The six top candidates for the Barcelona job: Xavi, Gallardo, Pirlo…

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Xavi Hernandez

The inevitable has finally happened – Ronald Koeman has been sacked as Barcelona manager. 

Koeman has finally put out of his misery after a 1-0 defeat at Rayo Vallecano, with Barca sitting 9th in La Liga and in danger of first-round elimination from the Champions League.

With the club’s well-documented financial problems taken into consideration, any manager coming in faces a difficult task – and may well limit the kind of figures they’re able to approach.

Antonio Conte, for example, is a big name that’s currently available. But given things ended at Inter at Chelsea, you can’t imagine the Italian would be interested in working under strict restrictions in the transfer market.

We’ve identified the six most likely candidates to replace Koeman in the Camp Nou hot seat.

Xavi

The odds-on favourite.

According to Fabrizio Romano, other candidates for the job know that Xavi is first-choice and his return would be incredibly symbolic for Barcelona fans who believe their club has lost its way in recent years.

The legendary midfielder redefined the midfield role during his playing days and has found success as a manager with Qatari side Al Saad.

Xavi has received the endorsement of Lionel Messi. “I’ve got no doubt that he’ll be back as a coach one day,” Messi said when asked on the Take the Ball, Pass the Ball documentary.

“He deserves the chance because of the type of player he was here. He will make an amazing manager. As a player he saw the whole picture from the pitch, I’m sure from the sidelines he will see it even clearer.”

And former Barcelona forward Rivaldo also issued his support for the return of Xavi.

“After the departure of Koeman, I would very much like Xavi to have this opportunity to be the new coach of Barcelona,” the Brazilian posted on Instagram.

“I have a lot of confidence in him to get the Club out of this situation.”

Marcelo Gallardo

Gallardo emerged as a surprise contender for the job earlier this month as the pressure mounted on Koeman.

The River Plate boss has just won the league title in Argentina and is believed to be keen on a new challenge in European football.

Gallardo employs a possession-based, attacking style of play that would impress the club’s fans and has received a ringing endorsement from Pep Guardiola in the past.

“What Gallardo has done with River is incredible,” Guardiola said in 2019.

“Every year three coaches are named as the best in the world, and he’s never among them. I can’t understand it. It’s as if there’s nothing else in the world apart from Europe.”

Other reports in Spain claim that Gallardo actually spurned Barca’s initial advances in September, so it would be a surprise to see him appointed now, but according to Independent journalist Miguel Delaney he remains an option.

Erik ten Hag

Ajax delighted neutrals around Europe with their Champions League performances in 2018-19 and the signs are that Ten Hag is building another slick team in the Netherlands.

His Ajax side play a possession-based attacking style of football – one that saw them thrash Borussia Dortmund 4-0 recently – which would be in keeping with the philosophy at Barcelona.

However, the Dutchman is said to be very loyal to Ajax and would be unlikely to leave the club in the middle of the season. He also recently signed a new contract with the club and is tied to them until 2023.

You also imagine that he’ll have his pick of other, much better-resourced, options (Manchester United, are you reading?).

Roberto Martinez

Having already employed one former Everton manager in Koeman, Barca are rumoured to be interested in another in the form of Martinez.

He may not have won silverware since lifting the FA Cup with Wigan in 2013 but Martinez has done an eye-catching job transforming Belgium from the disjointed group of individuals under Marc Wilmots into one of the most feared sides in international football.

The Spaniard has led Belgium to first place in the FIFA World Rankings, helping them maintain their place at the top for over three years, and is contracted to the Red Devils until after the 2022 World Cup.

 

Sergi Barjuan

Barcelona may struggle to appoint a permanent manager before the November international break and may look from within to fill the gap until then.

Barjuan is currently in charge of Barcelona B, where the club are languishing in the bottom half of the third tier.

But the former left-back has plenty of La Liga experience as a player, spending the majority of his career with Barcelona before moving to Atletico Madrid to see out his career.

Barjuan has also managed the likes of Recreativo Huelva, Almeria, Mallorca and Chinese club Zhejiang Greentown.

The chances of Barjuan getting the Barca job permanently may appear remote but, as somebody with inside knowledge of the club and experience working with young players, he may be the perfect choice to steady the ailing club.

After all, Laporta has given the job to the B team boss in the past…

READ: Where are they now? Pep Guardiola’s promotion-winning Barcelona B team

Andrea Pirlo

Despite a mediocre spell at Juventus, Pirlo’s name has been touted for the Barcelona job.

Club president Joan Laporta has reportedly told some of his confidants that he feels the Italian World Cup winner could have a similar impact to Pep Guardiola.

But appointing Pirlo would represent a huge gamble for a club in turmoil.


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