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Xavi Hernández. SUR
A changed man
A look at LaLiga

A changed man

Barcelona's coach, Xavi Hernández, who looked hesitant and frightened to make big calls before he announced he would be resigning in June, now doesn't hesitate to make decisive decisions

Friday, 12 April 2024, 16:39

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Xavi announcing a June resignation from his job in January could be one of the greatest managerial masterstrokes - however it could be time for a dramatic U-turn.

Stepping aside was the right thing to do. It saved the club sacking him. The relief was evident on his face when he said: "I decided a few days ago, but I think it's time. The club needs a change of dynamic."

They'd just lost 5-3 to Villarreal, were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Athletic Club and suffered the humiliation of defeat in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid. The president was distancing himself from the coach and Deco, the director of football, was hardly supportive. It was agreed that he would continue until June to avoid financial complications.

He added: "I think the club needs a change of direction and it's for the good of the players who I think will be liberated by the decision."

His words were prophetic. The players were not alone in feeling liberated. For the first time he could manage with freedom. He could make decisions without wondering what the hierarchy thought.

The results have been outstanding. It's eight wins in a run of 12 unbeaten games, topped off by a first leg victory in Paris in the Champions League quarter-finals.

A coach who could do no right can now do no wrong. Pau Cubarsí, the 17-year-old he promoted just after his pending resignation announcement, has been a revelation. His decision to stick with 16-year-old Lamine Yamal has paid dividends.

He took a gamble on selecting Andreas Christensen, a defender by trade, as a holding midfielder and it has worked a treat. He's selected João Félix, a favourite of the footballing director, only when he thought it was correct and resisted the pressure from above to start winter-signing Victor Roque.

The senior players have played their part too: Robert Lewandowski threw a team-bonding barbeque and he's started roasting opposing defences; club captain Sergi Roberto has imposed himself on the squad; and goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen returned after a three month lay-off.

Some of it has been luck but the victory against PSG came down to judgement. He chose not to start Pedri and Christensen. The original game plan worked and, then when Pedri was introduced, he created a goal with his first telling touch. Christensen dashed onto the field and immediately scored the game winning goal.

Xavi fully derives the praise. The coach who looked hesitant and frightened to make big calls now doesn't hesitate to make decisive decisions.

He's a changed man and many think he should change his mind. There doesn't appear to be an obvious candidate. Nobody knows the players better than Xavi, nobody knows the club better than Xavi, nobody knows the financial restraints better than Xavi, and nobody has greater respect from the youngsters than Xavi.

So, it's up to Xavi. In some ways, it reminds me of the situation at Liverpool FC when Kenny Dalglish stepped aside. The club legend never had a break between playing and managing. He'd also won the league very early as the boss but chose to step aside in an emotional bleak mid-winter. Dalglish did return refreshed and learned to delegate to a coaching team; it resulted in Blackburn Rovers winning the Premier League.

Liverpool's loss was Blackburn's gain. Barcelona should be trying to ensure that they benefit from the re-energised Xavi and it isn't another club gaining from his learning experiences.

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