Xavi: Barcelona can't afford to replicate Man Utd struggles in post-Messi era

By Sports Desk April 23, 2022

Barcelona boss Xavi has highlighted the difficulties of competing for trophies after Lionel Messi's departure, but says the Catalan giants cannot afford to replicate the recent struggles of Manchester United.

The Blaugrana head into Sunday's match against Rayo Vallecano 15 points behind LaLiga leaders Real Madrid with just 18 points to play for, albeit the buffer to Real Betis in fourth is six.

After previous boss Ronald Koeman left the Catalan giants in ninth position, Xavi has overseen a revival of the team's fortunes and is looking to secure a top-four finish at the end of a transitional season for the club.

Although Xavi acknowledged Barcelona will need to be patient in their pursuit of trophies after losing legendary forward Messi to Paris Saint-Germain, he said the club cannot afford to miss out on Champions League football, highlighting the Red Devils as an example of a household name to have struggled to qualify for the competition.

"It's our reality. This is the post-[Lionel] Messi era, that's difficult in itself," Xavi told a news conference ahead of Sunday's clash with Rayo Vallecano. "He used to win games on his own. We have to be patient. I'm excited to win trophies, but we have to strengthen. We have to be realistic.

"We're in the first year of the post-Messi era, we have to be patient. We've seen a lot of great teams, like at Manchester United, [where] it's been hard for them to come back, to qualify for the Champions League. 

"Barca can't allow that. We have to fight for trophies, we want to compete."

Xavi's arrival has had a positive impact on the Camp Nou outfit, who had briefly threatened to challenge runaway leaders Madrid. 

Among the players to look rejuvenated under Xavi is Ousmane Dembele, whose nine league assists in 2022 place him level with former team-mate Messi as the most creative players in the top five European Leagues this calendar year.

Meanwhile, another of Xavi's trusted first-teamers, Frenkie de Jong, has been linked with a move to Old Trafford after his former Ajax coach Erik ten Hag was confirmed to be taking over from Ralf Rangnick at the end of this season.

Xavi, however, is desperate to keep hold of the midfielder "for many years", saying he has the talent to "mark an era" at Camp Nou.

"Frenkie is very important for me, for the club and for the team," Xavi added. "He is a footballer who has to mark an era, for his quality and personality.

"He is at a very good level since I arrived, and he has to continue scoring goals, [making] assists ... and being a protagonist in the games. He could be one of the best midfielders in the world in the coming years. 

"We have not commented on it [De Jong's future], but if it is up to me, he would continue for many years."

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    Barcelona have no intention of selling Frenkie de Jong to Manchester United, according to club president Joan Laporta, although he admitted the club's perilous financial situation could create the "need" for a sale.

    Meanwhile, Laporta labelled Cristiano Ronaldo's apparent desire to leave United "interesting" but would not be drawn on whether the Blaugrana would target the Portuguese legend.

    De Jong, who starred in Erik ten Hag's Ajax side before moving to Barcelona in 2019, has been touted as United's top transfer target since the Dutchman was announced as the club's new boss in April.

    While the midfielder expressed his desire to stay at Barcelona in May, the club's need to reduce their wage bill has led to suggestions a sale could still be possible.

    Laporta said last week he would do "what is in my power" to keep De Jong but acknowledged the Netherlands international would need to agree to a salary adjustment to remain at Camp Nou.

    The Blaugrana president repeated that stance at Wednesday's unveiling of new signing Franck Kessie, saying of De Jong: "He's a Barca player and if we don't have the need, we won't sell him. We don't want to sell him. 

    "We know he has offers, but right now we're not selling this player."

    While Ten Hag appears to see De Jong as the ideal candidate to be the fulcrum of his new United side, it remains to be seen whether Ronaldo will remain at Old Trafford after widespread reports of his desire to leave for a Champions League club emerged last week. 

    Ronaldo scored 24 goals in all competitions for United last season, but the club ended the season in sixth place with their lowest-ever Premier League points tally (58).

    But Laporta refused to be drawn on whether Barcelona could make a remarkable move for the 37-year-old, who starred in four Champions League triumphs with their historic rivals Real Madrid.

    "I had dinner on Monday with [Ronaldo's agent] Jorge Mendes and we talked about the market in general," he added.

    "Cristiano? I'm not going to talk about the players who came out of the meeting, but it's always interesting to know how some names are on the market.

    "I'm not going to talk about players in one way or another, it could be misunderstood. It doesn't contribute anything to the interests of Barca. We have to respect the players who have contracts with other teams."

    Meanwhile, Barcelona's need to adjust their finances in order to strengthen Xavi's squad has led to uncertainty over the future of winger Ousmane Dembele, whose contract with the club expired last month.

    Dembele made more assists (13) in all competitions than any other Barca player last season, and while Laporta is keen to keep the 2018 World Cup winner, says the 25-year-old is yet to respond to the club's offer.

    "We are in a situation of uncertainty. Right now, we still can't sign [him]," he said.

    "We are talking to players we are interested in so they can wait for us. Ousmane is not a Barca player, but we have made him an offer.

    "He has not accepted our proposal, but he wants to continue talking. We will continue talking, at least for now. 

    "Salary balance is necessary for the team to be competitive. All discussions are framed in this context. We're not in a hurry, although we're aware that we can't delay. Let no one expect us not to act with the utmost prudence".

  • 'He told me it was a good place!' - Kessie reveals Ibrahimovic advice after Barcelona move 'He told me it was a good place!' - Kessie reveals Ibrahimovic advice after Barcelona move

    Franck Kessie sought the advice of Zlatan Ibrahimovic ahead of completing his move to Barcelona.

    The Ivory Coast international has joined the LaLiga giants on a free transfer from Milan, having helped the Serie A side to the Scudetto last season.

    Legendary Rossoneri striker Ibrahimovic has previously represented Barca among his plethora of clubs, helping the Blaugrana win the title in the 2009-10 season.

    Kessie sought out the thoughts of the veteran Sweden striker when contemplating his own switch.

    "He told me it was a good place," Kessi said. "He recommended that I work hard."

    There will be a wait for both Kessie and fellow new arrival Andreas Christensen to feature, however, with Barca president Joan Laporta once again confirming the club are unable to register either player.

    The Catalan club's financial struggles have been well-documented, and there will need to be a reduction in the wage bill within their squad to accommodate their new players.

    Laporta is confident they will be able to do so without suffering serious losses to the makeup of their team, adding: "We have absolute respect for our players.

    "With whom the coach does not have, we are working on a consensual agreement. The sports management is working very well.

    "It is not easy, because the footballers we want have contracts similar to their current ones. Most have the hope and illusion of convincing the coach. Logic will prevail."

  • Rumour Has It: Pogba set for four-year deal at Juventus Rumour Has It: Pogba set for four-year deal at Juventus

    With his departure from Manchester United on the horizon, Paul Pogba had been free to discuss his future with other clubs since January.

    Failing to ever really match his then world-record price tag with performances on the pitch, the World Cup winner's next destination always seemed limited to a few options.

    Reports suggest a return to Serie A and Juventus is imminent.

     

    TOP STORY – POGBA SET FOR FOUR-YEAR DEAL AT JUVENTUS

    Paul Pogba is expected to complete medical in Turin this weekend to open the path for a free transfer to Juventus, according to Sky Sports.

    Leaving Manchester United at the end of June upon the expiry of his contract, the move to Juve would see him return to the club where he spent four years and established his reputation.

    Upon completion of his medical, the 29-year-old is reportedly set to sign a four-year deal with the club.

    This comes after Pogba turned down what was reported to be a 3.5 per cent increase on his wages at Manchester United.


    ROUND-UP

    - Bayern Munich have reached a verbal agreement with Juve's Matthijs de Ligt amid interest from Chelsea, according to Sport1.

    - Tottenham are keen on signing Villarreal's Pau Torres despite the impending arrival of Clement Lenglet, the Mirror is reporting.

    - Newcastle United are willing to meet Bayer Leverkusen's asking price for Moussa Diaby, per the Telegraph.

    - New Paris Saint-Germain boss Christophe Galtier hopes Neymar can stay at the club amid speculation over his future, The Sun is reporting.

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