Xavi, the favorite after Barcelona fired Koeman for poor results

Andrea Pirlo, Roberto Martínez, Marcelo Gallardo and Erik ten Hag are also the subject of speculation in the Spanish media as possible candidates to take over as Barcelona coach.

Ronald Koeman has been sacked as Barcelona coach after a torrid 14 months, with legendary midfielder Xavi Hernández as the favorite to replace him.

The 58-year-old Dutchman was sacked after a 1-0 loss to Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday left the Spanish giants in ninth place in La Liga.

Barça have won just two of their last seven league games with Koeman, a streak that included losing to Real Madrid in Sunday’s Clásico at the Camp Nou.

A poor start to the season has raised the possibility that the team will not qualify for next season’s Champions League, which would have huge consequences for the club’s already desperate financial situation.

Xavi, who is currently in charge of Qatari club Al-Sadd, is considered Koeman’s most likely successor and would be a very popular choice among Barca fans given his brilliant playing career there.

There is also a belief that the 41-year-old would instill an attractive style similar to what Barcelona played with Pep Guardiola.

The Barça fans believe that Xavi, 41, would instill an attractive style similar to that of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona [File: AFP]

Former Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo and current Belgium coach Roberto Martínez have also been the subject of speculation in the Spanish media as possible candidates to replace Koeman. River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo and Ajax’s Erik ten Hag were also named, but they may be reluctant to leave their jobs mid-season.

Barcelona B coach Sergi Barjuan could take over the first team on an interim basis, with matches against Alavés, Dinamo Kiev in the Champions League and Celta de Vigo before the next international break.

A club statement released after midnight on Wednesday in Spain confirmed the firing of Koeman, who also previously managed Everton and the Netherlands and had been under heavy pressure.

“The club president, Joan Laporta, informed him of the decision after the loss to Rayo Vallecano,” the statement said.

“Ronald Koeman will say goodbye to the squad on Thursday at the Ciutat Esportiva [training ground]. “

Heavy debt

Koeman spent six years at Barcelona as a player and is considered a club legend after scoring the winning goal in the 1992 European Cup final against Sampdoria.

He was appointed coach by former Barça president Josep Maria Bartomeu in August 2020 and enjoyed some successes in his first season, winning the Copa del Rey and bringing back a disappointed Lionel Messi.

But a disappointing finish in La Liga and a convincing defeat for Paris Saint-Germain in the knockout stages of the Champions League cast doubt on Koeman’s ability to navigate the biggest matches, a criticism that was again leveled at the end of last week after the loss to Real Madrid.

Laporta was re-elected as president in March and while he allowed Koeman to continue as coach, there was never much trust between the pair.

Laporta told Koeman in the summer that he wanted two weeks to find a replacement, while Koeman reacted badly last month when Laporta suggested the coaches don’t have all the power.

“He talked too much,” Koeman said.

No replacement was found nor could he be persuaded to take over, perhaps in part due to Barcelona’s dangerous financial problems.

The club is 1.35 billion euros ($ 1.56 billion) in debt and had to see Messi join PSG in August after failing to renew the Argentine’s contract.

Other key players such as Antoine Griezmann also left without being adequately replaced, as Sergio Agüero and Memphis Depay arrived on free transfers and Luuk de Jong arrived on loan from Sevilla.

“In recent years, other clubs have gotten stronger every season and we haven’t,” Koeman said after his last game in charge against Rayo.

Honest approach

Youngsters like Pedri, Gavi, Nico González, Sergino Dest and Ronald Araujo have benefited from Koeman’s faith, but more established players have suffered a drop in form.

Koeman’s honest approach was widely accepted and even appreciated last season, but his pessimistic assessment of his team this season was seen by many as counterproductive and unsuitable for a Barcelona manager.

There was criticism of Koeman’s style of play, which became increasingly blunt, while the board was reportedly irritated by his departure from the club’s traditions of playing 4-3-3.

But the results were the key factor, as back-to-back 3-0 losses to Bayern Munich and Benfica in the Champions League were followed by losses to Atlético and Real Madrid in the league.

Laporta said before the international break that Koeman “deserved the benefit of the doubt,” moving to end speculation that he would lose his job following the loss to Atlético earlier this month.

But faced with an early exit in the Champions League and the possibility of not being in the top four in La Liga, Laporta decided to act.


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