Barcelona appoints Hansi Flick – key questions answered regarding Xavi’s replacement

Barcelona has a new manager – Hansi Flick will replace Xavi.

The decision to dismiss Xavi, the club’s legendary midfielder who took over as coach of the team in November 2021, came on Friday. It brought to an end a remarkable few months of upheaval and transformation.

Last January, Xavi announced that he would step down from his position as Barcelona coach at the end of the current season. In the wake of the 5-3 defeat at home to Villarreal, he described the role as a “hard job” that “wears you out”, adding: “At some point, you realize there is no point in staying.”

Barcelona leaders have begun their search for a manager. Flick, the former Germany and Bayern Munich coach, was one of the candidates they spoke to, but by March, their interest had cooled. As results improved, club president Joan Laporta said he would try to convince Xavi to stay.

Xavi, 44, eventually changed his mind. On 25 April, he posed for a photo with sporting director Deco and Laporta in a symbolic act of unity at the club’s training ground, celebrating the manager’s decision to remain in charge for another season.

A month later, Xavi was sacked, as new tensions raised long-standing concerns about his suitability. And Laporta appears to have changed his mind as well.

All these uncertainties, and how Xavi’s sacking and Flick’s courtship will be handled, mean there are several key questions worth exploring in more depth – about how Barcelona got to this point, and what might happen next.

Why Flake?

During the 2021 campaign that saw him elected to a second term as Barcelona president, Laporta repeatedly said how much he admired the recent wave of German managers. Thomas Tuchel had just won the Champions League with Chelsea, a year after Flick won the same with Bayern. Current Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann was also mentioned.

Flick was not at the top of Laporta’s list three years ago, but he is now. The identity of the principal’s new agent helps explain why. Pini Zahavi is one of Laporta’s best contacts in football. The special relationship between them is what contributed to the signing of Robert Lewandowski from Bayern two summers ago.

Club sources – who, like all those cited here, preferred to speak anonymously to protect relationships – said Barcelona valued Flick’s experience and winning record in elite dressing rooms. The 59-year-old ticks several boxes in Laporta’s plans. He also worked with Lewandowski at Bayern, and with Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Ilkay Gundogan in Germany.

Gundogan and Flick, pictured in June 2023 (Federico Gambarini/picture Alliance via Getty Images)

Once it became clear that Barcelona were in the market for a new manager, Flick was keen to keep himself in the frame, and began learning Spanish.

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But a month ago, there was disappointment for him, as he presented in Barcelona’s usual chaotic style.

On April 24, Barcelona contacted Flick’s representatives. They wanted to inform him that Xavi was likely to leave and that Flick was in a good position to step in. Later the same day, after late-night talks in Laporta’s city center apartment, it was decided that Xavi would stay.

When Flick was told the situation had changed, a club source involved in the process said his camp was “not happy, to say the least”.

In recent talks, Flick assured Barcelona that he would understand the current financial situation. He also said he believes the team is ready to deliver and has not imposed unrealistic targets regarding potential signings.

Given the circumstances that led to Xavi’s departure, it helped his candidacy in the eyes of Barcelona executives.


Has anyone else been taken into consideration?

The biggest name vying for the job alongside Flick is Rafael Marquez – another former Barcelona player who since 2022 has been in charge of Barcelona Athletic, the club’s reserve team that plays in Spain’s third tier.

It was Deku’s preferred choice. Marquez has done well over the past two seasons. For the second year in a row, Barcelona qualified for the promotion play-offs for a place in the second division.

Marquez’s knowledge of La Masia’s next generation is appreciated by Deco, who believes confidence in the youth will be vital in the coming years. Laporta also expressed his appreciation for the Mexican’s willingness to start his managerial career in the club’s second team.

Marquez’s contract expires at the end of the season (Luis de la Mata/Norphoto via Getty Images)

But Barcelona finally chose a more experienced file in Flick. It will be interesting to see what Marquez does next, as the 45-year-old’s contract expires in June.

Tuchel was also available this summer, but Barcelona sources said he was too volatile to manage the club during this difficult period. They also kept an eye on Roberto De Zerbe but Brighton’s second half of the season left Laporta, who has personally followed many of their matches, unimpressed.

What can Barcelona fans expect from Flick?

Written by Mark Curry and Tom Harris

Flick’s reputation was arguably at its highest during his time at Bayern, where he initially joined as an assistant in July 2019 before replacing Niko Kovac four months later. By the end of the pandemic-hit 2019-20 season, Bayern had won the continental treble for only the second time, beating Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League final. Flick followed that historic campaign with another German League title, during his only full term.

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Looking at Bayern’s 2020-21 style of play wheel, which determines how the team looks to play compared to Europe’s seven biggest domestic leagues, Flick has built a devastating side that is likely to crush anyone who dares to stop them. The total of 99 goals in the Bundesliga was their second highest return since the turn of the century, behind only 100 goals the previous season.

Across Europe’s top seven leagues, only Ajax averaged a higher than Bayern’s two expected goals without penalties (xG) per 90 minutes (‘Chances created’, 98 out of 99), with Flick’s side potentially stifling the opposition with regional dominance. (“Field Tilt”, 95 of 99).

Operating through a 4-2-3-1 formation when in possession, Flick will often ask his full-backs, Alphonso Davies and Benjamin Pavard, to stay high and wide to deliver crosses to the dominant Lewandowski – supported by width and deception. Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sane (evidenced by his below-average ‘Central Progress’ figure of 45 out of 99).

Bayern’s 24.4 crosses per 90 minutes that season were the highest of any team in the Bundesliga, reinforcing their emphasis on width and delivery into the penalty area. Crossing has become an increasingly accepted procedure at Barcelona in recent years – with Xavi allowing more attacks to come from wide areas, using Rafinha’s speed and the amazing talent of Lamine Yamal.

What can Flick expect from Barcelona?

We have already touched on Barcelona’s difficult financial situation. The bottom line is that La Liga rules mean they must plug a €130m (£110m; $141m) gap in their accounts for this season by the end of June if they want to bring in any new players this summer – even on free transfers or loans.


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Barcelona has a €130m gap in their accounts – and why the June 30 deadline is key

Then there is the particular challenge presented by Barcelona’s “entorno” – a term coined by Johan Cruyff to describe the hype constantly generated around the club, by the media, the fans, the policies of its executive board, or other key figures. Throughout the city and the wider Catalonia region.

This played a big role in every Barcelona coach’s end, even Pep Guardiola. This is also a big part of the reason why Xavi said it was a “tough job”.

Speaking after taking charge for the final time in the 2-1 win over Sevilla in the league on Sunday, Xavi had more to say on the subject.

Xavi, pictured before his final match as Barcelona coach on Sunday (Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

He said: “Everything I said at the club caused a huge uproar and was used against me.” “I was targeted from inside and outside the club. There were higher expectations with me because I was part of the best Barcelona team ever, and this was against our project.

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“I will tell my successor that he will suffer. This is a difficult task.”


Go deeper

Barcelona’s “Intorno” – the toxic mixture that even Guardiola and Xavi could not avoid

One immediate challenge Fleck may face relates to language.

One of the biggest concerns the Barcelona board had about Flick’s candidacy was whether he could communicate effectively in Spanish or English, the two main languages ​​used in Barcelona’s dressing room. Their understanding was that he was only fluent in German.

It remains to be seen whether Flick has taken advantage of recent months to improve his language skills, or whether he is looking for new additions to his backroom staff to facilitate his communication with the team.

What were the reactions in the locker room?

It’s been a turbulent couple of weeks at Barcelona, ​​and the mood inside the dressing room was more focused on keeping tabs on Xavi’s situation rather than thinking about their fit with Flick, but Lewandowski, Ter Stegen and Gundogan will have an idea of ​​what to expect.

Lewandowski was replaced for Barcelona’s final five games of the season by Xavi, and the manager and coaching staff have been pushing to sell the 34-year-old. A departure was unlikely, but Flick’s arrival has left him in a very secure place now. Lewandowski was a central figure in Flick’s treble-winning side at Bayern.

Ter Stegen and Gundogan played with Flick during his training for the German national team, but they did not achieve great success. Flick won just 12 of his 25 matches as Germany coach, and his era was defined by a group stage exit at the 2022 World Cup. He was sacked less than a year later.

How to have a two-year contract?

Barcelona initially offered a one-year contract, with the option to extend for a second season if certain objectives were achieved. The club consensus is that more options could be available next summer – Luis Enrique, Guardiola and Mikel Arteta are among the high-profile managers who will reach the end of their contracts in June 2025.

During the negotiations, Flick’s entourage fought for a more stable situation and negotiated a guaranteed two-year contract, which Barcelona accepted. His salary is expected to be around €6m (£5.1m; $6.5m) per year, plus generous bonuses linked to potential titles.

On Tuesday, it became clear that the decision to sack Xavi would cost Barcelona 6.5 million euros. Xavi has written off his salary of around €11 million for next season, but will be compensated with the €2.5 million he paid out of his own pocket to leave his contract with Qatari club Al-Shabab early to join Barcelona in 2021. A further €4 million will also be compensated. It will be paid to outgoing background Xavi employees.

(Top image: Bart Stoutjesdijk/ANP via Getty Images)

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