Jürgen Klopp leaving Liverpool. Xavi leaving Barcelona. Thomas Tuchel perhaps under pressure at Bayern Münich. Extremely speculative stories in Spain about Mikel Arteta contemplating his future at Arsenal. There are decades when nothing happens, and weeks when decades happen: this summer there could be a truly spectacular merry-go-round of managers with Roberto De Zerbi, Thiago Motta, Unai Emery, Hansi Flick and Rúben Amorim all in the mix.
The situations of Klopp and Xavi are different, even if they have both won one league title. Klopp will have been in the job almost nine years when he leaves and in that time has transformed Liverpool into one of the best sides in Europe. For him that title count of one is misleading because it doesn’t reflect the level of opponent he has been up against, the near-impossibility of taking on Manchester City under Pep Guardiola. With inferior financial resources he has been consistently competitive and that itself is enough to make him one of the greatest three managers in the club’s history.
Xavi will have been at Barcelona only three years. It’s not entirely fair to say that his one league title reflects what happens if you happen to be manager of one of Spain’s big two when the other one has an off-year, and he deserves credit for having forged a side amid the chaos and adversity of last season, but neither will anybody be hailing him as one of Barcelona’s greats.
But what both show is the toll the job can take, especially for managers who come genuinely to love the clubs they are in charge of. “The sensation of being Barcelona coach is disagreeable and cruel,” Xavi said when announcing his decision. Guardiola felt that at Barcelona as well in his fourth season: the eternal pressure, the constant scrutiny, the need constantly to keep on top of everything, can be exhausting.
And yet it is a drug. It’s surely not for financial reasons that so many managers find it so hard simply to sit back, to let the game go on without them. There’s a reason Roy Hodgson is still managing in the Premier League at 76, why Dean Smith leapt at the Norwich job a matter of days after being dismissed by Aston Villa, why Bill Shankly found himself regretting his decision to quit Anfield in 1974.
There’s no danger that Klopp, on his year off, will find himself suddenly forgotten. He’ll still be in demand however long he takes out of the game. But, equally, say Germany had a terrible Euros on home soil this summer and Julian Nagelsmann leaves: would Klopp really be able to resist a call from the DFB should it come in July?
The case of Xavi is different. What Klopp has done means that he will be at the top of any club’s shortlist but the former midfielder will find it rather harder. Perhaps a spectacular win over a fading Napoli in the last 16 of the Champions League next month will redeem him, but his record in Europe is poor and too often he seems appalled that other teams have the temerity to defend against his Barça. How dare they stop his team playing the game in the right way? It’s an attitude that hints at a broader doubt: that he may be a cargo cult coach, able to repeat the dictums of the Guardiola philosophy without fully understanding how to instill or adapt them.
Barcelona has always been an unusual club when it comes to appointments, with philosophy at least as important as achievements. That’s why they gave the job to Frank Rijkaard in 2003 when, having taken Sparta Rotterdam to the first relegation in their history, he was running a lingerie company and considering an offer from the Netherlands Antilles. It’s why they appointed Guardiola after a single season in charge of their B team and why they gave the job to Xavi when his only experience of management was in Qatar. And that’s why the link to Arteta, however unevidenced, feels plausible. The Arsenal manager is a graduate of La Masia, Barcelona’s famed academy, and served his apprenticeship under Guardiola. The question is why Arteta would want the job now when he has Arsenal on an upward trajectory while Barcelona remain in such financial chaos and have such an unbalanced squad.
For Liverpool, Xabi Alonso has emerged as an early frontrunner which, given he has Bayer Leverkusen two points clear at the top of Bundesliga, still unbeaten, is understandable enough. This is his second season as a senior coach, but he has experience with Real Madrid’s youth team and Real Sociedad’s reserves. The temptation may be for Alonso to take an intermediate step with Bayern should Tuchel leave at the end of the season – as he almost certainly would were they to fail to win the league – and Barcelona may be able to overlook his Real Madrid past, but the draw of a return to Liverpool would be strong.
The problem is, with love comes additional pressure.