Asked what he’d say to his successor as manager of FC Barcelona, Xavi said: “My advice would be to enjoy it, but it’s impossible.”
The beleaguered manager has not hidden that he’s not enjoyed his time lately. True, all elite managers face scrutiny and pressure, but the ones that manage the Catalan club say it’s a special burden.
Just ask Pep Guardiola. For years, he’s been considered the best manager on Earth. He left Barcelona despite glittering success due in part to the pressures he faced.
“We can’t compare the pressure in England with the pressure in Spain, in my experience. It’s a thousand times harder there. Six press conferences a week, a lot of games. The pressure you feel in Barcelona is not comparable to anywhere else,” Guardiola said this week.
Luis Enrique, another former coach, said he didn’t rest at all when he was Barcelona manager.
“It’s cruel and unpleasant. They make you feel you are worthless every day. Pep told me, Valverde told me, I saw Luis Enrique suffer... We have a problem in terms of demands. You don’t enjoy it... You put your life on the line at every moment. It’s cruel,” Xavi said.
Why exactly is that? There’s many reasons, which boil down to high expectations, financial difficulties, and internal politics.
High expectations are normal considering the club’s history. Barça fans have been spoiled by decades of consistent trophies and dominant displays. Anything less than the top spot in La Liga and UEFA Champions League contention is seen as a failure.
And beyond just winning, fans expect the team to play attractive, possession-based football, adhering to the “Barça DNA” established by Johan Cruyff. This adds another layer of complexity to tactical decisions. Fans also want youth players brought on, but it can be hard to depend on youngsters who are not yet the finished article.
There’s also the fact that managers are seen as custodians of a cultural symbol, adding immense emotional weight to their role.
More recently, there are financial burden. Years of overspending have left the club in significant debt, limiting transfer funds and making squad-building a delicate balancing act. Despite that, the transfer market is increasingly competitive and inflated, making it harder to acquire top talent while adhering to financial constraints.
The club has had to rebuild after an exodus of club legends, most notably Lionel Messi, left. Who is left to carry the torch is a big problem right now.
Finally, there are reasons that are the perhaps the most unique to Barcelona: dealing with internal politics and the media. Political factions within the board can create conflicting demands and make long-term planning challenging.
Tying into the first point, passionate fans and a vibrant social media presence can amplify criticism and magnify bad results. Fans are the lifeblood of the club, but that does add more pressure to the role.
The Catalan media is notoriously critical and holds managers to an intense level of scrutiny. Meanwhile, a lot of the Spanish media does not view Barcelona favorably. And the international press, especially the English press, is not necessarily sympathetic, either.
These factors combine to create a pressure cooker of expectations, financial limitations, and intense scrutiny. Even the most successful managers struggle to juggle these demands, as evidenced by Pep Guardiola’s departure despite achieving incredible results.
On the other hand, there are those who say Xavi has gotten more slack than other managers due to his past as a club legend and former captain. His lackluster results this season have not helped his case.
Will the next manager find it easier to steer the ship, or will it be, as Xavi says, impossible to enjoy?