A modern managerial trend is appointing a manger who apparently has the DNA of the club in their veins, are Barcelona the only club where this idea actually makes sense?

 

One of the major trends across leading clubs in European football in recent years has been the strange obsession with appointing a former player as manager.

In the post-Pep Guardiola era, Zinedine Zidane is perhaps the best example of it, leading to the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mikel Arteta taking up leading roles at their former clubs.

Clearly, Guardiola’s unprecedented success at Barcelona was the catalyst, with the need for a manager to have the DNA of their club coursing through their veins became en vogue and, the hope was, that merely having it would lead to similar results. Obviously, that is fanciful.

What makes Guardiola and Zidane in particular so successful is their ability to manage situations. The former overhauled both Barca and Manchester City while the latter could relate to Real Madrid’s vast array of superstars and coax the best out of them. Pirlo, Lampard and Solskjaer all failed while the jury is still out on Arteta.

Clubs have been trying to capture Guardiola’s lightning and, largely, have struggled to do so yet stick to the notion that merely boasting a connection to the club, no matter if the landscape has completely changed or not, might just be enough.

There is no logic to that. A goal without a plan is just a wish. Still, if there’s one club where the idea of DNA might be crazy enough to work, it is Barcelona.

Now, that’s not to say Xavi Hernandez will restore former glories in his first major coaching role but Barcelona do have a history of making this work. Indeed, rather than merely hoping, they at least have a doctrine of sorts to rely on. Guardiola was a disciple of Johan Cruyff and largely stuck to the principles the great Dutchman brought into Barca when he was appointed as manager in 1988.

Obviously, there is slightly more to that and the fact Guardiola was blessed with perhaps the greatest player in the history of the game in Lionel Messi helped but, largely, he was so popular an appointment despite having little in the way of coaching expertise because he emerged from Cruyff’s “Dream Team” of the early 1990s.

To suggest that Xavi will follow a similar path would be far too simplistic. Can anyone really match what Guardiola did, after all?

What there is, however, is a ready-made way of playing and tangible principles to stick to. Xavi might not have the pool of players Guardiola had available in order to execute them but he does have something concrete to work towards.

The 4-3-3 formation deployed to create overloads and give the player in possession options to pass to, always crafting angled avenues from which to cut through the opposition, is a very simplistic way of describing the philosophy. Even with that, though, it’s something far more complex to work with some of the names have had when taking new jobs at leading clubs.

The waters at the Camp Nou are far less muddy. Vague ideas of the past are one thing (ala Solskjaer at United, who seemed to conveniently forget that not all of Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams relentlessly attacked) but Barcelona are set-up differently, albeit they appear to have strayed away from it in recent years.

That’s not to say it will be easy. After such gross financial mismanagement and frankly terrible recruitment policies in the post-Neymar age, Xavi is starting from a relatively low base and does not have Messi, himself, Carlos Puyol or Andres Iniesta to rely on.

At least, however, there’s something he can point to. At Barcelona, the DNA actually matters.

 


 

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