the end of the 2024-25 season.  

The ensuing press conference was surreal, filled with hugs, tears, and photo ops. Perhaps Laporta believed that the fandom needed some good news after a rough week with defeats to PSG and Real Madrid that ended any chances at silverware. 

What’s concerning about this situation is not the result. There were several reasons for the Blaugrana to continue employing Xavi. In their current financial and squad situation, finding a coach who could significantly improve Xavi was complicated. Despite his unconventional…(?) communication approach, Xavi still has the dressing room on his side. A dressing room that, by the way, contains several young players from La Masia who have received plenty of trust and opportunities from Xavi 

That is the biggest progress the club has achieved under Xavi. This sport belongs to the players, and player talent is the most important element to achieving success as a club. Xavi has continuously allowed the excellent talent from Barca’s academy to participate and impact the first team.  

 What’s concerning about the Xavi decision is how it was reached. On one hand, Laporta and Xavi said earlier in the season that if there were no titles this year, there would be consequences. During another press conference, however, Xavi said the team was under construction. These statements are not compatible with each other. And now, when no titles have been won this year, Laporta did not follow through with his promised consequences.  

This is not the process of a seriously run club with a clear vision. This uncertainty is why it’s hard to label so much of this Xavi-Laporta project as ‘progress’ for the club. Despite last season’s league title and all these academy promotions, it still doesn’t feel like the club is building towards something sustainable. 

Xavi is a figure I find fascinating to analyse and work out what’s going on inside his head. For all the jokes and memes about him, he is not a bad coach. His plans for specific games often work well, and his in-game management is improving. However, while these micro-adjustments are working, these frequent changes to adapt to opponents make it harder for his team to settle down on a stable tactical identity. Barcelona’s identity as a club since Cruyff has revolved around building systems that reliably get their teams to be more than the sum of their parts. Xavi is struggling to achieve this. 

Even though his career as a player would lead us to believe that he’s the kind of coach who can build these systems—the way Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique, or Mikel Arteta do—reality has shown the opposite. Luis Enrique said it to provoke his opponent, but he did have a point when he said his teams are closer to Barça’s style than Xavi’s.   

In a recent video, The Athletic’s Jon Mackenzie summarised the situation well: Xavi seems to understand the system as a player but not as a coach. The way Xavi coaches and adapts to each opponent reminds us more of Zinedine Zidane or Carlo Ancelotti than Pep or Luis Enrique. The way Xavi’s team won the league last season reminds us more of Real Madrid or Atletico than of the traditional Barca method.  

Of course, Xavi’s approach is not a bad thing per se. After all, Zidane and Ancelotti have achieved tremendous success as coaches with this approach. However, what he does is countercultural in Barcelona. So the question arises: is Xavi’s approach what Barca need right now? Can the club get back on track next year without that well-defined system, adapting to every opponent?

And I ask myself even more often: Is Xavi even aware of all this? Does he see himself as an Ancelotti or as a Pep? Both approaches to the game are entirely valid and capable of success. However, to succeed with either approach, every part of the club (coaching staff, players, front office) must be aligned. They must agree to the same approach and row in the same direction – be it Gabarra or Gondola. And right now, I don’t even know if Xavi is aligned with himself. 


Tags Barcelona Joan Laporta Xavi Hernandez

1 Comment

  1. Ónly one champions league win in 13 years
    Almost two billion debt
    Six hundred sixty millions wasted in assets
    Two cIasico victories out of ten
    Two eliminations in Europa League
    Coach carouselle, four last coaches resulted in only thee trophies
    Two trophies in last three seasons
    Another zero trophy season


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