by: Raül Pope Fargüell
A lot has been written, and rightly so, in the last few days about the demise of FC Barcelona. Two consecutive defeats at the hands of Real Madrid and a more-than-likely Champions League exit to Milan all make for grim reading for the club formally known as the best team ever to kick a ball. It has to come, certainly, football has always found ways of defeating those who re-defined the game and although Barça’s apogee may not have passed – which may or may not be said in vain hope – it will come eventually and with that day we will always have the memories. The question though is why have this team stopped making memories?
Despite the positive spin put on defeat by the likes of Sport and El Mundo Deportivo, this team is not misfiring, it’s radically different; there’s been a metamorphosis in its DNA. It might be solved by a signing or two, it might need an overhaul, it might even be solved by a tactical innovation, it might need all of the above, but still there’s more to say.
Fàbregas being in the midfield seems to have had a nullifying effect on Iniesta, who’s been pushed further forward. Alexis Sánchez is rubbish, Pedro has gone missing and Villa warms the bench. Piqué and Puyol look unfit and Messi keeps scoring. Okay, so it’s not all bad, of course it isn’t, but in the games I’ve watched, especially notable against Sevilla, the change in the team has been no more epitomised than by the form of Xavi.
Xavi is the most important player ever to exist in Spanish football. Without him, el cerebro (the brain), there would have been no European Championships, no World Cup, no tiki-taka and the same goes for Barcelona’s success: no Champions League titles, no la Liga titles, no World Club Cup. In short, no best team in the world for club or country.
When Guardiola famously talked about getting the ball back in six seconds after losing possession, it was Xavi who gave everything to be the winner of the ball and start the attack. The team have stopped doing that, games now pass Xavi by. When Xavi gets the ball he slows the play down, not because he’s lost pace in his legs, he never had any, but his speed of thought has waned to a new slow. This is not necessarily a problem. The problem is trying to play the same way without taking Xavi out of the current equation or without changing the equation.
Plenty of players have excelled with age, like Pirlo, who keeps starring despite his years and lack of pace; he’s a constant tactical innovation. Xavi’s role could easily be tailored in a similar way, ensuring he receives the ball further up the pitch and always facing forward. Unable to dictate play, someone will have to fill his boots and this is the second alternative: why aren’t the younger players being given a chance? If Thiago is Xavi’s replacement in the long-term, surely he’s hungry to prove it? If he is Xavi’s replacement, in the traditional Xavi role, find a new role for Xavi with Thiago in the team. For the team to function, like all of us, it needs a brain.