Football: Xavi leaves Barca hanging

Al Sadd's Spanish coach Xavi Hernandez (above) watches the second leg of the AFC Champions League semi-finals football match between Qatar's Al Sadd and Saudi' Al Hilal in Riyadh on Oct 22, 2019.
Al Sadd's Spanish coach Xavi Hernandez (above) watches the second leg of the AFC Champions League semi-finals football match between Qatar's Al Sadd and Saudi' Al Hilal in Riyadh on Oct 22, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

He turns down mid-season offer to succeed Valverde, whose future remains tenuous

DOHA • Barcelona have been left in limbo after former midfielder Xavi Hernandez turned down an offer to take over as manager of the club.

Their sporting director, Eric Abidal, and chief executive, Oscar Grau, will discuss the next step with Josep Maria Bartomeu, the club's president, following their return from Qatar, where they held meetings with the former Spain international over the weekend.

The 39-year-old, who is currently in charge of the Qatari side Al Sadd, had expressed a desire to take over the hot seat one day, but with Barcelona pressing for a swift response, he decided the time was not right.

The Spanish La Liga champions are now considering their options, which include handing Ernesto Valverde's job on a part-time basis to B team coach, Francisco Javier Garcia Pimienta, with a view to Xavi taking over in the summer.

Until Barcelona were beaten 3-2 by Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia on Thursday night, their original idea had been to see out the season with Valverde.

Netherlands coach and former Barca defender Ronald Koeman had been the principal candidate to replace him after Euro 2020, but that position has shifted now.

Valverde yesterday took charge of training but his future remains tenuous. According to Catalan daily Mundo Deportivo, Bartomeu is set to announce his imminent sacking.

Last February, he signed a new contract that runs to the end of this season with an option for another, but all signs point to his removal even though Barcelona have won the league twice in a row since his May 2017 appointment.

They have qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League and are top of the league, albeit on goal difference.

Valverde's position has been dramatically weakened after negotiations with Xavi were arranged behind his back, before they became public knowledge.

Vissel Kobe star Andres Iniesta believes that his former club have treated Valverde with disrespect, calling their handling of the situation "a bit ugly".

He told Spain's Onda Cero radio station yesterday: "They have to have some respect for their current coach, the way things are done are what hurt the most. Valverde's situation is very weak right now. (Xavi) knows best if he's ready or not."

Former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola echoed Iniesta's comments, saying on Sunday he "felt bad" for Valverde and "he doesn't deserve this treatment".

The Manchester City boss, who lifted 14 trophies during a four-year spell at the Nou Camp, acknowledged "winning the league is not enough" as "Barcelona is a special place".

AN UGLY SIGHT

What Barcelona are doing is a bit ugly. They have to have some respect for their current coach, the way things are done are what hurt the most.

ANDRES INIESTA , former Barcelona midfielder, on the manner in which the Catalan giants have tried to oust manager Ernesto Valverde.

THE FALL GUY

Managers are treated badly when expectations are not accomplished, no-one can escape that.

LUIS ENRIQUE, Valverde's predecessor, on the pressures managers face.

Like Guardiola, Spain coach Luis Enrique expressed sympathy for his successor, adding: "I empathise with Valverde because I get on with him very well and he's doing a very good job.

"He is still in a position to win every trophy apart from the Super Cup. He is one of the best Spanish coaches around."

To add to the turmoil surrounding Barcelona, the team was rocked by the news that Luis Suarez would be out for four months after undergoing knee surgery, practically ruling him out for the rest of this season.

Only four players have scored more goals for the club all-time and before last Thursday's game, the Uruguay striker had scored or assisted each of their last 10 goals.

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2020, with the headline 'Xavi leaves Barca hanging'. Print Edition | Subscribe