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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Barca, Liverpool and the big-club race for managers this summer – The Briefing

Welcome to The Briefing, where every Monday during this season, The Athletic will discuss three of the biggest questions to arise from the weekend.

This was the weekend when Barcelona head coach Xavi joined Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp in confirming he will leave his job in the summer, Premier League clubs avoided being an FA Cup scalp, and top-flight hopefuls Ipswich Town were stunned by sixth-tier Maidstone United.

Here, we will ask what Xavi and Klopp’s decisions mean for the managerial landscape, whether the transfer window can possibly stay this quiet in its final week, and how the land lies for missing Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford…


The race to get a new manager

It’s actually quite kind of the football managers when you think about it.

This January transfer window has been short of big moves. That hits agents’ commissions and leaves supporters light on transfer speculation to play with.

Step forward the managerial jobs market and some of the biggest vacancies football has to offer. The coming months could produce one of the great shake-ups, with Liverpool, Barcelona and potentially Manchester United, England, Bayern Munich, AC Milan, the U.S. national team, Germany and more looking for coaches.

Klopp’s announcement on Friday that he will leave Liverpool after this season was followed a day later by Barcelona manager Xavi, who also said he would step down in the summer. That sees two of Europe’s biggest clubs shopping potentially in a very similar and small market.

It’s already highly likely Germany’s national team could be looking for a head coach in a few months given Julian Nagelsmann effectively signed on until the end of this summer’s European Championship.


Ten Hag could join Xavi in leaving this summer (Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

That might not be the only vacancy going in Germany either. On the hunt for a 12th successive title, Thomas Tuchel’s Bayern Munich are second in the Bundesliga. For some of the club’s commentators, that is probably a sackable offence in itself.

Gareth Southgate’s England contract is due to expire in December, but England will likely be looking for his replacement sooner than that — especially if they fall short of their high expectations at Euro 2024.

Gregg Berhalter would fall under pressure as USMNT head coach if his team don’t impress at this summer’s Copa America and that job has more appeal than normal with the United States co-hosting the 2026 men’s World Cup. Meanwhile, Didier Deschamps is into his 14th year in the France job and might finally step aside.


More on Klopp and Xavi…


Then you have clubs who are biding their time.

Newcastle United may cut patient figures, but a mid-table Premier League finish and no European football would test Saudi patience with Eddie Howe.

At Old Trafford, you would be brave to back Erik ten Hag as part of INEOS’ Manchester United blueprint.

Indeed, with Liverpool and Barcelona already looking for their next managers, do INEOS and others have the luxury of taking their time to change?

And then there’s Italy, where Roma have just appointed Daniele De Rossi until the end of June. Napoli have a similar arrangement with Walter Mazzarri and pressure has been mounting on Stefano Pioli at AC Milan in recent months.

If that isn’t enough, Lionel Scaloni is openly flirting with a summer exit from Argentina after the Copa America, so that’s the World Cup winners up for grabs, too.


Southgate and Deschamps may be in charge for their final tournaments (Elsa/Getty Images)

There will, of course, be a trickle-down effect as well.

Clubs may start getting twitchy about their world getting ripped apart. Brighton & Hove Albion, Aston Villa and Bayer Leverkusen fans, look away now.

Roberto De Zerbi, Unai Emery and Xabi Alonso will surely feature on every shortlist and that concern might even stretch to Arsenal if Barca come calling for Mikel Arteta.

Just like the player market, one huge move has ramifications. The vacancies will ripple through football, out-of-work managers such as Graham Potter — sidelined since being sacked by Chelsea last April — will sense an opportunity to get back in and we’ll have a very different landscape on our hands across the board.

The weekend sounded the starter’s pistol. Let the fun begin.


Will January’s final throes have anything in store for us?

We don’t have to put all our eggs in the managerial basket just yet.

The astute among you will have realised that deadline day is at 11pm on Thursday across most of Europe.

This means there are still three days for the January transfer window to induce panic in club owners and sidelined players.

A case in point is the fun around Club Bruges winger Antonio Nusa. As reported by our transfer guru David Ornstein, Premier League side Brentford have reached an agreement with the Belgian club over signing Nusa, 18. That is after Nusa spoke to Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.


Brentford have agreed a deal for Nusa (Bruno Fahy/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images)

Is Brentford’s agreement going to lead to an official announcement? Will Nusa be loaned back to Club Bruges for the rest of the season? Or is this all a game of patience for Spurs before they swoop in and break Brentford hearts?

Will Miguel Almiron end up being shipped out by Newcastle so they can finally make a signing? Are Championship leaders Leicester City really in such a sticky financial-fair-play situation that they would sanction Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s sale to Brighton?

And after a third bid went to Middlesbrough, do Aston Villa finally get a deal agreed to sign 21-year-old midfielder Morgan Rogers?

As for those players twiddling their thumbs at a lack of action, pushing for an exit will get harder the closer the deadline gets.

Clubs, agents, head coaches and sporting directors can be pretty creative when it comes to crunch time.


Rashford situation is worrying

I had the pleasure of writing this Briefing at the start of December, hot on the heels of Rashford’s efforts for Manchester United at St James’ Park.

Those drew plenty of criticism, but at least he was on the pitch.

Come this weekend, Rashford missed United’s FA Cup win at League Two Newport County. United said before the match that Rashford was unavailable due to illness and had stayed at their Carrington training facilities to continue his recovery.

Manchester United


Rashford went out on Wednesday and Thursday (Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

On Saturday, The Athletic reported that the 26-year-old was out in Belfast the night before reporting himself too ill to attend training on Friday.

“He reported ill. The rest is an internal matter. I will deal with it,” said United manager Ten Hag following Sunday’s win. The questions kept coming but Ten Hag was not about to go any deeper.

Those closer to Rashford will have a better sense of how he is and where he is heading than the watching public, but for such a talented player with so much at his disposal and a public willingness to engage in social issues and inspire the next generation of adults to be the best they can, you can’t help but feel there is an awful lot at stake here.

On a purely human basis, here’s hoping Rashford can find a formula that ensures he continues to inspire admiration from United supporters, England fans and those that look to him as a genuine role model. 


What’s coming up?

  • This week is busy. Monday’s Asian Cup round of 16 sees hosts and defending champions Qatar face Palestine, who have made the knockout stages for the first time. The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) last-16 tie between holders Senegal and hosts Ivory Coast is mouthwatering. The final FA Cup fourth-round fixture (excluding replays) is also that evening, with U.S. darlings Wrexham travelling to Championship side Blackburn. 
  • There is a midweek round of Premier League games. Arsenal have lost their previous three visits to Nottingham Forest and head there again on Tuesday, and Aston Villa against Newcastle should be fun, too.


Forest have done well against Arsenal (Darren Staples/AFP via Getty Images)
  • The Women’s Champions League group stage concludes, with all eyes on Group C. Tuesday sees Bayern Munich host Paris Saint-Germain and Roma at Ajax. All four still have a shot at making the quarter-finals. 
  • On Wednesday, Japan face Bahrain in the Asian Cup last 16. Barcelona have their first outing since Xavi announced his summer exit when they host Osasuna in La Liga. The Premier League action continues at Anfield with Chelsea’s visit and Burnley boss Vincent Kompany is back at the Etihad to tackle his old boss, Pep Guardiola.
  • Thursday delivers that last dance of the GOATs. Possibly. It’s Al Nassr against Inter Miami in the Riyadh Season Cup, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury may yet leave Lionel Messi without a partner.
  • Friday sees AFCON hit the quarter-final stage as Nigeria face Angola.

Your Monday reading list

(Top photos: Getty Images)



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