BARCELONA — With its coffers depleted and a critical Champions League match right around the corner, Barcelona was looking for a new coach on Thursday after Ronald Koeman suffered one too many painful losses.
Former midfielder Xavi Hernández, who for years has been linked to a return to the club he helped lift to its greatest heights as a player, appears to be the leading candidate. First, however, the 41-year-old Xavi would have to free himself from his job coaching Qatari club Al Sadd.
An immediate and possibly short-term solution could be for Barcelona to promote either reserve team coach Sergi Barjuán or Albert Capellas, director of its youth teams, to lead the squad for Saturday’s Spanish league match against Alavés.
Three days later, Barcelona faces a trip to Ukraine to play Dynamo Kyiv in a match it will need to win to boost its chances of continuing its two-decade long run of reaching the Champions League knockout rounds.
Koeman had justified defeats to Bayern Munich, Benfica, Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid this season by arguing that his team was simply no longer among Europe’s elite after its financial troubles forced it to shed the wages of Lionel Messi and other top talents. He also insisted that injuries among his attacking players had limited its effectiveness.
Less than a month ago, club president Joan Laporta had publicly backed Koeman, asking fans to be patient as the team undergoes a rebuilding project.
But Koeman’s credit ran out after Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat at Rayo Vallecano, a modest rival that had not beaten Barcelona since 2002. Barcelona, the dominant Spanish league team over the past two decades, is in ninth place in the standings.
Koeman, a former Barcelona defender, took over Barcelona when its economic crisis was just being felt following a devastating 8-2 loss to Bayern at the end of the 2019-20 season that cost predecessor Quique Setién his job.
The 58-year-old Dutch coach led Barcelona to last season’s Copa del Rey title, but it exited the Champions League in the round-of-16 and finished the Spanish league in third place.
Koeman did, however, set the foundation of a rejuvenated Barcelona by bringing youngsters Pedri González, Gavi Páez, Ronald Araújo and Óscar Mingueza into his starting lineup and making Ansu Fati one of the team’s leaders along with veterans Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba.
But its trouble scoring — one goal in three Champions League matches — and its inability to respond to adversity once behind showed that Koeman’s team was not performing up its potential.
“We showed that we had talent, but it wasn’t enough,” Koeman said hours before he was let go.