Barcelona ended the year on a slide, but as culers, we need to pick ourselves up and head into the new year with hope. This great club offered us unexpected joy in 2023.
I’ll raise my hand and admit I have been critical of Xavi, especially of late.
But I’ll also give the manager credit where it’s due, and acknowledge that he walked into a very difficult situation, and many of the problems he’s working through are structural, and not an indictment on his abilities as a coach.
Above all else, Barcelona showed they were once again equal to, if not outright superior, to Real Madrid. At least in the run of play.
In January, Barca won the Spanish Supercopa, taking down their rivals 3-1 in Saudi Arabia. It was an absolute thrashing, with Karim Benzema scoring a consolation goal in stoppage time.
Barcelona didn’t just win La Liga in 2023, they took the title by a mile.
I had the pleasure of being at the Camp Nou when Franck Kessie scored the winner in the 92nd minute, all but ensuring that the trophy was coming home to the city of Gaudi.
Winning trophies is an expectation at Barcelona, but given the financial straits, Xavi gave the club a critical gift. In fact, call it a lifeline due to the levers that were pulled in an effort to keep the team competitive in the short term.
These two trophies should not be diminished.
I’m not sure of the path that Barcelona is currently on, but I know they’re a competitive team again, and can take on anyone in Europe.
When Ronald Koeman was manager, it felt like the team was throwing in the towel before the game even began.
I’m grateful to Xavi for getting a vulnerable club to believe in itself again.
That being said, I’m not blind to the warning signs that have flashed almost from the beginning of his tenure as well.
This was also the year of the Copa del Rey meltdown, with Barcelona being eliminated and humbled by Real Madrid 0-4 in the second leg.
Just a few months ago, Barcelona fell apart in the second half of the Clasico, allowing Jude Bellingham to single-handedly complete a comeback that has Real Madrid in the driver’s seat to take back the Spanish throne. Barcelona has never looked at their best since.
2023 was also another big, and unacceptable disappointment in Europe. Having to play in the Europa League was bad enough, but losing so early on to Manchester United really hurt, especially when you consider the shambles the Red Devils currently find themselves in. At the time, their form was quite good, but frankly so was Barcelona’s.
Moving forward, there was enough good this past year to give me hope for the next one.
And I do believe that Xavi has earned the right to cross the finish line this season. In fact, I think the team’s form will pick up, and they’ll surprise fans and pundits alike in their ability to get back into the La Liga title race.
Ultimately, the manager has money in the bank with his players, who he has supported to a fault throughout his time in the captain’s seat.
But perhaps, as is always the case with Barcelona, I’m most grateful for the crop of young players who continue to come through the academy.
This was the year of Lamine Yamal, although I hope Barcelona can foster his development more prudently than they have with Pedri and Gavi.
I’m also optimistic given the core leadership of Ronald Araujo, Frenkie de Jong, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen. These are the true captains of the team, and they’ll keep the club strong and competitive for years to come.
Ilkay Gundogan was a wonderful signing for the year who hasn’t shied away from keeping the team in line, and sharing his wisdom and experience, on and off the field.
I feel good knowing that young players like Alejandro Balde and Pedri will step up and grow into the campaign as well.
I think 2024 could be a great year if the club gets things right starting in the winter transfer window to strengthen the forward line.
As fans, we need to establish a healthy balance of realistic expectations while continuing to demand high standards from game to game.
Through thick and thin, this is more than a club.
That’s why Xavi is here. Not for the glory, but to pay a service to a city, and a fanbase, who has given him so much.
Today, I’m feeling the holiday spirit, and I’m very happy to show the Barca legend some grace.
More than anything, I hope he lets the failure from the past few months motivate him to show up with an energy and belief that inspires his players. But first, a much deserved rest.
We could also use it.
This is Barcelona. Expect a busy year ahead full of joy and drama.