Barcelona have been defeated in the Champions League final by Juventus but Xavi wants to break their mentality. The club’s captain had his say on how and why Barca must change course or risk falling further behind Europe?s elite clubs.
Xavi wants to break Barcelona’s defeatist mentality, but he must tread carefully. The former player has been tasked with the job of reviving a team that has been struggling for some time.
Even as Real Madrid has imposed a fantastic grip on LaLiga’s championship battle, it’s been intriguing to see and listen to Xavi Hernandez’s early efforts to cajole and even tease a response from Barcelona, who are now seven places and 18 points behind their everlasting rivals. To put it gently, Xavi’s language has been adventurous, even high-risk.
When Bayern Munich thrashed Barcelona in Munich last week, eliminating the Spanish giants from the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2003-04, Thomas Muller delivered an important message: the Camp Nou squad isn’t in physical or athletic shape to play the type of football required at the top level right now. The unstoppable, pompous, and overbearing World Cup and Champions League champion said: “Barcelona is unable to resist our level of play. They still have ‘the lot’ in terms of technique, with exceptional players on both a technical and tactical level. However, they are unable to compete at the highest level of European football with maximal effort.”
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It was not merely a basic truth; it also served as an olive branch to Xavi. “I inherited a squad that has had both injury and fitness problems; I’m reshaping our entire approach to competitive intensity; I’ve already significantly upgraded our medical department… but to expect a huge change in physical preparation mid-season when we’re playing three times a week, most weeks, is unrealistic,” the new Barcelona coach could have said.
Instead, he flatly disagreed with Muller and proceeded to dissect his views about some of his players’ lack of psychological strength, confidence, and attitude.
Dangerous, perilous terrain.
The Catalan coach remarked ahead of Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Osasuna about seeing a “lesser” Barcelona against Bayern and how he felt he was battling against “defeatism” being implanted at his club after giving an absolute rocket of a lecture to the team both at half-time and full-time in Bavaria.
“In my team, there’s a higher level than we’re displaying,” Xavi stated. “I had been following Barcelona’s season before I came, and now I’d say the players are much more depressed than I had suspected. It’s more of a mental issue than a football one. Here, excellence is required, not 6- or 7-out-of-10 results. There were football flaws against Bayern, but I believe the psychological issues weighed the heaviest on us.”
Then, following a vastly improved performance against Osasuna in Pamplona, in which (it’s also true) Barcelona relinquished the chance to win and, according to their coach, ignored specific tactical demands he’d instilled in them on Friday and Saturday, he returned to his theme of players shrinking under the pressure.
“”We’re in a bad dynamic,” Xavi said, “and it’ll cost us a lot of money to get out of it.” The good and bad aspects of this situation are that it was players aged 17, 18, and 19 that made the difference. We have to be much more demanding of certain other players since they were the ones who put in tremendous shifts for us.”
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TUESDAY, DEC. 14 • Stuttgart will face Bayern Munich (12:30 p.m. ET) • Cologne vs. Wolfsburg (2:30 p.m. ET)
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 15 • Dortmund vs. G Furth (2:30 p.m. ET) • Augsburg vs. Leipzig (3:30 p.m. ET) (2:30 p.m. ET)
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 17 • Bayern Munich vs. Wolfsburg (2:30 p.m. ET) • Espanyol vs. Celta Vigo (3 p.m. ET)
At the age of 18, Xavi broke into the Barcelona club as an ultra-talented midfielder who was on the verge of winning the Under-20 World Cup with Spain in Nigeria. His debut club encounter, though, was a 1-0 loss against Mallorca in the Spanish Supercup. While that side, headed by Louis van Gaal, won the Spanish championship in Xavi’s debut season, both he and the club went into a downward spiral over the following six years, with Barcelona not winning a single trophy.
Allow the number to float about in your head for a time. There are six seasons in all.
Intriguingly, the club’s managing director, Javier Perez Farguell, performed an extensive internal audit in the winter of 2002-03, concluding that the club had a “defeatist attitude.” He also believed that players like Xavi were replaceable because of their “low profile, limited marketing and sponsorship influence.” He even provided permission to at least one middleman that I am aware of to find the young midfielder a new club.
“Defeatist mindset” is a word from 2002 that has resurrected this week, encapsulating the malaise Xavi claims he is now attempting to avoid/cure at the club he has inherited.
Meanwhile, Xavi had to endure being booed onto the field as a player when he replaced club idol Pep Guardiola. The atmosphere at the club was poisonous, the debt was out of control, and the first team was dominated by Dutch and South American players whose time had passed, despite the fact that the management had done nothing clever to address the situation.
Is there anything that comes to mind?
Barcelona’s confidence is certainly at an all-time low, but Xavi could attempt a variety of techniques to keep them motivated. Getty Images/Alexander Hassenstein
The idea is that there are similarities. Xavi has been in a similar situation before, and he was able to survive because of two key characteristics: he was extremely talented (as were Gavi, Nicolas Gonzalez, Ansu Fati, Pedri, Abde Ezzalzouli, Ronald Araujo, and Alex Balde), and he was adamant about not being pushed out of the club he loved. We’re dealing with a man who is now not just a superb coach, but also a master communicator and a follower of the same brand of football that his developing players were taught to play throughout their academy years. Will his approach to “shock treatment,” in which he speaks frankly about his team’s psychological and confidence issues, be successful?
There are several instances of how dealing with a group’s mood, confidence, or winning mindset may be difficult.
Guardiola, Xavi’s mentor, comes to mind. His viewpoint is simply “I need time, but we must establish team spirit as quickly as possible. That is the most crucial point. You may concentrate on strategies after that, but first we need to develop something unique among ourselves.”
Unai Emery, the winner of four Europa League championships at two separate teams (a league in which Xavi and Barcelona must now victory this season, having been drawn against Napoli in the knockout playoff round) is a solid guide.
“The essential thing is understanding how to acquire the confidence of the players: to lead, set an example, implement what you want of them… devotion, commitment, respect, fair treatment… all of that is leadership,” according to Villarreal’s coach. If your players believe in a concept, they will trust it and follow it. This entails leadership, education, and discipline.
“Day by day, trust is created. It’s tough to build a trusting environment, but it’s also quite simple to destroy one. You may do a hundred things to build trust, but if you do just one thing to build distrust, the other 100 can be ruined.”
Barcelona was eliminated from the UCL group stage for the first time since the 2000 season, according to Alejandro Moreno.
Maria Ruiz de Ona worked as a sports psychologist at Athletic Club for many years, mostly at their academy, and is currently affiliated with Aspire Academy in Doha. “Having a shared vocabulary is the first and most crucial step in transforming and improving an organizational culture: What does it mean to ‘compete’ in this club?” “What does’success’ mean at this club?” she inquired. “And that process is seen not just on the field, but also in the club’s halls, locker rooms, meetings, and interactions between players and coaches.”
“Football requires coaches who see that their job isn’t only to put 11 little’soldiers’ on the field, but also to recognize that these’soldiers’ have feelings, that they think, make decisions, and learn. A new form of connection will emerge as a result of the coach’s knowledge.”
Xavi is a few degrees less severe in his vocabulary and unforgiving attitude than his former colleague, former coach, and long-time buddy, Spain manager Luis Enrique. La Roja’s coach has always had a sports psychologist, Joaquin Valdes, at his side throughout his illustrious career. Valdes is like an extension of Luis Enrique’s personality, constantly listening, analyzing, counseling, and delivering services to the players who will, or will not, make Luis Enrique successful, whether in training sessions, press conferences, interviews, or meetings.
According to the Spain manager, “Since Xavi took over, I’ve seen an improvement — maybe not to the extent that the supporters would want, but it’ll take time. The primary reason of a team’s performance falling short of its potential is a lack of confidence. Because of the preceding several months, Xavi took over a squad that lacked confidence, and restoring confidence isn’t something that can be done with a pill: it requires time and patience.”
These are wise remarks. And maybe some advise that Xavi, who has been visibly astonished and upset by the mindset of some of his new students, might use.