Xavi’s time as a player saw Barcelona dominate world football in a way that was hitherto unknown. He is back at Camp Nou as a manager to reproduce that era in a seemingly difficult situation. He begins that journey today as they welcome Espanyol in a La Liga game. With Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves and Xavi, Barcelona were unplayable; they won the UEFA Champions League three times and reached the semi-final of that competition another four times.
With their tiki-taka style as the pivot, they also won five La Liga titles at a time Cristiano Ronaldo was at Real Madrid. Like many of his mates, Xavi was unassuming off the pitch but a different proposition on it, he was the orchestrator of the tiki-taka game alongside his midfield mate Iniesta; it was almost impossible to separate him from the ball when on it even when crowdedly surrounded, he was always finding the solution to Barca problems.
That was Xavi the player and the Camp Nou faithful who thronged the stadium in their thousands during his unveiling two weeks ago nostalgically remembered his problem-solving nous on the pitch and enthusiastically looked forward to seeing him repeat that on the touchline. They have suffered since Xavi left; they haven’t won the Champions League since the last time the new manager lifted it as a player in 2015 and have seen the revered club become a butt of jokes. They have seen their former peerlessness replaced with utter mediocrity; nobody feared them anymore as exemplified by their recent 3-0 loss to Porto in the European competition.
Barca haven’t won the league in the last three seasons and are sitting 11th on the table this time with a possible group stage exit from the Champions League starring them in the face. The search for redemption has seen the club hire four coaches since 2020 but they are now hoping that Xavi’s arrival will help them recapture the old glory.
However, despite his peerlessness as a player, Xavi is still a greenhorn as a coach and committing a massive club with enormous problems into the hands of a novice coach could still be considered a risk. He managed Al-Sadd, A Qatari club for just two seasons with some measure of success but the atmosphere in the oil-rich country is completely different from what he can get in Spain. Barca fans have suffered enough and they wouldn’t want him to waste time to start producing results and that is why his debut against city rivals on Saturday looks like a must-win.
He couldn’t have asked for a better ground to kick-start his reign, he will be expecting about 80,000 faithful at the hallowed Camp Nou to cheer him to victory as he superintends over his first La Liga game. He is an ambassador of the past and together with some of his old teammates including Pique, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Sergi Roberto who are still in the squad, they will look to create a happier tomorrow. Xavi faced Espanyol 36 times as a player but only lost twice and it remains to be seen if their city rivals will ruin his debut.