Barcelona’s new manager search – what we’re hearing on Xavi’s replacement


Barcelona are looking for a new manager.

Since Xavi’s announcement that he will be stepping down at the end of the season no concrete offers have been made — but the Catalan club have made contact with at least one potential appointee.

Part of the reason why Barca have not advanced very far in their search for their next coach has to do with uncertainty over the club’s financial situation. (More on that later.)

They are also fully aware that the managerial landscape across Europe looks set for a few important shifts over the next few months, with Liverpool to appoint a successor to Jurgen Klopp and the position of Thomas Tuchel at Bayern Munich somewhat under question.

Allow The Athletic to explain the latest on what we’re hearing right now.


Hansi Flick

Let’s start with the first and — for now —most obvious candidate. The former Bayern and Germany manager Hansi Flick has been approached by Barcelona to know his availability. Club sources — who, like all those cited in this article asked to speak anonymously to protect their positions — say he has not been offered him the job, but that it was decided by Barca to make a first contact as Flick ticks many boxes in their search.

The 58-year-old’s winning background with Bayern, where he was appointed in November 2019 and won the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League titles nine months later, is an appealing argument for Barcelona’s board. He is now without a job — and the fact his arrival would not require any fee is another plus.

Flick also has a good reputation for managing big personalities, while the offensive-minded style of football he has displayed, especially with Bayern, captivated Barca president Joan Laporta years ago.


Flick was sacked as Germany boss in September (Hollandse Hoogte/Bart Stoutjesdijk/ANP via Getty Images)

In 2021, while Laporta was immersed in the process of being re-elected, he did not hesitate to let it be known how impressed he was by the latest generation of German managers. Flick was one of them — although there were other names mentioned, including Julian Nagelsmann and Tuchel.

On Thursday morning, there was an update that could prove significant to Flick’s candidacy. The manager has joined the agency Gol International, led by the football agent Pini Zahavi. The agent is one of the closest contacts to Laporta and helped seal Robert Lewandowski’s move to Barcelona from Bayern in 2022.

Knowing how Laporta’s Barcelona has worked over recent years in the transfer market — taking the best advantage possible of all the relationships the president has built in his career — it’s an element to keep an eye on.

After recent contacts between Flick and Barcelona, there is the understanding that the manager would be very keen on taking the job, and it’s been already reported in Germany that he is learning Spanish. This is actually an important point, as several members of the Barca board believe the new manager should be fluent in Spanish. Right now, Flick does not even speak fluent English.

He would find in Catalonia a dressing room with several familiar faces, such as Lewandowski (from his time at Bayern), Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Ilkay Gundogan (from his role as Germany manager). One of the biggest points he’d have to prove, though, would be his ability to develop young talents. Trusting La Masia will be a priority, and Flick would see himself, for the first time, operating in a club that can’t afford expensive signings. That makes it a very different proposal from what he had at Bayern.

Roberto De Zerbi

The Brighton & Hove Albion manager, 44, is also high up on Barcelona’s shortlist.

As The Athletic has already reported, De Zerbi has plenty of admirers among Barca’s board of directors, and his range of qualities match what the Catalans need right now in various ways. He is a young manager with experience in the Premier League and Serie A, and he has managed in the Champions League and Europa League. Despite his young age, he has an obvious personality on the bench.

His meticulous tactical approach is already particularly admired, as is his proactive possession-oriented style of football. Creating a recognisable and offensive team was the priority Barca and Xavi set for themselves this season, but it’s something they’ve been unable to achieve.

De Zerbi has collected praise from the best in the business over the last years — but in Barcelona, nothing matches Pep Guardiola speaking highly of you. The respect Manchester City’s manager has shown for De Zerbi’s work at Brighton can be read as a seal of approval that he’d be capable of maintaining the ‘Barca DNA’. His track record in developing youngsters is also beyond dispute.

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De Zerbi’s Brighton are ninth in the Premier League table (Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

There is a ‘but’, though. De Zerbi is under contract with Brighton, who will require compensation for him to leave. For some important figures at Barca, this is seen as a tough hurdle given the club’s financial situation.

They also have to take into account that Barcelona are not going to be the only top club in search of a new manager. Liverpool will be looking for Klopp’s replacement, and De Zerbi might be considered a strong candidate there. The Italian has also been described as a potential successor to Guardiola at City, whenever he decides to leave, and his contract comes to an end in summer 2026. If Barca have to compete against arguably the two best projects of the Premier League to get De Zerbi, it won’t be an easy job in their current state.

But De Zerbi’s agents have been spotted in Barcelona this week. They held a meeting last Wednesday with sporting director Deco in the city’s renowned Botafumeiro restaurant. However, the main topic of discussion was said to have been a potential contract extension for Ronald Araujo; the Uruguayan centre-back and De Zerbi share the same representatives.

Thomas Tuchel

After last weekend’s 3-0 defeat by Bayer Leverkusen left Tuchel’s Bayern Munich side five points behind their main Bundesliga rivals this season, doubts over the safety of his job are growing. If the former Chelsea boss were to leave Bayern, he would become another manager in contention for the Barcelona role.

Two weeks ago, during a visit to a supporters’ club in Munich, reports quoted Tuchel as stating he would be open to managing abroad again in his career, with Spain an appealing option. Bayern released a statement in response the very next day. “He (Tuchel) answered general questions from fans about Spain as a footballing country,” it read. “He never spoke about Xavi Hernandez and his successor, as was falsely claimed afterwards.”

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However, this week it has been reported in Spain that some members of Tuchel’s closest camp have reached Barcelona to let the club know he would be interested in the job, if he’s not at Bayern next season. If there’s no compensation to pay, Tuchel will definitely be on Barca’s shortlist.

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Tuchel’s Bayern lost their Champions League last-16 first leg at Lazio 1-0 on Wednesday (Stefan Brauer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

And again, links with Zahavi might be another factor. Despite not being Tuchel’s official representative, he was involved in the operations that saw the German arrive at Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.

Luis Enrique

Some sort of catastrophe would need to happen at PSG for Luis Enrique to leave, with the Spaniard only having arrived last summer.

But multiple Barcelona dressing room sources put his name high up among the preferred candidates, and if somehow he became available, Barca would be silly not to consider his return. Luis Enrique is, alongside Guardiola and Xavi, the manager who best understands the workings of the club and how best to navigate its particular challenges.

He led one of the best Barcelona sides that has ever been seen, winning the treble with Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi leading the attack. If he landed at the club again, though, expectations would have to be measured compared to what he found in 2014. But as happened with Xavi, a club legend returning to help in a tough moment would initially grant him an extra layer of support.

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PSG beat Real Sociedad 2-0 at home in their Champions League last-16 first leg (Marcio Machado/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

Luis Enrique’s commanding leadership, plus the fact he’s already worked with an important number of Barca players with Spain’s national team, also make him a good candidate, but right now he is an unrealistic one, despite all the admiration for him.

Michel

Girona’s wonder season was always expected to put Michel up for the biggest jobs in the country. He’s managed to get a modest team playing football that many Barcelona fans and executives have been jealous of. But his profile does not appear to be at the very top of the club’s list.

Firstly, this is another case of a manager being under contract (his deal at Girona runs until 2026) with Barcelona unable to pay any compensation. Also, the relationship between Girona and Barca has experienced some tension over the last couple of transfer windows.

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Michel’s Girona beat Barca 4-2 back in December (Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Among the weak points in Michel’s candidacy is his lack of experience managing top clubs and the personalities of an elite dressing room. Despite all that he has already achieved in leading Girona’s unlikely La Liga title challenge, he is not among the hottest names Barca are looking at.

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Sergio Conceicao

Porto’s manager is nearing the end of his contract and is not expected to extend it. That’s why his agent, Jorge Mendes, brought Conceicao’s name to Laporta’s attention. Laporta rejected the prospect of taking Conceicao, as he did not see any possible match with his profile and the traditional Barcelona style of possession-oriented attacking football the club is trying to make prevail more than ever.

This is a debate that has come to the fore in the recent controversy over Deco’s interview with the Portugal outlet Nascer do Sol, where he was initially reported to have said the Barca model “had expired” and the club “needed a deep change” to “break with the past”. The Portuguese outlet amended the interview and explained Deco had never said those words.

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Barcelona beat FC Porto away and drew at home in the Champions League group stage (Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)

What no one rectified, however, were the sections in which Deco spoke dismissively of another Portuguese manager due to his lack of experience. Barca’s sporting director was asked if Ruben Amorim, the Sporting Lisbon coach, was on his shortlist.

“I know that he is doing a good job at Sporting, and playing in a style that can be similar to our way. But he does not have much experience in the role so far,” he said.

Rafael Marquez

Marquez’s name has been doing the rounds for some time, with various reports in Spain talking up his chances of becoming Barcelona’s next manager while highlighting his close relationship with Deco. But it now seems very unlikely he will be the man to lead the club’s new project.

Barca sources have told The Athletic that they can’t picture him as the person to take charge of the first team next season, even if they are happy with the work he’s doing at Barcelona Atletic, the club’s reserve team that plays in Spain’s third tier. This is only his second season in that job, and his lack of experience is given as a reason behind his unsuitability as Xavi’s replacement.

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Marquez has been in charge at Barca Atletic since 2022 (NoeliaDeniz/Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

However, Marquez would still be the club’s likely caretaker option in case they need to take an emergency step and sack Xavi before the end of 2023-24. Barca’s board will only take this decision if they see Champions League qualification at serious risk.

And what about the club’s financial situation?

In September, La Liga cut Barca’s permitted salary limit from €648million (£553m; $700m at current rates) the previous year to a new figure of €270m.

Barcelona’s real squad cost for 2023-24 — the total of salaries and transfer amortisations — is officially budgeted at €492million. As they have exceeded their level, La Liga rules say they must make cuts before signing any more players.

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When it comes to managers, similar rules apply. As they are overspending, a Barcelona salary offer to any potential new manager would currently have to be capped at €7.5million. That is calculated as four per cent of 70 per cent of their salary limit. But any money committed now would still be discounted from the next limit to be set for 2024-25. They have little room to manoeuvre.

In an interview with the Catalan radio station RAC1, Laporta said the club hopes to bring themselves in line with La Liga’s salary cap, but all the evidence points towards player sales being required to do that.

(Top photo: Getty Images)





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