Laporta gambles on Flick to restore Barcelona's lustre

German coach Hansi Flick.[AFP]

At the end of April, Barcelona president Joan Laporta, choking with emotion, said he was "proud" to have Xavi Hernandez staying on as coach for next season.

Before May had run its course, Laporta sacked the former Barca midfield great and appointed German coach Hansi Flick in his stead.

Since the president was re-elected for his second spell in charge in March 2021, Barcelona have been without a coherent plan, running purely on vibes. It can only get you so far.

Selling off areas of the club and compromising future income to raise immediate funds for heavy transfer investment, Laporta opted for a get-success-quick strategy, with limited results.

Barcelona won the 2022/23 La Liga title for the first time since 2019, but they have still struggled in Europe.

This season everything fell to pieces, with Real Madrid storming to La Liga glory and Barcelona finishing the campaign trophyless.

"It's fantastic news that Xavi is staying -- the team we have, which is growing with many young talents, needs this stability," said Laporta, weeks before performing a spectacular u-turn.

Xavi for his part did not mince his words about the challenges that faced Flick.

"You will suffer -- this is a very complicated place to be," Xavi warned his successor.

Barcelona's 'entorno' -- everything swirling around the club that increases pressure, from the media to the fans, to loose-lipped directors and former players chipping in -- will stay the same.

However in hiring Flick, the club's direction has changed.

The majority of their coaches have played for Barcelona -- Xavi, Ronald Koeman, Luis Enrique, Pep Guardiola among others.

Flick on the other hand, has never played or coached in Spain, let alone at the club itself.

The 59-year-old's greatest success was leading Bayern Munich to a sextuple in 2020, including an 8-2 humiliation of Barcelona, but he struggled with the German national team, becoming their first coach ever to be sacked.

Barca's sporting director Deco warned in February that Barcelona should move away from their traditional "tiki-taka" style.

"The president agrees with me on this, a deep change is needed -- there is a method that is worn out," he said.

'A deep change is needed'

Flick's style is attacking but more direct than Barcelona usually attempt to play, with more crossing.

The coach will be happy to work with Ilkay Gundogan, whom he appointed Germany captain, and Robert Lewandowski, a key player in his triumphant Bayern Munich side.

He boasts coaching experience which Xavi lacked, having only worked at Al-Sadd in Qatar before taking the reins at Camp Nou.

Flick tends to set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, rather than Barcelona's 4-3-3, although they are not far removed.

The club's financial difficulties will be a key factor in whether the German can improve Barcelona's fortunes.

After pivot Sergio Busquets left, Barcelona failed to adequately replace him, unable to afford Xavi's main target, Real Sociedad's Martin Zubimendi.

With new champions and rivals Real Madrid set to sign Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe, keeping up with Los Blancos will be a hard task for any coach.

By AFP 2 hrs ago
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