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Xavi Embodies Barça's Heyday, But Times Have Changed

As a player he embodied the ideal of FC Barcelona, ​​now the coach Xavi is supposed to revive the club. This will be difficult under the changed conditions of this epoch.

Xavi is back. With him as coach, FC Barcelona wants to revive a great time. Thanks to his technique and overview, he was a world-class footballer, played strategically and in a way that served the team. He supported his teammates as a point of reference, he staged them precisely, he always found solutions. It seemed impossible to separate him from the ball even if he was surrounded.

In Xavi's heyday, the Spanish national team was practically unbeatable, becoming European champions, world champions, and European champions one after the other. In the two European Championship finals in 2008 and 2012, he prepared a total of four goals. During this time he dominated the Champions League with FC Barcelona - twice title wins and semi-finals in four years. "No one has ever beaten us up like this," said Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson, years after the lost 2011 final, when Tikitaka peaked.

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In midfield, Xavi complemented each other ideally with Andrés Iniesta. Xavi was the metronome, Iniesta the ball tug. The two had a similar division of labor as Luka Modrić and Toni Kroos, who with Real Madrid replaced FC Barcelona as the benchmark of club football. Xavi also associates Kroos with the high quality of his long passes.

Xavi was a perfect fit for FC Barcelona’s philosophy. Under the direction of Pep Guardiolas, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol and Messi, then the best footballers in the world, internalized his idealism, according to which everyone can do everything. Together they raised the balance between attack and defense to a new level. Body size was not decisive, not even in Sturm und Abwehr.

At that time I could have moved to FC Barcelona. It would have been a great experience to be on the pitch with these greats. I look back with a crying eye, but also a laughing one. As a Munich child, I really wanted to win the Champions League with my club FC Bayern. I would never have forgiven myself if I hadn't been there to win at Wembley in 2013. At that time, Barcelona was a role model for the whole world in another respect: The club had Unicef ​​as a shirt sponsor.

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The times have changed. The players are even more crucial to the results today. FC Barcelona won the Champions League for the last time in 2015. Since then he has not been in the final, instead one remembers heavy defeats: 2: 8 against Bayern Munich, 0: 4 in Liverpool, 0: 3 in Rome, 1: 4 against Paris, most recently 0: 3 in Lisbon. That is the downside of this football, which requires the best technology and a high level of game intelligence from everyone, but where physicality is not a priority. It backfires sometimes.

The attraction of Barça has waned, the dominant style with ball possession shares of 70 percent and more has long been called into question. In 2010 and 2012, Inter Milan and Chelsea barricaded the gate and knocked out Barcelona in the semifinals. The principle "everyone behind the ball" is what everyone can do today. On the other hand, only goals that require physical elements often help - standard situations, counterattacks and other brute solutions.

Football has become faster, more robust, more physical. Even Guardiola has adapted in Manchester , his finely tuned game can still be seen, but he lets play more defensively. The present has new protagonists on the pitch: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Paul Pogba, Vinícius Júnior, Alphonso Davies and Erling Haaland - all athletes who are more like Usain Bolt than the 1.70 meter tall Xavi.

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And Lionel Messi is playing in Paris . Because there is new economic competition. In 2011, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, the clubs with the highest turnover in the world, were followed by Manchester United (365 million), FC Bayern (320) as well as Arsenal and FC Chelsea (250 each). Today, large investments are made in many locations. In Europe there are around ten clubs with an annual turnover of around half a billion euros. Around twice as many clubs are now competing for the best players. Many clubs are in the hands of very wealthy owners, including Newcastle United.

The dynamism that the market has sparked also affects the coaches , who are also hired like stars. Arsène Wenger, Alex Ferguson and Johan Cruyff once became institutions in their associations because of their philosophy. Christian Streich will soon be celebrating his tenth anniversary as head coach of SC Freiburg in the Bundesliga. Who still knows Guy Roux, who trained the AJ Auxerre from 1964 to 2000? Auxerre and Freiburg are niches where the quirky Roux and Streich have gained high recognition.

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Even Jürgen Klopp took four years to try to win titles with Liverpool. The fact that coaches are given time is now the exception. In Barcelona, ​​the two predecessors Xavis did not last a total of two years. Most of the ten or so top coaches such as Mauricio Pochettino, Thomas Tuchel, Antonio Conte or Carlo Ancelotti rotate every two to three seasons at the financially optimized clubs from London, Madrid and Paris. It is more important for them to create a good atmosphere and to be accepted by the stars.

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Zinédine Zidane, who won the Champions League three times in a row with Real Madrid from 2016 to 2018, says of himself : "Tactically, I'm not the best coach." He led his team through broadcast. This is now the decisive factor, not the long-term development of a game idea; Liverpool FC even relies on artificial intelligence when planning their squad.

Xavi has the necessary charisma. There are few who have matched the ideal of FC Barcelona as much as he does, who embody the great times so credibly. Now he should reproduce it under a different sign. It will be a difficult undertaking.

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