Xavi's feelings before the final against Naples

“It has been four years since we have been in the Champions League quarterfinals.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
11 March 2024 Monday 10:29
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Xavi's feelings before the final against Naples

“It has been four years since we have been in the Champions League quarterfinals. It has been four years since we have been among the eight best teams in Europe. And we have to see it as an opportunity for everyone,” said Xavi Hernández. As a player he won four Champions Leagues, including the last one to date for the Blaugrana in the final in Berlin 2015. As coach of the team of his life, he has experienced two eliminations in the group stage. And from Qatar, as coach of Al Sadd, he observed how Quique Setién (2020) and Ronald Koeman (2021) fell with Barça in the round of 16, right where his team is now. “You have to be brave, show that you can compete after so many years of not being at the level,” asked Xavi. As an optimist, no one beats him.

President Joan Laporta was not in the sports city yesterday to wish the squad luck. In his place, the sports vice president Rafa Yuste attended, who greeted all the players. But Xavi and the president are in permanent contact. “Laporta is very motivated. My good relationship with the president has not changed,” said Xavi that, after the victory against Mallorca, he met the president again in Montjuïc. After the post-match press conference, they had dinner together in the room attached to the Barcelona locker room where catering is always available for the players and coaching staff.

Barring a catastrophe, Laporta is determined to keep Xavi. In fact, he never wanted me to announce his departure at the end of the season and this has been conveyed to him on several occasions. Even so, the president yesterday met in Barcelona with Pini Zahavi, Lewandowski's agent but also Hansi Flick, a coach who is in the Blaugrana orbit. They know that it is very difficult for Xavi to change his mind. “I have an expiration date; I am not important, the team is, the club is, not me,” Xavi recalled yesterday, determined to focus on the role of his players.

“I have told them not to be afraid, that they have to take a step forward. I don't see better teams in Europe. But what affects us are our economic circumstances,” said Xavi, who regrets that the club's financial weakness has prevented him from further strengthening last year's champion squad, which had essential players for him such as Sergio Busquets and Ousmane Dembélé. The replacements that have arrived - Oriol Romeu and João Félix - are not fixed in his scheme.

Xavi now trains a short squad with 21 first team players who has also been left without important figures for him such as Gavi, Pedri, Balde or Frenkie de Jong. The expected reappearance of Ferran Torres, scheduled for last weekend against Mallorca, is also delayed because the Foios striker has not yet trained with the team. Due to his daring way of playing, he preferred not to take risks. “But injuries are no excuse,” Xavi insisted. “And we are not afraid of failing either, but rather of showing that, despite everything, we can be at a good level,” he noted.

The financial crisis does not prevent the observation of green shoots. The young people Lamine Yamal or Pau Cubarsí, aged 16 and 17 respectively, are experiencing a historic moment. Xavi knows this, and he has encouraged them to “help us and enjoy themselves because they are being important.”

Xavi maintains that Barça has improved since he announced that he will leave at the end of the season. He has also observed an improvement since Francesco Calzona arrived at Napoli to replace Walter Mazzarri on the eve of the first leg (1-1). He sees an opponent “more comfortable on the field” and repeated that the forward line is the team's most powerful line although, when asked by an Italian journalist, he chose midfielder Stanislav Lobotka as the player he likes the most. “He builds and doesn't lose balls. I would like to see him in a club like Barça,” he highlighted.

Another wish that the coach has is that today the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, with capacity for 50,000 spectators, is filled to capacity with Barcelona fans. “Montjuïc must look like Camp Nou. It must be full of culés and be a pressure cooker,” asked the coach.