Barcelona have undergone a dramatic transformation since hiring Xavi Hernandez as their head coach in November.
And as part of his vision for the club, the club legend has had to channel his inner Pep Guardiola to make some brutal decisions. It has been widely reported in Catalonia that Xavi met with Gerard Pique to inform him that he will not be a regular starter for the coming season.
The veteran centre-back has been with the club since 2008 and has made over 600 appearances, but the 35-year-old now faces sitting on the bench or heading for the exit in search of first-team football. Similarly, Dani Alves confirmed his departure on Instagram after the club declined to offer an extension.
And it is yet another example of how Xavi is stamping his authority on the squad as he attempts to haul the club back to the top of European football, although exiling the pair is certainly his boldest decision yet. It holds some similarities with how Guardiola ruthlessly decided to cleanse Barca of any egotism when he took over in 2008, telling Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o and Deco they were free to leave.
As history proved, that decision ended up coinciding with the club’s most successful period on the pitch, led by the devastating Lionel Messi. Of course, Xavi faces an entirely different task than his mentor. The La Liga giants have been left in a dire financial situation with debts of around €500m to wipe out, making his task of revamping the squad tremendously difficult.
The signings of Ferran Torres and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January have injected life into his side, while his influence in agreeing impressive free transfers for Chelsea ’s Andreas Christensen and AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie should not go unmentioned. Xavi has discovered that the perfect blend for his Barcelona side is equal measures of youth and experience.
In midfield, the Catalan has relied upon teenage starlets Pedri and Gavi to inject some fresh creativity into the midfield three. However, the 42-year-old also has shown a reliance on long-serving stalwarts such as Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets to help the Blaugrana get back to where they belong.
With that in mind, his motive behind snubbing Pique and Alves remains unclear. Xavi has shown a willingness to complete deals for Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta — two players entering the final stages of their career. That would suggest age has little do with his decision, but it is no surprise he has chosen to bring in fresh blood.
When he took over the club from Ronald Koeman in November 2021, the club were languishing down in ninth place in La Liga. But under the former Spain international, they found form and produced a style of football that was both easy on the eye and devastatingly effective to finish second. In particular, the manner in which they dismantled champions Real Madrid 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu, oozing class and confidence, will not be forgotten any time soon.
Having made his name as one of the greatest midfielders of his generation, Xavi is now proving to be a skilled coach on the touchline too — and players are buying into the winning mentality he has brought back. And while it may seem controversial to ditch two loyal servants in Alves and Pique, few will argue if Xavi manages to bring back the golden years to the Camp Nou next season