This article has been updated following the announcement that Xavi will resign at the end of the season.
Barcelona manager Xavi has announced he will step down from his position at the end of the season.
The revelation came shortly after his team lost a dramatic game 5-3 at home to Villarreal.
Barca were dreadful in the early stages and went 2-0 down shortly after half-time before finding some spirit and turning the game around. But from 3-2 up, the champions capitulated, conceding three late goals. The defeat leaves them 10 points behind leaders Real Madrid and eight behind second-placed Girona. They have now conceded 16 goals in their past five games.
“I have decided I will not continue beyond June 30 (the end date of his contract),” Xavi said. “It is a common-sense decision for the good of the club.”
The news, and Saturday’s result, comes after Barca’s hopes of domestic cup glory this season vanished within the space of 10 days earlier this month; a humiliating 4-1 Spanish Supercopa final loss to Real Madrid was soon followed by a midweek exit to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey.
This is what it all means.
Xavi’s decision to stand down explained
When asked about Xavi’s position before the game, Barca sources had been adamant that they trusted the manager. In the background there was the financial situation, which effectively made it very difficult for Barcelona to afford to sack him — it would have an impact on their current salary limit and there is no replacement in sight.
But after the Villarreal defeat, a meeting was held between the 44-year-old and club president Joan Laporta, after which he announced his resignation.
“Right now, if I think with my head and think about the club, the solution and best thing is for me to leave on June 30,” Xavi said. “That’s how I feel it. We’ve just agreed that with the president. We have a president who is brilliant. Him, Rafa Yuste (managing director), Deco (sporting director)… everyone is really capable.
“I think this decision will help unblocking the team and the mood in here. I just told the president Laporta now. We’ve had a meeting, it was a very human conversation, just with common sense. The trust from them is still fantastic. But I believe this is the moment to say this. I don’t make my decisions following money, my contract will never be a problem. I just make my choices following my heart. I don’t need anything more.”
Prior to the news, midfielder Frenkie de Jong backed the manager: “There is full faith in the mister,” he said. “The coaching staff are doing good work, we players are to blame (for the defeat), we have the talent. If it’s not shown, it’s our fault.”
To which Xavi replied: “It’s nice of Frenkie to take responsibility, but the main person responsible is me, and all of us are responsible. We have to change this dynamic as soon as possible. La Liga is going to be very difficult. But we deserved the win, we did the most difficult part, turning the result around.
“The second part was very good until 3-2, and we could have gone 4-2, but we did not manage it well when we lost possession; we did not make those tactical fouls required at 3-3.
“The result does not reflect the game, but that’s for our mistakes. It sums up our season. We lost another game we deserved to win. But we have to pick ourselves up, we have got out of worse situations than this.”
But now, Xavi will only steer the ship until the summer.
What went wrong for Barca?
This was a prime example of what Xavi’s Barcelona have been this season: a side that is unable to create real trouble to the opposition, while in defence they are extremely sloppy.
They conceded the first goal after a throw-in, and then threw away a comeback lead due to an astonishing lack of defensive cohesion. There were individual mistakes all around, from Andreas Christensen to Joao Cancelo to Inaki Pena. But that’s not new. That’s what’s been going on all season at the club.
Pedri’s entrance at half-time and his link-up play with Lamine Yamal and Ilkay Gundogan was key in helping Barcelona come back from two goals down. As soon as Gundogan scored the first goal, the Montjuic stadium erupted and Barcelona gained momentum.
But as soon as the mission was completed, they crumbled. There are many problems in and around Barcelona at the minute. We can point to the transfer policy, to the financial situation or even to the injuries the team have suffered. But the reality is Barcelona have not played football at the required standard at any point this season. Among all the drama, this is mainly a football issue.
What now for Christensen after being subbed at half-time?
This felt like a bold call.
Being subbed off at half-time for 17-year-old Pau Cubarsi can’t be seen in any other way than Xavi pointing the finger at Christensen for Villarreal’s first goal which, to be fair, was a pretty bad one.
Cubarsi has impressed Xavi in the past two games, but this time the manager granted Christensen the chance to impress. He failed.
Now, the 27-year-old might find it tough to get back into Xavi’s starting line-up in the coming months. Seeing Christensen falling out of favour is not a new thing this season. In fact, as The Athletic reported weeks ago, the centre-back had felt frustrated earlier this season with Xavi’s team selections, as he saw himself as the first defender to be left out on the bench whenever Barca had all their centre-backs fit.
Jules Kounde had had a meeting with Xavi before the start of the season admitting he did not enjoy himself playing as a right-back. Ronald Araujo also said he does not like playing out of position. Christensen, who remained quiet, saw himself benched at the start of the season despite being one of the best performers in Barcelona’s La Liga conquest last campaign.
This loss of confidence between player and manager has been combined with the recurrent physical problems which have discouraged Barcelona’s coaching staff.
Christensen’s major mistake against Villarreal hinted that Cubarsi might have taken over him in Xavi’s eyes too.
(Top photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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