Xavi: Why is he leaving Barcelona and what's next for him and the club?

Former Barca and Spain midfielder has announced he will leave his role as manager at the end of the season

Xavi will leave Barcelona at the end of the season, one year before his contract is due to expire. Reuters
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Two days after Jurgen Klopp announced he would leave Liverpool at the end of the season, another vacancy will soon open up at a European superclub as Xavi confirmed on Saturday night he would step down at Barcelona.

The Spaniard, one of Barca's greatest ever players, took charge of the Catalan club in November 2021 and initially helped to steer a sinking ship, guiding Barcelona to La Liga glory in his first full season in charge.

However, after Saturday's 5-3 home defeat to Villarreal, Barca are now 10 points off leaders Real Madrid. They were also eliminated from the Copa del Rey on Thursday with a 4-2 defeat at Athletic Bilbao, meaning their only realistic hope of silverware lies in the Champions League – although given their current issues, Barca are considered outsiders for the trophy.

Barcelona were also comprehensively beaten by rivals Real in the Spanish Super Cup final in Riyadh earlier this month.

Soon after the loss to Villarreal, Xavi revealed he would leave Barcelona at the end of the current campaign, saying: "I think the club needs a change of dynamic."

What did Xavi say?

Xavi, whose contract runs until June 2025, pulled no punches in announcing his decision to cut short his time at Barcelona. He began by explaining that he had given everything and that he was leaving for the benefit of the club.

“I would like to announce that on 30 June I will not continue as coach of Barcelona,” he said. “We have been talking to the president [Joan Laporta], with Rafa Yuste [the vice-president], Alejandro Echevarria [an adviser], Deco [the sporting director] and part of the staff.

“The situation needs to change and as a cule [a Barcelona fan] I can’t allow this. I took this decision days ago, but it is time to make it public. I don’t want to be a problem for the club. [I am] thinking about the club, the good of the players, and the directors.

"As a club man, I think the best thing to do is go on 30 June. I will give my best in these four months; I still think we can complete a great season. I take this decision calmly; it’s common sense.”

However, Xavi refused to hold back on the working conditions he has encountered at Camp Nou.

“You often feel there is lack of respect, you feel that your work is not appreciated,” Xavi said. “It wears you down terribly, in terms of health, of mental health, your mood, your emotional state. I am a positive guy but the energy goes down, down, down, until the point at which you say: it makes no sense. It makes no sense to continue. That’s how I explain it.

“I decided it some time ago; the people closest to me know. It’s a situation that I think affects the club now. It affects me but when it affects the club I think I have to leave.”

Spanish Super Cup final player ratings

How did it reach this point?

When Xavi returned to Barcelona 26 months ago, the club were in a mess. Predecessor Ronald Koeman was sacked with Barca ninth in La Liga and on the verge of exiting the Champions League at the group stage.

While the Dutchman, himself a Barca great as a player, could shoulder the blame for some of the immediate issues the team were facing, much of it was years in the making following a prolonged spell of financial mismanagement, which culminated in Lionel Messi leaving the club on a free transfer.

Xavi's arrival sparked an immediate improvement in form and the former midfielder led Barca to third in La Liga, although he could not salvage their Champions League campaign.

Given the promising early signs, the club decided to back Xavi in the transfer market, making funds available by essentially selling stakes in the club's future business. By activating these 'economic levers', Xavi was able to recruit the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Jules Kounde, and Raphinha for a combined $160 million, while Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen, and Marcos Alonso were signed on free transfers.

The move was initially vindicated as Xavi last season led Barca to their first league title in three years, with Lewandowski firing 23 goals to claim Spain's "Pichichi" award for top goalscorer. Defensively, Barca were rock solid, conceding just 20 goals as they cantered to the title by 10 points.

However, the wheels have fallen off dramatically this season. Lewandowski, another year older at 35, has scored just eight La Liga goals in 19 appearances, while Barca have conceded nine more goals than the entirety of last season after just 21 games.

The club's perilous financial situation can again be looked at as a cause for their decline in results. While rivals Real Madrid were busy strengthening with Jude Bellingham – a revelation in his debut season – Barca were limited to free transfers.

That said, Xavi has also received criticism for muddled tactics, inconsistent lineups, and for struggling to imprint a clear playing style. There is also a feeling that not enough players have improved under his guidance. Of the seven managers to follow Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, Xavi has the lowest goals-per-game average of just 1.89.

The manager has also struggled for support in the boardroom. Key allies including sporting director Jordi Cruyff and director of football Mateu Alemany have both departed the club, while president Laporta has reportedly never been fully convinced that Xavi was the right man for the job.

Ecstatic Barcelona supporters celebrate 27th LaLiga title

Barcelona fans celebrate in the street after their team won the Spanish La Liga championship by beating crosstown rivals Espanyol in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday May 14, 2023.  (AP Photo / Joan Mateu Parra)

Who next for Barcelona?

While the list of potential candidates to replace Klopp at Liverpool is extensive, there aren't as many immediately obvious options to succeed Xavi at the Camp Nou. Once considered one of the most coveted roles in football management, Barcelona will struggle to attract a top-tier manager due to their ongoing financial problems.

Girona's Michel would seem a logical target following the outstanding job he continues to do at another Catalan club. Playing in only their fourth season in La Liga, Girona have mounted an unlikely, yet sustained, title challenge while playing a modern and attractive brand of football. Only Bayern Munich (56) have scored more than Girona's 51 goals across Europe's top five leagues.

Should Barcelona wish to once again turn to one of their own, Las Palmas manager Garcia Pimienta would be a suitable successor. Like Girona, Las Palmas are punching above their weight in La Liga this season and Pimienta is earning plenty of plaudits for the style and identity of his team, much of it gleaned from his three decades within the Barcelona system, first as a player and then as coach at La Masia, the club's famed youth academy.

Another former player who might interest Barcelona is Thiago Motta, the Brazilian who played eight years for the club. After a rocky start to his managerial career, Motta has been working wonders in Italy with Bologna. Last season he led the club to a ninth-placed finish in Serie A – their highest in 11 years – and they are currently only two points off fourth this campaign.

What's next for Xavi?

It's difficult to assess at this stage what the future has in store for Xavi. The Spaniard was in the infancy of his managerial career at Qatar's Al Sadd when the SOS came from his boyhood club.

The job arguably came a little too early, given both his lack of experience and the trouble Barcelona were in, but he deserves immense credit for turning around their fortunes so quickly and making them league champions again.

Whether the steady decline of this season has impacted his wider standing in the game is too early to tell. After all, there is still half a season for Xavi to finish strongly and even potentially end his tenure with the club's sixth European Cup.

Should that happen, Xavi will have clubs clamouring to become their next manager. However, whether he views his long-term career in management, once he has left his dream job, remains to be seen.

Updated: January 28, 2024, 7:44 AM