Where are they now? Barcelona’s XI from Xavi’s first game as boss in 2021
Xavi took charge of Barcelona back in November 2021 and oversaw a tight 1-0 home victory against Espanyol during his first game in the hot seat.
The Spanish boss inherited a team that was on a downward spiral after things had turned sour for Ronald Koeman. Xavi has done a fine job since taking the job as he has rebuilt the squad from the ground up with a new youthful core.
With the Barcelona boss set to pen a new contract extension with the club, we decided to take a look back at Xavi’s first XI in charge and see where the players are now.
GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen
One of only three players from this XI who are still playing for the club, Ter Stegen is one of the best goalkeepers in Europe right now. Barcelona boasted a flawless defensive record in 2022-23 which saw them only concede 20 goals.
The German shot-stopper is now in his 10th season with the club and he has won plenty of accolades during that time. Providing he stays injury-free, he should make his 400th Barcelona appearance later this season. That’s some going.
RB: Oscar Mingueza (Ronald Araujo, ’88)
After rising through the youth ranks at Barcelona, Mingueza spent two years with the first team before being sold to Celta Vigo last summer. While the versatile defender was handed some opportunities by Xavi at the start, he ultimately failed to win him over.
“When Xavi arrived he told us what he wanted,” Mingueza told Cadena SER in 2022. “You’re playing and I didn’t have my best games. But if a coach doesn’t like you, it’s hard to play again.”
On the flip side, Araujo has established himself as one of the first names on the teamsheet under Xavi. He’s had his fair share of injuries, but when fit, is one of the best defenders in La Liga.
CB: Gerard Pique
Exactly a year after Xavi took charge, Pique decided to call it quits on his Barcelona career and retire. After spending the final 15 years of his career at Camp Nou, the Spanish defender felt it was the right time to hang up his boots in November last year.
“Why retire in November? There are many reasons. People already know that I started the season with a conversation with Xavi, who told me that it was going to be difficult for him to play,” Pique said.
“The feelings from the beginning were not the best in general and I saw that the break was an opportunity to have that decision. I have always I said that when I was not important I would leave.”
The 36-year-old is still involved in football today as he founded the Kings League soon after his retirement. The seven-a-side football league is plenty of fun and has already garnered a worldwide audience.
CB: Eric Garcia
After only making 15 league stars last season, Garcia and Xavi agreed that a loan spell would be best for his development this season. The 22-year-old will now spend the season with Girona where he should be handed some more first team opportunities.
LB: Jordi Alba
Undoubtedly one of the finest left-backs of his generation, Alba enjoyed a successful 11-year stint with Barcelona. The rapid full-back provided 99 assists during his time at Camp Nou and also scored 27 goals himself.
Now 34 years old, the defender is playing out his final days at Inter Miami alongside Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets. It’s not taken the former Barcelona trio long to have an impact in the United States.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 4, 2023
CM: Nico Gonzalez (Yusuf Demir, ’88)
Upon his breakthrough into the senior team, plenty of hype surrounded Gonzalez back in 2021. The youngster made 37 appearances in his debut season and was then sent out on loan to Valencia.
Xavi’s midfield had moved on while Gonzalez was away from the club and so they decided to cash in on the 21-year-old this summer. Porto spent a reported €8.5million to land the midfielder, with Barcelona holding a buy-back clause in the deal.
Demir’s Barcelona career was even shorter than that. Koeman signed the youngster on loan from Rapid Wien, with the club having the option to make the deal permanent. Xavi quickly made his mind up on the youngster though as his loan deal was cut short at the first opportunity.
CM: Sergio Busquets (Riqui Puig, ’78)
Watching Busquets at his peak was truly a sight to behold. After 18 unforgettable years with the club, Busquets called it quits on his Barcelona career this summer to join Inter Miami.
“It hasn’t been an easy decision but the time has come,” Busquets said upon announcing his departure. “It has been an honour, a dream and a reason for pride to have been able to wear this badge.”
Coincidentally, Puig who replaced Busquets in this game is also playing in MLS right now. The Spanish midfielder completed a free transfer to LA Galaxy last summer and has already made a name for himself in the United States.
CM: Frenkie de Jong
The speculation surrounding the long-term future of De Jong has been rife over the past couple of years, but he continues to be a crucial player for Xavi and Barcelona.
He’s certainly being paid a pretty penny as the 26-year-old is by far and away the highest-paid player in La Liga in 2023. Amazingly, De Jong earns 35% more than any other player in the league with an annual salary of €37million.
RW: Ilias Akhomach (Abde Ezzalzouli, ’45)
Xavi handed Akhomach his La Liga debut against Espanyol during his first match in charge. After a couple more first-team appearances, the winger went back to Barcelona B before signing for Villarreal this summer.
Ezzalzouli has also enjoyed a fairly similar career trajectory. The 21-year-old showcased some early signs of promise before the club decided to sell him to Real Betis this summer for a fee of around €7.5million.
ST: Memphis Depay
The Dutch forward only spent one full season at Barcelona before departing for La Liga rivals Atletico Madrid. He’s started the new campaign with a bang and already has a Puskas-worthy goal to his name.
LW: Gavi (Philippe Coutinho, ’70)
“He is a kid that excites everyone,” Xavi told reporters while discussing Gavi. “He’s a born leader, too, that all comes naturally to him. He is spectacular. I have said it many times, but I don’t get tired of praising him. He has no ceiling, so don’t slow him down.”
The teenager has the perfect blend of technical ability and shithousery which makes him a force to be reckoned with. Still only 19 years old, the future is bright for Gavi.
Coutinho, on the other hand, has seen his career take a nosedive since joining Barcelona back in January 2018. Injuries have certainly hampered his career of late and the Aston Villa playmaker recently joined Qatari side Al-Duhail on loan for the season.