Barcelona lost a thrilling La Liga game to Villarreal on January 27, but it was not the result that grabbed the headlines for long after the match.
Head coach Xavi announced after the 5-3 home loss that he would be leaving Barca at the end of the season. The former star midfielder said the decision was “for the good of the players” after find life difficult in 2023/24 following their title win last term.
“For the good of the board of directors, it is best that I leave,” Xavi said after a defeat that left Barca 11 points behind surprise leaders Girona. “I will give my best. I think all of that will help the dynamic change. This is the message I would like to give. I think I am doing the right thing.”
Attention has now turned to Xavi’s successor. The prospect of replacing a club legend would be challenging enough, but Barca’s persistent financial difficulties mean a job once considered the pinnacle of the men’s game is now fraught with difficulties.
MORE: Why Jurgen Klopp is leaving Liverpool
Xavi replacement: Next Barcelona manager candidates
For some time, some directors and officials in the Barcelona corridors of power have already been thinking about a Plan B in the event of Xavi’s eventual departure, which will now happen at the end of the season. However, at the moment, there is no one candidate who stands out above the rest.
In a race that is expected to be very close unless a name emerges who enjoys the total backing of everyone at the Blaugrana, these are the leading early contenders.
One of the early favourites, Imanol Alguacil has reportedly impressed the Barcelona hierarchy from affair with his work at Real Sociedad.
The 52-year-old has spent his whole coaching career with the Basque club, working at different levels before taking over the first team back in 2018. He led them to Copa del Rey glory in 2019/20 and the Europa League quarterfinals twice. This season, his team finished top of a UEFA Champions League group containing 2023 finalists Inter Milan.
Sport has previously claimed that Barca’s sporting hierarchy believe Imanol’s style of play would be perfect for the Catalans.
Marquez has been coach of Barca’s second team, Barcelona Atletic, since June 2022. It’s the same initial step taken by former Barca coaches Luis Enrique and Pep Guardiola, as well as Sergi Barjuan, who took interim charge of the first team before Xavi’s appointment.
“If the opportunity came along, I’m not going to say no,” the 44-year-old former Mexico international said after Barca Atletic’s 2-1 win in Fuenlabrada on January 27.
Marquez played 242 competitive games for Barca from 2003 to 2010, winning 12 trophies, including two UEFA Champions League titles. He played 37 games in all competitions as the Catalans won the treble in Guardiola’s first season in charge in 2008-09.
A product of Barca’s famous youth system, Thiago Motta spent six years in the senior team before hugely successful spells with Inter Milan and Paris Saint-Germain, where he retired in 2018.
The 41-year-old was named Bologna head coach in 2022 and has implemented a style of play that is similar to Barca’s philosophy of possession-based attacking football. He was previously coach of Genoa and Spezia in Serie A, giving him added experience of the type Marquez does not yet have.
It might sound fanciful, but the prospect of Guardiola returning to Barcelona at some point has always been anticipated.
“I could be coaching here [at Manchester City], but if Barcelona call me, I’d go to Barcelona. It’s my club,” he said on January 26 last year, sparking excitement among Barca fans and concern among City supporters in the process.
Those comments are gaining traction again following the news around Xavi, but do they reflect the City boss’ current feeling about returning to Catalonia? It feels like an impossible dream at this point: the man from Santpedor won the treble last season and is in a position to defend all of those trophies. His City contract also does not expire until 2025.
Klopp stunned the football world when he confirmed on January 26 that he would be leaving Liverpool at the end of 2023/24.
“I love absolutely everything about this club, I love everything about this city, I love everything about our supporters, I love the team, I love the staff. I love everything,” he said.
“That I still take this decision probably shows you that I’m convinced it’s the one I have to take. It is that I’m… how can I say… I’m running out of energy.”
Although it seems unlikely given Klopp wants to take a sabbatical, his promise not to manage another club in England means Barcelona can dream. So, too, can club president Joan Laporta, who has always longed to have the German take over the first team.
“They’re the only club that don’t have any money but can still sign any player,” was the barb that Nagelsmann aimed at Barcelona in July 2022 when the Blaugrana signed Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich, where Naglesmann was coach.
However, that statement appears to have been consigned to the past, and the idea of the German succeeding Xavi is growing in popularity among the fans.
Nagelsmann, who was sacked by Bayern in 2023, will be in charge of the Germany national team for Euro 2024 later this year, but his longer-term future is unclear.
Roberto De Zerbi
Italian De Zerbi has been a revelation in the Premier League with Brighton & Hove Albion, a team revolutionised since his arrival in September 2022. With an attractive, attacking style — something that would fit perfectly into the Barca philosophy — one of the biggest positives around the Brescia-born coach has been his skill at polishing rough diamonds into genuine star performers, which would be a great asset to a club with a weakened financial position.
As of January 28, Mourinho was considered one of the favourites to become the next Barcelona manager. No, really.
Implausible as it might sound for the general who waged war against Camp Nou while Real Madrid head coach from 2010 to 2013 — one of the most tempestuous periods of the Clasico rivalry — there would be some sense behind his appointment.
Mourinho’s affiliation to Barca goes back to his days working as Bobby Robson’s interpreter and assistant back in the mid-1990s. He then stayed on as assistant coach to Louis van Gaal before taking his first senior job with Benfica 24 years ago.
Mourinho’s stock has fallen somewhat in recent years, but he won the Europa Conference League with Roma and successfully united a fan base that is often fractured. When he was sacked in January 2024, many didn’t want him to go.
He could be a useful short-term appointment to bring the best out of a mismatched Barca squad of ageing stars and promising youngsters while the club gets its house in order financially before looking to a longer-term option.
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