Xavi names main characteristic Barcelona’s next manager must have

Xavi has insisted that his replacement as Barcelona head coach next season must have “Barca DNA”, in keeping with the club’s long-standing traditions.

The 44-year-old delivered Barcelona’s first La Liga title since 2019 last season, but results have tailed off in 2023/24 and he announced in January his intention to step down in the summer. He described the experience of being Barca coach “cruel” and “unpleasant”.

The Catalans are yet to settle on a successor and Xavi has refused to give his opinion on the kind of traits and attributes that person should have, other than one very important thing.

“I don’t know,” he said when asked at a press conference ahead of facing Getafe. “In the end, it’s Deco and the president who have to decide. [But] he should maintain the line of Barca DNA.”

That ‘Barca DNA’ has often been a theme of coaches hired at Camp Nou. Xavi himself spent 24 years at the club from the age of 11 until he retired as a player in 2015.

Pep Guardiola, Xavi HernandezPep Guardiola, Xavi Hernandez

Barca DNA has governed plenty of coaching appointments / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages

Pep Guardiola was also a former player before becoming manager, while Johan Cruyff helped revolutonise the club with his vision as a player before later returning as coach at a low point in their history in 1988 and then ushering in the ‘Dream Team’ era.

In recent years, Luis Enrique, the late Tito Vilanova, Ernesto Valverde and Ronald Koeman have all possessed it too. Less successful appointments like Quique Setien and Gerardo Martino had no prior connection to the club before being recruited.

Frank Rijkaard, winner of Barca’s 2006 Champions League title is an exception of the rule. However, his roots at Ajax and having worked under visionary coach Rinus Michels in the Dutch national team ensured he was already well versed in similar principles that define Barca DNA.

If Barca are now looking for that DNA in their search for Xavi’s successor, it exists in Mikel Arteta, Thiago Motta, current B team coach Rafael Marquez and even Jose Mourinho, but not in the likes of Roberto De Zerbi, Thomas Tuchel, Hansi Flick or Julian Nagelsmann.

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Ryan Gravenberch stretchered off in Carabao Cup final after Moises Caicedo tackle

Liverpool suffered another injury blow during Sunday’s Carabao Cup final as Ryan Gravenberch was stretchered off following a challenge from Chelsea’s Moises Caicedo.

The Reds, who were already without a host of first-team regulars including Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez, started the game with Alexis Mac Allister and Ryan Gravenberch alongside Wataru Endo in midfield.

However, the Netherlands international went down in pain in the 23rd minute after colliding with Caicedo, with the stretcher soon brought onto the Wembley turf.

With so many players out injured already, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp – who was left incensed on the touchline in the aftermath of Caicedo’s challenge – brought on Joe Gomez as young right-back Conor Bradley moved into midfield.

Gravenberch now joins the legions of players in the Anfield treatment table. Key players Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson, Dominik Szoboszlai, Diogo Jota, Thiago, Joel Matip and Curtis Jones are all currently sidelined.

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Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez left out of Livepool’s Carabao Cup final squad

Liverpool will be without Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez for Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Chelsea after the pair were left out of Jurgen Klopp’s squad.

The attacking duo were both injury doubts leading into the meeting with Mauricio Pochettino’s Blues at Wembley.

Salah made a scoring return in the 4-1 win at Brentford but was soon back on the sidelines through injury, while Nunez was also substituted at half-time in that game.

Neither make the matchday squad for Sunday’s final, while midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai is also absent, having not played since the 4-1 thrashing of Chelsea in late January.

Darwin NunezDarwin Nunez

Nunez is absent from Liverpool’s matchday squad / Ryan Pierse/GettyImages

Cody Gakpo leads the line for the Reds, supported out wide by Luis Diaz and Harvey Elliott. Alexis Mac Allister will continue in a more advanced midfield role alongside Ryan Gravenberch with Wataru Endo sitting in front of the defence.

Caoimhin Kelleher starts in goal with Virgil van Dijk partnering Ibrahima Konate in central defence. 20-year-old Conor Bradley features at right-back with Trent Alexander-Arnold injured, while Andy Robertson starts on the opposite flank.

Chelsea have stuck with the same team that impressed in the 1-1 draw away at Manchester City. Veteran defender Thiago Silva doesn’t make the squad, leaving Axel Disasi to start alongside Levi Colwill.

Moises Caicedo, who was the subject of summer interest from Liverpool before moving to Stamford Bridge, sits in midfield alongside Enzo Fernandez, while Cole Palmer and Raheem Sterling will hope to offer the goal threat for the Blues alongside Conor Gallagher and Nicolas Jackson.

Liverpool and Chelsea met in two domestic cup finals in the 2021/22 season, with fans hopeful of a more entertaining spectacle this time around after both finished goalless.

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Sir Jim Ratcliffe targets ‘Man City style pay structure’ at Man Utd

Sir Jim Ratcliffe is believed to want Manchester United to implement a similar pay structure to that which has helped make local rivals Manchester City so successful.

Ratcliffe’s impact is quickly being felt at Old Trafford, with the petrochemicals billionaire now properly in charge of football operations after his buy-in was made official last week.

United have been heavily criticised for a bloated wage bill that hasn’t delivered what it should. The Daily Mirror reports Ratcliffe is targeting a bonus-led pay structure, with players only earning the really big money if they are successful on the pitch.

Such a plan would promise to keep basic salary lower and allow players to top up their earnings for doing their job well, rather than rewarding mediocrity with enormous pay packets.

Incoming chief executive Omar Berrada, whose appointment was influenced by Ratcliffe’s INEOS contingent before ratification of the partial takeover was given, has been tasked with setting the bonuses plan in motion after being instrumental in its effectiveness at City.

Having joined City from Barcelona in 2011 and initially focusing on sponsorships, Berrada was later promoted to chief operating officer in 2016 and effectively ran the club’s day-to-day business. He moved closer to football in 2020 as chief football operations officer, also filling that role for the wider City Football Group. Berrada has an inside track on how to build an elite football club and Ratcliffe wanted to bring that expertise across to the red half of Manchester instead.

City’s 2022/23 accounts showed wages in excess of £400m, dwarfing United’s £330m. But it was a season that had followed consistent Premier League titles and then triggered even more bonuses by winning the Champions League as part of the treble. United, meanwhile, have won only four trophies in the last ten seasons – no Premier League titles, no Champions Leagues.

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Stay up to date with the latest Manchester United news / Visionhaus / Getty Images

City recorded revenue of £712m last season, an all-time English high, with United raking in £648m. Yet spending rules are also starting to hurt the latter and Ten Hag explained ahead of Saturday’s defeat to Fulham he wanted to sign another striker in January, knowing the squad was light up front due to Anthony Martial’s latest injury. But “money, FFP”, as he put it, stopped them.

Ultimately, Ratcliffe wants to “smash” City on the pitch. But he’s a more than savvy individual and can appreciate the models used to build their success are worth admiring and replicating.

“We have a lot to learn from our noisy neighbour and the other neighbour [Liverpool],” he said in his round of headline interviews last week. “They are the enemy at the end of the day. There is nothing I would like better than to knock both of them off their perch.

“Equally, we are the three great northern clubs who are very close to one another. They have been in a good place for a while and there are things we can learn from both of them. They have sensible organisations, great people within the organisations, and a good, driven and elite environment that they work in. I am very respectful of them but they are still the enemy.”

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Karim Benzema blasts ‘liars’ for manager spat rumours at Al Ittihad

Karim Benzema has issued a scolding response to suggestions he is unhappy at Saudi Pro League club Al Ittihad, claiming reports of his desire to return to Europe in January came from “liars”.

Benzema left Real Madrid in 2023 after a glistening end to his Los Blancos career which had seen him win the Ballon d’Or the previous year. However, the January transfer window saw him linked with Premier League sides Chelsea and Manchester United.

The former France international missed Al Ittihad’s return to training from their mid-season break, being left in Mauritius due to a cyclone warning, while an alleged spat with manager Marcelo Gallardo has also seen speculation over his future increase.

Karim BenzemaKarim Benzema

Benzema has dismissed talk of an exit from Al Ittihad / Eurasia Sport Images/GettyImages

Benzema was said to have been excluded from first-team training after returning late and missed both their Saudi Pro League game against Al Tai and the Asian Champions League clash with Navbahor Namangan in Uzbekistan.

He was reported to have ‘stormed out of training’ earlier in February but has now featured in their past two games and the 36-year-old has quashed talk suggesting he is unhappy in Saudi Arabia, claiming he has no issues with former River Plate boss Gallardo.

“I am back and now I am better. The story of my departure is not true and I am happy in Saudi Arabia. I have no problems with Gallardo, all those who say I want to return to Europe are liars. I am very happy at Al-Ittihad. For my part, I have no problems with anyone. Ask the coach about my absence, I was ready for the training camp in Dubai.”

Al Ittihad face a tough task in retaining their Saudi Pro League title, currently sitting fifth and a whopping 22 points behind leaders Al Hilal. Abderrazak Hamdallah is their top scorer in the league with 13 goals, with Benzema lagging behind on nine from 16 games.

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