What a relief this season has been, and credit goes to Xavi Herandez for accomplishing so quickly what the club desperately needed.
Real Madrid has been dethroned, and Barcelona are back on top. With the help of Pep Guardiola, we can all truly relax once the evil empire is vanquished for good.
To win the league with four games remaining is an impressive feat. Barcelona already has 85 points, when last season they could only muster 73. Real Madrid, in contrast, ended the season with 86, a number Barca will surely surpass this time around.
Xavi and his men didn’t just win La Liga, they conquered Spain with a ruthless consistency reminiscent of the days of old.
How did Xavi do it?
For such a legendary player who led the best tactical team of all time, it was ironically less about the coaching, and more about the management side of things.
From Ernesto Valverde to Ronald Koeman, Barcelona lost its strong leadership. You can even throw in a Tata Martino for that matter.
Carlo Ancelotti may be the exception to the rule that intensity matters from managers in the modern game.
Maybe in the age of Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar, it was a game where superstars ran the show, and coaches had to remain in the shadows to allow the players to shine.
Football is bigger than ever now, and the pressure of performing at the biggest clubs continues to get heavier.
Was Barca’s, hopefully brief, downfall just a matter of finances brought about by the pandemic, or was there something more intangible at play?
For me, where Xavi steps in, and makes his impact, is with culture.
Barca lost its way because it thought talent alone wins the day. And in theory there is always a price on talent if you are willing to pay for it.
But eventually, the beautiful game catches up to you.
Hard work and team work are foundational qualities for success.
Xavi’s Barcelona has had failures along the way, especially in the cups, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort or belief in one another.
Under Koeman, that was the main problem. A sense of defeat before they even hit the field. And it wasn’t just because of the Dutchman, it was a losing culture that was building for quite some time, because the team was cutting corners and expecting results based on what they achieved in the past.
Xavi’s corny team-building games helped rebuild trust.
Throughout this season you saw players who liked one another again, fully committed to the experience of fighting shoulder to shoulder for every win.
And that’s the other part of Xavi that was contagious, his competitive spirit.
He may not have said the right things after every game, but you could tell how much he was affected by losing, and poor performances in general.
That attitude spreads to the players.
This team needed a vocal coach who radiated passion from the sidelines.
Xavi was the right man for the job at the right time for Barcelona.
He had the courage to take on the challenge with no experience in a top five league, and Joan Laporta deserves credit for giving him a chance, as he did for Pep when he was first starting out.
Barcelona is back on the rails. That’s the most important thing.
But whether they remain on top is a more difficult question to answer.
Good vibes are like a jolt of adrenaline. A short-term solution for a team that needs to be reminded of the greatness they already possess.
In the long term, having the right tactical system in place, and players who are good for it, will decide how long Xavi stays around.
Robert Lewandowski is on the path to the Pichichi, but he isn’t getting any younger.
Fixing the forward line will be the first item on the to-do list.
Who stays and who goes? Does Xavi have the ability to make this evaluation? He was the one, after all, who brought in Ferran Torres and Raphinha, who still have a lot to prove.
He was also the one, however, who brought Ousmane Dembele back to life.
And most important, Xavi is the one who rebuilt the defense, and turned the backline into a fortress, and one of the best defensive teams La Liga has seen in a long time.
That foundation will serve the team well, and buy some time.
But the mission is clear now. Continue to fight for La Liga, but do so while also competing in Europe. The Champions League specifically.
Winning on that stage is another ball game.
Can Xavi improve as a manager, and show he can win in a knockout setting against the heavy hitters of Europe?
I’ll reserve my judgment for now.
Xavi has earned the right to run it back with another shot in the big leagues.
For now, I’ll just say congratulations and thank you.