The UEFA Champions League clash between PSG and Barcelona pits Xavi against his former manager, Luis Enrique. As players, both had sensational careers with Barcelona. Luis Enrique came over from Real Madrid to score over 100 goals in 300 appearances. Xavi led Barcelona to its most successful run in the club’s history out of the midfield during his 767 first-team appearances. However, the two have had varying levels of success as managers. Ahead of their clash in European play, Luis Enrique said he embodies the abstruse notion of Barcelona DNA more than his fellow Spaniard.

“Without a doubt, it’s me,” Enrique said about who resembles the spirit of Barcelona more as a manager. “It’s not just my opinion, look at the data, in terms of ball possession, goal-scoring opportunities, high pressure, titles, trophies. Some may think differently, but without a doubt, it’s me.”

To decide which player-turned-coach better carries the spirit of Barcelona, the concept needs clarification. Look back to Johan Cruyff, who revolutionized both Barcelona and soccer as a whole, when he brought total football to Spain. Barcelona’s DNA is the fluidity between positions and the ability for Barcelona to dominate possession and convert that into goals. Seemingly endless passing prevents the opposition from building up play, and the tiki-taka playstyle led to massive success. For Luis Enrique and Pep Guardiola, having Xavi and Andres Iniesta in the middle of the field linked with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Thierry Henry, and other star players up top to great success.

That made Barcelona stand out among other clubs. Based on irresponsible spending, the club lost that identity and simultaneously its ability to claim trophies with relative ease following Luis Enrique’s departure.

Comparing Barcelona under Luis Enrique and Xavi

Therefore, Luis Enrique can more easily claim that he carries more of the spirit of Barcelona. However, it is worth mentioning that Luis Enrique had several of the best players in the history of Barcelona in his squad. The Spanish manager arrived at Camp Nou at a time when Lionel Messi was the best player in the world. When Messi missed time, Enrique had Neymar and Luis Suarez. In the midfield, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, and Sergio Busquets dominated. The other options in the midfield included Javier Mascherano and Ivan Rakitic.

Yet, that did fall in line with the playstyle Barcelona has come to perfect in its history. Besoccer compiled the data that shows Enrique’s Barcelona mustered more possession, shots, and goals while also conceding fewer shots and goals. That domination contributed to Luis Enrique totaling a vastly superior win percentage of 76%, while Xavi has won just 62.41% of his games. Besoccer also determined that Barcelona under Luis Enrique was far more incisive with vertical passing and time spent in the opposition’s box.

Granted, Xavi would likely have more success with players who had talent comparable to Luis Enrique’s squad. Instead, Xavi has had to deploy droves of teenagers across the pitch. That includes Lamine Yamal, Pau Cubarsi, and the now-injured Gavi. These players have shown talent and promise. Still, it is foolish to compare these players to those that Luis Enrique was working with.

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Catalan culture and Barcelona passion

In terms of who holds a more reserved place among the Barcelona faithful, that honor will always belong to Xavi. The long-time club captain played an integral role in Barcelona’s success for the better part of two decades. He also brought much of the passion back to Barcelona after years of struggles. The 2022/23 LaLiga title allowed Barcelona to re-establish itself among the European elites after exiting that tier. While the 2023/24 season has had frustrating moments, Xavi provided his boyhood club with a foundation for success.