It almost felt like a family gathering at Barcelona’s Camp Nou when Xavi Hernández and Pep Guardiola first faced off as coaches this week.
Guardiola, a former Barca player and coach, is always greeted with reverence by the club’s fans, and Wednesday (24) was no exception as his City team faced Blaugrana in a charity match.
The two coaches embraced before and after the match – a friendly energy that spread through the crowd as excited fans came from all over the world to see the premiere of “Xavi versus Pep” and watch the European giants in a friendly clash.
Sharing a pitch is nothing new for Guardiola and Xavi, who first played together as teammates in 1998, when Xavi joined the Barcelona first team.
Ten years later they were reunited with Guardiola as the side-by-side coach and Xavi as the Barcelona captain, and now they enter a new era taking on the same point of view, side by side but from opposing coaching boxes.
“It’s as if Barça of the old guard meets Barça of the new one,” longtime Barcelona fan Ciprian Adrián told CNN Sport while looking at the warm-up of both teams.
“We love Pep after all he has done for the club and of course we always wanted him to come back. But Xavi has been very good for Barcelona.”
Xavi was appointed Barca manager last year and has seen an improvement in results, although the start of this season has been overshadowed by the club’s financial problems off the field and a disappointing 0-0 draw with Rayo Vallecano at home.
More than a manager
Xavi and Guardiola made football history together when they promoted Barcelona’s “golden age” between 2008 and 2012, including winning the club’s first treble and two Champions League titles under Guardiola’s leadership.
Since his departure, the team has had six full-time managers, an interim manager and has faced difficulties both on the pitch and in the board – to the point where many fans have clamored for Guardiola’s return.
What they got in Xavi was an emerging coach with a lot of potential to change the club’s fortunes.
The two Catalans grew up playing at Barcelona’s youth academy, La Masía, and adopted the football philosophy established by club icon Johan Cruyff. Each anchored the field as a central midfielder, commanding the creative and tactical flow of each game, using ball possession as a key ingredient to their game strategy and training methodology.
Xavi has established himself as one of the best midfielders of all time, combining Barcelona’s tiki-taka style with his own vision of the game and ability to find space on and off the ball.
As a player, he embodied Barcelona’s mes que un club (“more than a club”) spirit, and this week’s charity match is evidence that he too has the same priorities as a manager.
The money raised from the Aug. 24 match went to support research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease – on behalf of former Barcelona goalkeeper Juan Carlos Unzué, who served as Guardiola’s assistant coach for part of the match. of the golden season and was diagnosed with ALS two years ago.
It is rare for a friendly to come just weeks after the start of the European season, but for both Xavi and Guardiola, the cause was close to their hearts and reverberated within the Barcelona family.
Unzué took the field in his wheelchair, flanked by the holders of both teams, and kicked off with honor to the applause of the fans and players.
He spent the match as Xavi’s honorary assistant coach and then accompanied Xavi and Guardiola to the post-game press conference, where the three reiterated their support for the fight against ALS.
pleasing the crowd
The match itself did not disappoint – a 3-3 draw in which both coaches tried out their lineups and made more substitutions than fans could keep up with.
City opened the scoring after a mistake by goalkeeper Iñaki Peña allowed Argentine striker Julián Alvarez to slam the ball into the net, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang quickly equalized with a beautiful one-touch volley from an interrupted free kick outside the area. .
The quick scoring continued in the back and forth, with Barca’s Frenkie de Jong scoring the second goal in the 66th minute, only for City’s Cole Palmer to score four minutes later.
The final goals of the night came from Memphis Depay after an excellent cross from Sergi Roberto, followed by a penalty taken in added time by Riyad Mahrez.
The match, despite being friendly and fun, proved to be quite competitive for the fans.
Anton Rinas is a fan of Barcelona and the German presenter of the YouTube channel ViscaBarca. He follows the team and covers matches on his channel and said he thinks Xavi is putting to rest all the doubts people had about him joining as manager too soon.
“Xavi said he learned almost everything from Pep, and Pep said he is super convinced that Xavi will be a great coach,” Rinas told CNN Sport .
Looking ahead, Rinas noted that the two coaches know each other so well that it’s guaranteed to be an incredible duel each time their teams face off.
While this friendly was the perfect warm-up for what will be an exciting future seeing the two coaches face off against each other, Rinas shared many fans’ sentiments about the ultimate goal.
“This game is good, but I hope we face each other in the Champions League,” he said.
Source: CNN Brasil