Xavi Hernandez said Barcelona’s players will have to play by his rules and raise their standards as the club’s new coach laid down a firm message at his unveiling on Monday.
Xavi was presented in front of almost 10,000 fans at Camp Nou before signing his contract on the pitch, alongside his family and Barca president Joan Laporta.
The 41-year-old, who has returned to the club where he won eight La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues as a player, walked out to chants of “Xavi, Xavi” from his adoring supporters.
Laporta said: “Today will be an historic day for Barca.”
Despite club debts of more than a billion euros ($1.16billion), Xavi is tasked with returning Barcelona to Europe’s elite and recovering a style of play most associated with Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola.
But in a press conference after the presentation ceremony, Xavi’s main theme was less about style and more about substance, the Spaniard emphasising the first priority is to restore order.
“In the first moment it’s important we put rules in the team, that’s the first point,” said Xavi.
“Then we talk about values – respect, attitude, effort – if we don’t have these values, we don’t have a team.
“And then we can look at models of play, how we defend and attack, but the rules come first.”
Barcelona are ninth in La Liga and unlikely to be able to make significant signings any time soon.
“I know that it is a difficult time, both economically and on the pitch,” said Xavi.
“But I will ask the players to have high standards because we are Barca, the best club in the world.”
Asked if his message meant he was going to be hard with the players, Xavi said: “It is not about being hard, but about order and rules, and the rules must be followed. When I had rules in the dressing room, things went well. Without rules, things have not gone so well. It is not about discipline, it is about order.”
Xavi’s instrumental role in Guardiola’s iconic Barcelona side has many at the club hoping that he can now follow in Guardiola’s footsteps.
“Being compared to Guardiola is a victory, for everything he has given to football and Barca. For me he is the best coach in the world,” said Xavi.
Xavi brushed over whether he would like to coach Lionel Messi.
“Of course,” he said.
“And all the others, (Samuel) Eto’o, Ronaldinho.
“Leo sent me a message and wished me luck. We joked a bit and I wish him the best, he is the best player in the history of the club.
“But he’s gone. We have the players we have and we have to work with them,” he added.
– Previous refusals –
The most notable praise was reserved for Ousmane Dembele, the France forward who has suffered a string of injury problems in recent years and whose contract expires next summer.
“He can be the best player in the world in his position,” said Xavi.
“But we have to work with him and demand it. It depends on him, on his mentality.”
There will also be scrutiny on the highly-paid and experienced players like Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets. Xavi suggested he will rely on his veterans, many of whom he played alongside.
“The ones I know are the ones I’m going to push the most,” Xavi said.
“I see it as an advantage, I know Gerard and Busi and Jordi and (Marc-Andre) Ter Stegen and Sergi (Roberto), they are the ones that have to pull the wagon.”
Xavi took over as coach of Al Sadd in Qatar in 2019 and said he has since turned down an approach from the Brazilian national team. He said there had been three occasions when he decided against coming back to Barca.
“The first two times it was in January and we didn’t feel it, both as a family and personally, I needed more time,” Xavi said.
“Then it was in the summer but there was the presidential election in between, and there was a lot of uncertainty, it was not the moment.”
Xavi’s priority this term will be to ensure Barcelona qualify for next season’s Champions League by finishing in La Liga’s top four.
They also face a fight to make the last 16 of this season’s tournament, with a crunch game away to Benfica to come later this month.
Laporta indicated Xavi would be given time to turn things around.
“I would have liked to give him a better squad than the one we have,” said Laporta.
“He will have our support if things go wrong and if they get worse, he will have our support until they go better.”