All roads lead to Xavi
According to ARA, Barça have opened negotiations with the current Al-Sadd coach
BarcelonaThe paths of Barça and Xavi Hernández are getting closer and closer. Six years after leaving the club to go to play in (and then to coach) Al-Sadd in Qatar, the Catalan has already opened talks with Joan Laporta and Mateu Alemany to consider becoming the coach of the first team from this summer on. According to what the ARA has been able to confirm, Xavi and the president have scheduled a meeting in the coming days to begin to define the conditions under which he would return to Barcelona, because his intention is to have his team and have control over areas that now operate in parallel to the coaching staff, such as methodology and medical services. He has also held talks with Alemany about the planning of the squad, which is still awaiting such fundamental aspects as the continuity of Leo Messi, whose contract expires on 30 June and who has not yet clearly communicated whether he wants to renew or not.
Negotiations between Barça and Xavi are being conducted discreetly in order to respect the times and above all the figure of Ronald Koeman, who has a contract until 2022 and is generating consensus regarding his contribution in a very complicated season. Even so, the movements have reached the dressing room, which is waiting for news before facing the European Championship and the Copa America and the start of the holidays. The ARA has passed on the information to various club officials, who have not wanted to confirm anything. Xavi, in this case through the Deporte 3 channel, has also not admitted to contacts with the Barça board. Both parties want to disappear from the spotlight and not condition Koeman and his staff in the two remaining league games.
Although Al-Sadd announced on Wednesday that Xavi would extend his contract until 2023, which would take him to four seasons on the bench at the club, the former Barça player has a clause that allows him to leave when the club of his life asks him to do so. This condition has now been met, so that Al-Sadd would not be able to oppose the coach's wishes and would only receive a small token sum as compensation for the termination of the contract. Lacking the financial muscle to be able to recruit top players such as Haaland and Neymar, Laporta's solution to excite the fans in the short term would involve the return of Xavi, a gamble that former president Bartomeu was on the verge of closing in January 2020 after losing the Spanish Super Cup in Jiddah (Saudi Arabia), a defeat that precipitated the departure of Ernesto Valverde. Valverde met with former technical secretary Éric Abidal and former CEO Òscar Grau to discuss a return, but the mid-season deal did not crystallise.
That refusal led to the arrival of Quique Setién, who not only failed to improve the team's performances, but went down in history as the coach of the 2-8 defeat to Bayern. The Lisbon shipwreck led Bartomeu to sack the Cantabrian, to whom the club still owes the dismissal money, and to recruit Koeman, who resigned from the Dutch national team to accept the difficult challenge of managing a Barça trapped between decadence and transition, with Messi ready to leave through the back door and the urgent need to free up wage bill. Despite the initial difficulties and after a poor start to the season, the hero of Wembley has restored the team's consistency, promoted youngsters such as Pedri, Dest, Araujo and Ilaix Moriba and won a Copa del Rey in brilliant fashion. But the improveable match management, the inability to compete with the big rivals, the lack of faith in positional play, the unresolved case files in the dressing room and the erratic trajectory of the last few weeks undermine his legacy.
Laporta and Koeman had lunch a few days ago in a Barcelona restaurant to analyse the poor results of the last few games and to show normality despite the slim chances of success in La Liga. The specific details of the meeting were not revealed, but it was assured that the evening had been cordial. "It went very well, a very good atmosphere", said the president as he left, surrounded by journalists. He said no more as he dodged microphones and cameras to get into the car. Absolute secrecy. Even so, Laporta knew that an important sector of the board was calling for a change of direction on the bench in order to start a new cycle. His voice was one of the most supportive of Koeman's work, but everything indicates that he will end up giving in to the majority opinion. He does not mind that Xavi, despite his silence during the campaign, had everything tied up with former candidate Víctor Font before the elections on 7 March. It is clear to him that the ex-captain is part of the club's heritage and that he is ready to make the definitive leap to the Camp Nou bench.
Koeman defends his position
In the meantime, and with the team virtually out of the fight for the league from which they have resigned with the results of the last few games, Koeman approached the run-up to the penultimate game of the calendar as an opportunity to vindicate his work and exhaust his chances of continuing in the Barça dugout. "For any coach it is important to have the maximum confidence of the club. If that's the case, I can continue and I want to continue. I'm happy, I think the path we're on deserves to be continued next season. We will talk to the president when the season is over. The whole season has to be analysed. It's not fair that a few weeks ago everything seemed to be going well and now it's all criticism", said the coach in the press conference prior to Celta's visit to the Camp Nou. These words can be interpreted as a dart at Laporta, who has never publicly assured that Koeman will be on the bench next season.
The coach, who also said he felt "mistreated" by the criticism he has received from the press in recent days, defends that he has the support of the dressing room. "And it's not always easy, because there are the first-team players and also the players who play less. I am a coach who engages in dialogue. I talk to the players and if someone has a problem, they know they can come and talk to me. I am also a coach who thinks about the club. Now I've let Mingueza go with the B team. The player wanted to help the reserve team, who are playing for promotion", said the Dutchman, who often defends himself by reminding us that he is helping to build a "Barça of the future".