After Xavi announced he will be leaving Barcelona at the end of the season, we assess some of the options for his successor.
“I took this decision days ago. I already knew it. But it’s time to make it public. I think the players could not free themselves up. I don’t want to be a problem for the club, but a solution.”Xavi
At the end of last season, the situation at Barcelona had – on the pitch at least – looked pretty rosy. Club legend Xavi had led the club back to La Liga’s summit for their first title in four years, the squad had been refreshed into what appeared to be the right blend of youth and experience, and the future looked bright. The team had put widely reported financial problems to one side and retuned to domestic glory.
But only six months on, the outlook is rather different. Fourth in the table, 11 points off top spot, out of the Copa del Rey and surely in with no chance of winning the Champions League, manager Xavi has announced his departure.
With fellow Barça stalwarts Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba having left in the summer on free transfers, Xavi’s exit signals the end of an era, leaving Sergi Roberto and Marc-André ter Stegen as the only remaining members of the 2015 treble-winning squad. Now seems like the ideal time for a hard reset, as their soon-to-depart manager explained.
“I think the club needs a change of dynamic,” said Xavi. “For the good of the players, I believe that they will free themselves.”
Barcelona’s problems obviously run far deeper than results, but that won’t mean there isn’t a lot of interest in the position. This is one of the most sought-after jobs in world football, after all.
However, quite what they need right now is up for debate. They usually go for someone with deep links to the club – someone who possesses the ‘Barcelona DNA’ that is so important to them – but that naturally severely limits their options. And one of those options is already out of the running.
Mikel Arteta has distanced himself from a return to the club at which he came through the youth ranks in the late 1990s. It was reported in Spain over the weekend that the Arsenal manager was considering stepping down at the end of the season, and that he was open to going back to Barcelona.
But being a very good manager, having links with the club and promoting the ‘right’ kind of football clearly aren’t enough alone.
“That is totally fake news,” Arteta said. “What you read, I’m really upset about it. I couldn’t believe it. It has no sources. I’m in the right place [at Arsenal] with the right people and feel really good about it.”
So, with Arteta – the early bookies’ favourite – firmly out of contention, who are the realistic options to be Barcelona’s next manager? With no obvious answer to their problems, there are a huge range of managers to consider. Do they go for someone who knows the club and the fans already love, or do they take this opportunity to take a break from the norm – maybe Barcelona need to prioritise pragmatism with their next managerial choice?
Here, we run through some of the best and most high-profile options as the new Barcelona manager.
Surely not, right?
Klopp did leave the door open to taking another job when he announced last week that he would be leaving Liverpool at the end of the season, but the general theme to his resignation statement was that he had run out of steam.
The Barcelona job is notoriously taxing. When Pep Guardiola quit in 2012, he used the words “draining”, “tiring”, “very high demand” and “eternity” to describe his four years in the job. More than decade on, his former captain used similar language.
“From a mental health level, it’s tough too,” Xavi said. “I am a positive guy, but the battery levels keep running out – and at some point, you realise there’s no point in staying.”
In many ways, the Barcelona job suits Klopp, most notably in that he would be taking over a sleeping giant with huge potential for improvement. He was appointed as Borussia Dortmund manager after they had finished 13th in the Bundesliga in 2007-08, and eventually led them to back-to-back titles, and then was made Liverpool manager a few months after a sixth-place finish in 2014-15, before winning everything there is to win at Anfield.
The chance to return Barcelona to their former glories must appeal… just maybe not as much as a few years off.
It is very much the Barcelona way to appoint one of their own – hence the early links to Arteta – so it would be no surprise were they to promote former player Rafa Márquez from his current position as Barcelona B manager. Having last season led the team to the promotion play-off semi-final – where they lost to rival counterparts Real Madrid 5-4 on aggregate – Márquez has impressed in a short managerial career so far.
He knows the club and knows what the hierarchy would want from him. He would be a good option to continue the work Xavi has done, too, but given this would be the 44-year-old’s first job in senior management, his appointment would be a real risk.
He would, however, be the cheap option and right now that has to appeal.
Las Palmas manager García Pimienta is Barcelona born and bred. After spending nearly three decades in the Barcelona youth system as a player and then coach, he was seen by many in the club as capable and worthy of making the step up to first-team level.
But president Joan Laporta did not feel the same, removing Pimienta from his position in charge of Barcelona B shortly after coming into power in 2021. A couple of years on, Pimienta’s work on the Canary Islands surely must have made Laporta sit up and wonder if he’d made a huge mistake.
Pimienta took over with Las Palmas in mid-table in the Segunda División in January 2022. In the next season, he led them to promotion, and now, two years on from his appointment, Las Palmas are in contention for a European place in La Liga, and playing some of the top flight’s most eye-catching football.
Only Barcelona (65.0%) and Real Madrid (59.1%) are averaging more possession in Spain’s top tier this season than Las Palmas (57.8%). They rank fourth for the total number of sequences they have put together involving at least 10 passes (319), and fifth for the number of those attacks that end in a shot or touch in the opposition box (46). They are dominating games and territory in a way that promoted sides simply aren’t supposed to.
They are also defending on the front foot, with the third-lowest PPDA (passes per defensive action) rate in La Liga this season, allowing their opponents 10.6 passes for every attempt they make to win the ball. They rank behind only Champions League sides Real Sociedad (9.0) and, interestingly, Barcelona (9.4).
Plenty are naturally wondering what Pimienta could do with greater resources, but there will be others who think a step up to Barcelona at this stage could be too soon for him. The thing is, if Barcelona don’t go for him, someone else probably will.
One team impressing even more than Las Palmas this season is table-topping, Girona, who lead the way and are dreaming of a title win as improbable as Leicester City’s Premier League success in 2016.
Míchel promotes a front-footed, possession-heavy style of play. His side are the league’s top scorers with 52 goals in 22 games, and are passing opponents off the park week in, week out. They have lost only one league game in 2023-24.
They build their attacks in a slower and more deliberate way than any other team in La Liga, moving up the pitch at an average speed of 1.6 metres/second, while only Real Madrid (4.9) and Barcelona (4.6) average more passes per sequence than them (4.3). Only Madrid (114), meanwhile, have constructed more attacks with at least 10 passes that end in a shot or a touch in the opposition’s box than Girona (87).
The vast majority of their goals are scored in open play – they have scored at least six more such goals than any other team in La Liga (44) – and Míchel has also built an incredible team spirit. His side have won more points from losing positions (22) than any other team this season. All this when Girona were in the second tier only two seasons ago; Míchel is doing a genuinely sensational job.
The Barcelona faithful would have to find a way to get past one thing were he to be appointed, though. Míchel was born in and grew up playing football in Madrid.
A principle-over-pragmatism manager who may appeal to anyone who thinks the next appointment doesn’t necessarily need to ooze Barcelona ‘DNA’, Nagelsmann was only appointed Germany manager in September, but after ultimately failing in his last job – at Bayern Munich – he may find the lure of a club like Barcelona too great to ignore. The fact that his contract only runs until the end of this summer’s Euro 2024 tournament suggests he isn’t planning on sticking around too long.
He would be able to play the possession-heavy football that is a non-negotiable for any Barcelona manager, but would also bring entertainment.
After leading RB Leipzig to third and second in the Bundesliga as well as the Champions League semi-finals and the DFB-Pokal final in his two seasons in charge, Nagelsmann won the league title with his Bayern side racking up the fifth-highest goals total (97) by any team in Bundesliga history. Their 92 goals excluding own goals came from a whopping 89.9 xG.
He has a point to prove and would be a break from the norm for Barcelona, so in many ways while he is the wrong fit, he feels like a good fit for now.
If you were to describe the perfect Barcelona manager, Xavi would fit the bill. He learned the game in the Barcelona youth system, was a legend for them as a player, is a huge name and the fans would know he wanted to play football that they would enjoy watching. If they wanted to try to repeat the trick they could turn to Fàbregas, who of course played with Xavi in those legendary Barcelona and Spain teams.
Fàbregas is making his first steps into coaching as assistant manager of Italian Serie B side Como, and having played under some of the greatest managers the game has ever seen, he has had a footballing education that should set him up to succeed as a coach.
It is almost certainly too soon for him to become Barcelona manager, but don’t bet against it happening sometime in the future.
A Brazilian-born Italy international who signed for Barcelona aged 17, Motta was part of the team that won back-to-back titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06 and the Champions League, so he is liked by the fans, and he also knows the club well. Now impressing as Bologna manager, his name has been mentioned as an option for the vacant Barcelona position.
He places great importance on the use of third-man combinations – something Xavi has spoken about publicly before. Motta is from the very same footballing school.
He has transformed Bologna into a possession-based side (55.2% – third highest in Serie A in 2023-24) while moving them up the table and into European contention. A recent run of four games without a win has seen them slide down the league a little, but they are still only three points off the top four and still very much in with a chance of Champions League qualification.
Under Motta, Bologna are edging closer and closer towards the slow-and-intricate end of the scale on our team style comparison graphic.
Motta is still only 41 and clearly has plenty of learning to do, but it isn’t difficult to imagine him being Barcelona manager one day.
The people’s choice.
Given there really is no stand-out candidate for the job, many fans are yearning for Pep Guardiola’s return. Is there any chance he would leave City right now, though?
Klopp’s departure from Liverpool could encourage Guardiola to take a break, too. Or he could see it as an opportunity to win the Premier League title more easily for the next few years while Liverpool reboot.
Having built one of the greatest teams of all time in the shape of that Barcelona team of 2008-2012, no data is needed to establish whether Guardiola would be a good fit. The question is simply whether he wants to go back. The job would be his if he wanted it.
There are so many others who have been linked with the job, including Antonio Conte, José Mourinho, Marcelo Gallardo, Luis Enrique, Ernesto Valverde, Hansi Flick, Thomas Tuchel, Roberto De Zerbi and Xabi Alonso. The range in the type of manager and style on this page shows just how up in the air Barcelona’s future is.
It’s a huge call, and the club’s hierarchy have half a year to mull it over. The consequences of their decision will be felt for a whole lot longer.