Could Motta be back on his way to Barcelona?

5 candidates to replace Xavi at Barcelona: Motta, De Zerbi, Arteta…

Barcelona will have a new coach next season. Xavi Hernandez has announced that he’ll be departing his beloved boyhood club when the 2023-24 campaign ends in June.

The 44-year-old coach led Barca to the La Liga title in his first full season at the helm, but results have taken a notable downturn this year – Saturday’s shocking 5-3 defeat at home to Villarreal leaves them 10 points behind Real Madrid.

“The situation needs to change and as a cule [a Barcelona fan] I can’t allow this. I took this decision days ago, but it is time to make it public. I don’t want to be a problem for the club,” Xavi told reporters.

“[I am] thinking about the club, the good of the players, and the directors. As a club man, I think the best thing to do is go on 30 June. I will give my best in these four months; I still think we can complete a great season. I take this decision calmly; it’s common sense.”

We’ve identified five potential successors.

Roberto De Zerbi

“De Zerbi is likely to be an option in common for both clubs, but Barcelona are still taking their time before deciding their shortlist,” transfer insider Fabrizio Romano recently revealed, writing for Caught Offside.

“It’s very easy to mention names like De Zerbi or Xabi Alonso for these clubs, but although they are strong candidates around Europe, I can guarantee that with Barcelona it will take time, because it has to be decided by Joan Laporta but also other people in the Barca board, including Deco.”

It’s interesting to consider which names are currently considered by both Barcelona and Liverpool as they look ahead to the 2024-25 campaign. De Zerbi’s uncompromising, attacking style would make him an exciting choice but they may have competition for his signature.

Rafael Marquez

A former player and currently doing good things with Barca B, the in-house option ticks a lot of boxes – not least that he’d presumably be a lot cheaper than a lot of the big-name alternatives on the market.

Marquez has made no secret of his desire to land the top job.

“It’s part of the process,” Marquez said (per The Metro).

“It will come if it has to happen to me. Who wouldn’t want to be Barca coach? I will continue working hard, it’s only my second season as a coach.

“The board will have time to think carefully between now and the end of the season. But, you can’t say no to an opportunity like this.”

Thiago Motta

The former Italy international signed for Barcelona when he was just 17 and went on to make over a hundred appearances for the club, having progressed up from the youth ranks and B Team.

That background serves him well, but he’s also proving himself a very promising coach in his own right at Bologna. He has them punching above their weight in Serie A – sixth in the table and in contention for Champions League qualification.

We’ve been desperate to see Motta land a top job ever since he laid out his revolutionary idea of a 2-7-2 formation back when he was first starting out as a youth coach in 2018.

“My idea is to play offensively. A short team that controls the game, high pressure and a lot of movement with and without the ball,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“I want the player that has the ball to always have three or four solutions and two teammates close by to help. The difficulty in football is, often to do things simply but to control the base, pass and get free. I don’t like the numbers of the field because they trick you.

“You can be super offensive with a 5–3–2 and defensive in a 4–3–3. Depending on the quality of the guys. I had a game a while ago where the two full-backs ended up playing as the 9 and 10. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like people like Samuel and Chiellini, born defenders.

“Could it be a 2–7–2? No, the goalkeeper counts as one of the midfield seven. For me, the attacker is the first defender and the goalkeeper is the first attacker. The goalkeeper starts the play, with his feet and the attackers are the first to put pressure to recover the ball.”

Yes please.

Marcelo Gallardo

It was only in the recent past that Gallardo was continually linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs, having earned a reputation as the next big thing after achieving remarkable things with River Plate.

But in November the Argentinian signed an 18-month contract with Saudi Pro League champions Al-Ittihad, replacing Nuno Espirito Santo in the hotseat. It’s not out of the question that Gallardo will look to depart Saudi Arabia come the summer; Al-Ittihad are out of the title picture, results are poor, and there’s reportedly friction with star man Karim Benzema.

Xavi himself was plucked from a league out in the middle east and they may look to the same region for his successor.

READ: The magic of Marcelo Gallardo: Loved by Pep, Barca links…

Mikel Arteta

The long shot. Sporting director Deco is reportedly an admirer, while reports from Spain suggest he’s on a three-man shortlist. Actually landing their target is an altogether different story, especially given their financial precarity.

Arteta remains contracted at Arsenal until 2025 and appears to be completely aligned with the club hierarchy in moving things forward. It would be a massive shock to see him depart the Emirates any time soon.

But he’s continually been linked with a return to Barcelona, having established himself as one of the best young coaches in Europe. While he never made an appearance for the first team, Arteta honed his skills in La Masia and started out his career at Barca B.

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