how Xavi made FC Barcelona a real football team

Xavi has restored the image of Barça since his arrival in November 2021. Gerard Franco / PANORAMIC

Less than a year after the arrival of the former midfielder at the head of the team, FC Barcelona has regained results, an attractive game and better economic health.

It is never easy to go and win at San Siro, even if Inter Milan are in bad shape. But Xavi’s FC Barcelona, ​​who is due to play there this Tuesday in the Champions League (9 p.m.), is traveling well, very well even. The former Spanish midfielder has just broken an astonishing record in La Liga, that of invincibility away from home, previously held by Real Madrid of Zinedine Zidane. It’s been 18 matches since the Catalans have not been beaten out of their bases in the league, conceding 5 draws and gleaning 13 wins, the last this Saturday in Mallorca (0-1).

The stat is reassuring before the trip to Milan. While Xavi doesn’t necessarily think his side are coming forward as favourites, arguing that “Inter are a very strong team playing in a potentially destabilizing system“, Barça has solid arguments, and a status of a great team which was no longer necessarily in the air when Xavi, 41, took the reins of his forever club. “Records must go hand in hand with successes and titles, otherwise they are anecdotal“, he declared in press conference about the record mentioned above. Words and an ambition that the supporters blaugranas were desperate to hear.

A very good balance sheet

Xavi had arrived last November in a drifting team, dropped in the Championship (9e) and tired of the management of the Dutchman Ronald Koeman, his predecessor. Disappointing results, repeated humiliations in the Champions League, resounding departure of Lionel Messi, cataclysmic financial situation, wobbly workforce… Barça needed a second wind and had turned to the former glory of the house. He did not hide his ambition: “Barcelona cannot accept a draw or a loss. We have to win every game“, he promised the supporters.

Many doubted the success of the man who then had little experience as a first-team coach at Al Sadd in Qatar. Eleven months later, the coat of arms is restored. From 9e at the beginning of November, the Catalans had a very good second half of the season, finishing runners-up to Real Madrid, on whom they even inflicted a correction at the Bernabeu (0-4) at the end of March. The start of the current season is just as successful, since Xavi’s men have taken 19 points out of a possible 21 in the league and are in the lead, level on points with the Madrid rival. Playing in a rehabilitated and attractive 4-3-3, Barça is also the best attack and the best defense in La Liga.

Golden Youth and Former Teammates

At the base of this success is a high quality workforce which mixes youth with experience, and which the Spaniard did not hesitate to turn upside down. The historical indéboulonnables such as Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba bear the brunt of the revival and are no longer holders. Xavi doesn’t shy away from making tough decisions with his former teammates alongside whom he won everything when he was a player. Only Sergio Busquets resists, with six starts. “Xavi believes in meritocracy. He knows how to separate friendship from work“, said to the team Victor Font, close to the Spanish coach. “He wants the best for the team. This is why if players emerge and are better, they are the ones who will play“.

These famous players who are emerging are the Pedri (19), Gavi (18) and other Ansu Fati (19), extremely talented young Spaniards who are taking up more and more space in the Catalan locker room. This golden youth who goes through matches and already knows the joys of the selection, Barça is ready to do anything to keep it. Mid-September, Gavi (18) signed a new contract that binds him to the club until 2026with a release clause set at 1 billion euros.

economic recovery

To this base of players already present last season, Xavi had the opportunity to add many this summer, and not the least. The Catalans have signed up no less than eight players, spending more than €150m on the transfer market. Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea), Jules Koundé (Sevilla) and Hector Bellerin (Arsenal) came to strengthen the defense, Franck Kessié (AC Milan) the midfielder, while Raphinha (Leeds) and Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich ) have added themselves to the long list of quality forwards that Xavi has. With already 12 goals in just 9 games, the Pole is also making a thunderous start to the season. “He’s a great goalscorer, a great world-class player. He’s one of the best strikers in the world, maybe the best“, declared this Sunday his trainer in a press conference.

These expensive signings would have been unthinkable just a few months ago, when the club was heavily indebted and kept racking up losses. But Barça has since carried out some financial sleight of hand, the famous “levers” based on the sale of shares and which have made it possible to generate cash. A strategy that has the gift of annoying in Europe. “It’s the only club in the world that has no money but can buy all the players“, Was particularly surprised the coach of Bayern Munich Julian Nagelsmann.

On the European scene, a giant status to be regained

If Barça version Xavi obtains very good results in La Liga, he still has everything to prove in the Champions League. Once great in Europe, five-time winners of the C1, the Catalans have suffered some memorable humiliations in recent years and their last good run dates back to the 2018-2019 season, when they lost in the semi-final against eventual winners Liverpool ( 3-0 first leg win, 4-0 second leg loss).

Last season, they could not get out of their group before falling in the quarter-finals of the Europa League against Frankfurt. And this season, after an easy opening victory against Viktoria (5-1), they suffered the law of Bayern Munich despite a generally satisfactory performance (2-0 loss at the Allianz Arena). The match against Inter on Wednesday (9 p.m.) is therefore a real test not to be missed. “The meeting is not definitive, but it is very important for the future of this group.“Assured Xavi at a press conference.

The last time the two teams met in the same C1 group was during the 2018-2019 season. On the lawn, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann… Another era, which we must now turn the page.

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