Barcelona: Dani Alves and Xavi's silent revolution

While Spain were sealing their qualification for the 2022 World Cup, in Barcelona Xavi was laying the first bricks of what will be a difficult reconstruction project at Camp Nou. It will be a complicated task but Xavi can at least count on general benevolence at the outset. He is a likeable man, a fusion of the La Masia academy, which produced the finest Barcelona side ever seen during his playing days, and the street savvy of Luis Aragonés, the “wise man of Hortaleza,” who doted on Xavi and based his Spain side around him and those he termed the “little guys,” laying the foundations for tiki-taka and Spain’s period of international dominance. And Xavi is also a courageous man, who left a comfortable and gratifying job in Qatar to take on the urgent repair of his boyhood club, which is mired in disaster.

Quietly but efficiently, he has been filling the strategic positions related to the first team, the be-all and end-all of everything that is important at any football club. Seven new members of the technical staff have come in with Xavi, and seven have departed with Ronald Koeman, as well as technical secretary Ramón Planes, whose CV includes some hits (Pedri, Ronald Araújo) and several misses (Kevin-Prince Boateng, Jean-Clair Todibo, Martin Braithwaite, Nelson Semedo). With Planes’ departure it can be assumed that Xavi now has total control over transfers, in the style of the classic British managers. It is an exceptional measure for a coach who is, at the end of the day, still a novice. But Xavi is a novice with immense prestige.

No Xavi old boys' club for Alves, Piqué

And he sprung his first surprise (on me as well) with the return of Dani Alves, a 38-year-old and, it has to be stated, unemployed former teammate. But Xavi has already demonstrated by prohibiting Gerard Piqué from travelling to Madrid for a television interview that he is not afraid to lay down the law to those who he previously shared a dressing room with. With his pace gone, I can’t see Alves being deployed as the marauding full-back he was in his pomp, but maybe in midfield, to provide some competition for Frenkie de Jong, who the jury still remains out over. I remember Alves as a player “for every occasion, for the whole pitch, and for any stadium,” as Sacchi used to demand. Unfortunately, De Jong is not yet that.