Barcelona are in a difficult position.
Nine months on from winning a first La Liga title since 2019, they trail leaders Real Madrid by eight points in third place and look all but certain to relinquish that crown. Their financial problems remain and they have another issue to deal with — finding a head coach to replace Xavi after his announcement he will be stepping down at the end of the season.
There is still a Champions League round-of-16 tie against Napoli to come, but their best hope of silverware this campaign disappeared with a Copa del Rey quarter-final exit against Athletic Bilbao. Xavi, meanwhile, has not held back from saying how difficult his job is, which will not make the search for his successor any easier.
So, how are Barcelona supporters feeling about the club’s situation? We surveyed them on several topics, from Xavi’s resignation to who is to blame for their problems, to find out.
Is Xavi choosing the right time to leave?
Xavi’s announcement came after a 5-3 defeat by Villarreal at the end of last month. It followed a late-night board meeting, a text from Xavi to club president Joan Laporta asking to speak and the manager communicating a decision he had considered for months.
“It is a common-sense decision for the good of the club,” Xavi said. “If I think with my head and think about the club, the solution and the best thing is to leave in June — that is how I feel.”
Most Barcelona fans surveyed agreed with him — 66.8 per cent thought he made the right choice compared to 33.2 per cent who disagreed. Xavi has also called the position a “cruel job” that “wears you down”.
“I’m a positive guy but the battery levels keep running out — and at some point, you realise there’s no point in staying,” he said.
Will Xavi’s decision help the team improve?
Few fans thought Xavi’s decision would help improve the team’s fortunes for the rest of the season — 21.9 per cent of respondents compared to 78.1 per cent who said the opposite. Barca scraped past Osasuna with a 1-0 win in their first game since the announcement last week before recording a comfortable 3-1 win against Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.
Xavi will hope his team can overcome Napoli in Barca’s first Champions League knockout tie for three years. Barcelona travel to the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona for the first leg on February 21 before hosting the Serie A champions on March 12.
Who should take the blame for Barca’s disappointing season?
Xavi should not feel responsible for Barcelona’s poor season according to fans, with only 11.6 per cent of those who answered pointing the finger at the coach.
Instead, it is players and the board who come in for the biggest criticism. More than 30 per cent of those surveyed think the players are responsible for the failures of this season but 58.2 per cent blame the board led by Laporta.
“On the sporting side, things are not going as we had planned this season,” he said last month. “We came from winning La Liga and the Supercopa de Espana, with an improved squad — we had better expectations but they are not being fulfilled.”
What is a realistic expectation this season?
Well, for a start, few fans (1.6 per cent) are expecting Barca to win the Champions League.
The vast majority (83.9 per cent) think Xavi’s team should be aiming for a spot in next year’s competition instead. That is certainly achievable, although Barca are only five points clear of fifth-placed Athletic. La Liga does not look well-placed to get a fifth Champions League berth in next season’s new-look tournament given Spain’s UEFA club coefficient, so Barca will be targeting a top-four finish to guarantee their spot.
How well are Barca being run?
On-pitch matters have not been the only concern for Barcelona fans in recent years — the club’s finances and boardroom management have increasingly come under the spotlight.
Over the last two summers, Laporta’s board pulled a series of financial ‘levers’ — selling a chunk of the club’s future revenue in exchange for a lump upfront sum — to make signings. Arrivals such as Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha and Jules Kounde helped them win the league but many observers wondered if it would be at a cost to the club’s future prosperity.
More than 65 per cent of those who answered the survey think Barca are either badly (35.5 per cent) or very badly (30.4 per cent) run. About one in 20 fans (5.7 per cent) think it is well run and one per cent (nine respondents) think it is very well run.
Style or substance — which is more important?
Xavi knows a thing or two about the importance of style at Barcelona: he was part of the side managed by Pep Guardiola from 2008-2012.
Since Johan Cruyff’s arrival as a player in the 1970s, Barca have been associated with a particular brand of possession-based football. Even some managers who experienced success there, such as Luis Enrique, have been criticised when they have veered from those ideals.
The desire to stay true to Barca’s roots is reflected in the results of our survey. An overwhelming 61.3 per cent of respondents said that ‘Barca DNA’ was more important to them than winning titles however they can — 38.7 per cent said the latter was more important.
Who should be sold?
Barcelona still find themselves in a precarious financial situation. Last month, The Athletic reported they could expect further wage cuts in the summer and might be forced to sell first-team players to contend with their historic debt and financial fair play rules in Spain and Europe.
Over 40 per cent of fans think Lewandowski should be sold despite his 23 La Liga goals helping them to the title last season. Lewandowski has struggled for form since the 2022 Qatar World Cup and has scored 14 goals in 31 matches in all competitions this campaign — poor by his lofty standards.
Nearly a fifth (19.5 per cent) think Raphinha, signed from Leeds United during the 2022 ‘summer of levers’, should be sold, 15.7 per cent chose Frenkie de Jong and 8.7 per cent chose Kounde.
Should Barcelona sign new players or trust their academy prospects?
Barcelona pride themselves on the success of La Masia — only Real Madrid have more academy graduates playing across Europe’s top five leagues, according to the CIES Football Observatory.
That is reflected in the answers to this question, with 88.4 per cent of fans thinking the club should give youngsters a chance instead of delving back into the transfer market and 11.6 per cent saying they should try to sign new players despite mixed success in recent windows. Barca will again be limited by their financial problems in the summer.
Should Barca fans simply have lower expectations?
Xavi has repeatedly said his team are “under construction”. But Barca are still expected to challenge for trophies as Spain’s second-most successful club (by trophies won, behind Madrid).
The fans surveyed here appear to agree with the Barca coach, with 80.7 per cent arguing they need time to progress. Nearly one in five (19.3 per cent) think they can still compete for titles in their present situation.
How long until they win the Champions League again?
Barcelona last won the Champions League in 2015, when Luis Enrique and an attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar guided them to the second treble in the club’s history.
Over half (59.4 per cent) of supporters think they are two to four years away from winning the trophy again. Around one-third (36.2 per cent) think they are five years away or more while an equal split of 4.4 per cent think they can either win it this season or next.
And how long until they win La Liga again?
Last season’s Spanish title was the 27th in Barcelona’s history, leaving them eight behind Madrid. The answers to this question perhaps reflect the talented young team being built by their arch-rivals, with 53.8 per cent of fans thinking Barca are two to four years away from their next La Liga trophy.
Under half (42 per cent) of fans think Barca can win it next season, just 2.5 per cent believe Xavi’s team can retain the title and a pessimistic 1.6 per cent think it is five years away or more.
Who should replace Xavi as manager?
The big question Barcelona fans are asking themselves. The most popular option to replace Xavi was Brighton’s Roberto De Zerbi, with over a quarter (26.4 per cent) of the votes.
The other fancied coaches reflect a desire to return to Barca’s past or their possession-based roots: former player and manager Luis Enrique at Paris Saint-Germain (18.8 per cent), Girona’s Michel (12.4 per cent), ex-Barcelona Atletic boss and Las Palmas coach Francisco Javier Garcia Pimienta (11 per cent) and… Jose Mourinho. Almost 11 per cent of those who responded want to see Barca hire their former translator and antagonist-in-chief at Madrid following his Roma sacking.
Barca Atletic manager and Mexico playing legend Rafael Marquez won 7.7 per cent of the votes while 5.6 per cent went to Bologna boss Thiago Motta (who began his playing career as a midfielder at Barca). Less realistic options include the outgoing Liverpool leader Jurgen Klopp (three per cent) and their former treble-winning coach Guardiola (2.3 per cent).
Under one per cent of respondents voted for Bayer Leverkusen boss and former Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso (0.8 per cent), ex-Bayern Munich and Germany coach Hansi Flick (0.6 per cent) and Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta, another former La Masia midfielder (0.5 per cent).
(Top photo: Getty Images)
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