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Between the Lines: Xavi's hypocrisy and Puyol's pragmatism on Barcelona's transfer policy

Xavi Puyol Barcelona transfers
Carles Puyol and Xavi have differing views on Barcelona's transfer policy
Rohith Nair
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Modified 12 Aug 2017
Feature

No player has made more appearances in a Barcelona shirt than Xavi. In a career spanning 17 years, the midfielder made 767 appearance for the Catalan club and retired having won 25 trophies.

Obviously, he is a legend revered by the club faithful and nothing underlines the fact more than the touching farewell he received at the Camp Nou in his final home game where a humongous 'Gracies Xavi' tifo spanned three tiers of the iconic stadium, visible to any aircraft flying over the city.

However, since his departure, he has found ways to stay relevant despite exiling himself in Persian Gulf state of Qatar who are looking to form a competitive football team in time for the 2022 World Cup.

Every other day, his comments on various issues involving Barcelona make their way to the press and spread like wildfire on the internet. Be it Barcelona's transfer policy or an honest assessment of the manager, Xavi always manages to put in a word.

Which brings us to his latest comments which have provoked a strong reaction from the fans. So much so that it has caused a divide of sorts between the Cules who venerate Xavi and those who believe his ideals no longer reflect the club's current sentiments.

Xavi not in favour of former academy players returning to Barcelona

Hector Bellerin Barcelona
Xavi does not want Bellerin at Barcelona even though they desperately need a right-back

The 37-year-old was asked his thoughts on Barcelona chasing Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin and he was not in favour of bringing a former player back to the club. Bellerin was a La Masia player who moved to Arsenal in 2011 to pursue a professional career in the Premier League.

"I have not seen him play much but let me say one thing; I would find it difficult to sign a player that we had previously had at the club." - Xavi

Although the club brought back players such as Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas - both of whom had left to play for Manchester United and Arsenal respectively, Xavi explained that even though it worked out in some cases, he did not think it was right.

"I am not in favour of bringing back players who have left. Why do they leave when they are just 16 or 17? I really don't understand it." - Xavi

When Xavi was reminded that the club had recently re-signed Gerard Deulofeu - also a former academy player who has played for Everton, AC Milan and Sevilla (either in the form of loan spells or permanent moves) - Xavi said that it was not the same case.

"That is a different case," he explained. "He did not want to leave; the club invited him to move."

Let's first analyse why players such as Fabregas and Bellerin left Barcelona in the first place. Arsene Wenger, a manager who champions a youth policy, promised them first-team opportunities that Barcelona could not. In both cases, he delivered and the two players became integral members of the squad at a very young age.

"When there is a team that guarantees you can play in the first team and above all in the Premier League, then it is very difficult to say no." - Bellerin

Moreover, players in England can sign a professional contract a year before they can do so in Spain. It is an irresistible offer and the lure of the Premier League is difficult to reject. At Barcelona, they would have been scraping the bottom of the barrel playing in the Juvenil A (U-19) side, wasting a year or two to be promoted to the La Liga squad.

Cesc Fabregas Arsenal first team
Fabregas got first team opportunities at Arsenal even as a youngster

Does that answer Xavi's question on why players leave?

Even so, why deny a player the chance to return home once he has "completed his development"? While Arsenal were left fuming at Fabregas' return after polishing a raw talent for eight years to produce a diamond, his need to 'return home' was understood even if the transfer never really worked out in the end.

Come again, Xavi? You didn't want Fabregas?

Xavi's hypocrisy also comes to the forefront here as he was one of the many Barcelona players who courted Fabregas over two summers with public comments, brazenly tapping him up in the press and pressurising Arsenal to let the prodigal son leave.

"I'd love for him to join us. He's a footballer with Barcelona's DNA... Fabregas is welcome to help us to continue playing the football that characterizes us and achieve further success... He really has no choice but to leave. He is making the right decision..."

All the above statements from Xavi came within a week. He did not stop there.

Xavi Fabregas
Xavi's attempts to lure Fabregas to Barcelona were far from surreptitious

"I would like him to come, and I have told him so... He must play for the club, and it must be now. If not now, it will be a little too late... Arsenal need to understand they are only delaying the inevitable..."

Need I say more?

What Xavi does not understand is that Barcelona is no longer the club that produces academy talents akin to the golden generation that formed the all-conquering side managed by Pep Guardiola.

Puyol sheds light on Barcelona exits

Carles Puyol agent
Puyol is now a player agent

Carles Puyol, another bonafide legend at Barcelona, now has his own agency and he does represent a few players - even those in La Masia.

He was asked to comment on Xavi's policy of not accepting former players and Puyol simply scoffed at it while still respecting Xavi's opinion.

“It’s his opinion, but then he wouldn’t have signed Cesc or Pique, the latter of whom has given incredible service. I think you have to analyse each case individually and also analyse the reasons that led them to leave in the first place." - Puyol

Surprisingly, Puyol comes across as the more sensible person here - the same player who lacked any sense when he forced Fabregas to wear a Barcelona shirt following Spain's World Cup win; when he was still an Arsenal player.

“You have to see things as they happen and if you have the chance to sign Pique, who’s the best centre-back in the world, and you don’t because he was at your club and left, it’s a mistake." - Puyol

Indeed, Pique has now won 25 trophies at Barcelona and he's still only 30 years old - a senior member of the squad who also wears the captain's armband when required. How someone like Xavi can simply ignore that is beyond comprehension.

However, Puyol could also have his own agenda here. One of his clients is Eric Garcia - a 16-year-old centre-back who is one of La Masia's best talents coming through. And Garcia has recently been linked with Manchester City who have offered him a deal that is superior to Barcelona both financially and from a sporting perspective.

Barcelona Eric Garcia Man City
Eric Garcia could move to Manchester City

Barcelona can only offer him a role in the Juvenil B side while City are ready to put him in the first team within two years.

The fact that Puyol himself has potentially engineered the exit of the player suggests that even he thinks La Masia cannot do more for young players with City's academy more suited to developing players.

Is Barcelona on the decline?

In recent years, the club has betrayed its principles that were once embedded within its fabric by Johan Cruyff. Guardiola was appointed at a time when Joan Laporta was club president and he oversaw a significant change in the club's policies that laid the foundations for their incredible success in the last decade.

However, Sandro Rossell and Josep Bartomeu have since steered the ship off course. Despite the treble-winning campaign in 2014/15, the club is now well adrift of contending for the Champions League thanks to a recruitment policy that has been deemed a failure in the last two seasons.

Sandro Rossell Josep Bartomeu Barcelona
Sandro Rossell and Josep Bartomeu have put their interests above Barcelona's in recent years

But most importantly, La Masia saw a steady decline and the club failed to produce players capable of making the step up to the senior team. The young talents that do stand a chance have been deprived of the opportunity thanks to the club's expensive recruits such as Paco Alcacer and Andre Gomes who have flopped.

Managers have come and gone since Guardiola's exit and it remains to be seen if Ernesto Valverde goes back to the club's roots or whether he, too, will bow to pressure from the board and sign established players to form his squad.

Xavi himself has said that he wants to be a manager in the future. But his policy of disowning Barcelona academy products could see the board reject him as a potential candidate in the future - no matter what he has accomplished with the club in the past.

Published 17 Jul 2017
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