Xavi used to be an idealist.
Two years ago, from the comfortable remove of Doha, he pontificated on what sort of forward suited Barcelona and who, in particular, did not: Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
“Aubameyang will kill you in open space,” Xavi told the press. “But Barcelona need players who know how to move in small spaces. It’s not easy to think of players who have adapted well to Barca. Samuel Eto’o was perfect, as is Luis Suarez right now.”
Ah, well, nevertheless.
Becoming a manager has a funny way of folding your list of ideals up into a delicate little origami crane and then smashing it repeatedly with an accountant’s laptop. The Barcelona Xavi inherited isn’t the one he played for or even the one he imagined that Aubameyang wouldn’t fit. It’s a club battered by financial hardship, injuries, and the still-aching wound close to the heart where Lionel Messi used to be.
Xavi’s Barcelona rank a distant fourth in La Liga for non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes and an unthinkable seventh in real, actual balls kicked into nets. One-time Newcastle flop Luuk de Jong might be their best available striker at the moment, and that’s if it isn’t one-time Ajax defensive midfielder Frenkie de Jong. This team desperately needs someone who can score.
You know who used to be really good at that? Mr Open Space Killer himself, who as recently as two years ago was routinely banging in 20 a season for Arsenal and Dortmund.