Underfunded and with a crucial Champions League game just around the corner, Barcelona were looking for a new manager on Thursday after Ronald Koeman caused too many painful defeats.
The club said reserve team coach Sergi Barjuan will be the interim manager until a permanent replacement is named for Koeman. Barjuan was a defender of Barça. The club said it will be in the band for Saturday’s game against Alavés in La Liga.
Former midfielder Xavi Hernández, who for years has been linked to a possible return to the club he helped elevate to his greatest height as a player, appears to be the leading candidate to take over the reins full-time. But first, the 41-year-old Xavi would have to free himself from his managerial position at Qatar’s Al Sadd club.
Next week, Barcelona must travel to Ukraine to face Dynamo Kiev in a game they need to win to increase their chances of reaching the knockout stage of the Champions League, as they have done for the past two decades.
Koeman had justified this season’s losses to Bayern Munich, Benfica, Atlético de Madrid and Real Madrid on the grounds that the team was simply no longer among Europe’s elite after financial troubles forced it to save the salaries of Lionel Messi and other stars. He also insisted that injuries among offensive players had limited their effectiveness.
Club president Joan Laporta had publicly endorsed Koeman less than a month ago and asked fans to be patient as the club undertook a rebuilding project.
But Koeman’s credit ran out after Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Rayo Vallecano, a modest rival who had not beaten Barcelona since 2002. Barcelona, a dominant club in the Spanish League for decades, are now ninth in the classification.
Koeman, a former Barcelona defender, took the helm of the team when its economic crisis was just beginning to show, following a devastating 8-2 loss to Bayern at the end of the 2019-20 season that cost his predecessor, Quique Setien, his job.
The 58-year-old Dutchman led the team to the Copa del Rey title last year, but was eliminated in the round of 16 and finished third in the league.
However, it did lay the foundations for a rejuvenated Barcelona by including youngsters Pedri González, Gavi Páez and Ronald Araújo and Óscar Mingueza in its starting eleven and making Ansu Fati one of the team’s leaders, along with veterans Sergio Busquets , Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba.
But his problems converting – with just one goal in three Champions League games – and his inability to respond to adversity once the losing streak started showed that Koeman’s team was not performing at the height of its potential.
“We have shown to be at a good level, but it is not enough,” Koeman said hours before his dismissal.
Barjuan, 49, played for Barcelona as a left back between 1993 and 2002, before closing his career at Atlético. He was appointed to head the Barcelona reserves in July. (AFP)