Xavi Hernandez has attempted to cool mounting criticism of Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino by hailing the Argentinian’s leadership qualities and communication skills.
Martino’s methods have faced increasing criticism this week, after consecutive defeats to Ajax and Athletic Bilbao added to a feeling that the Argentine was moving the team too far away from the style which had proved so successful under previous manager Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova.
Some pundits in Catalonia have even claimed that Barca’s senior players are unhappy with the training regimes and tactical tweaks introduced by Martino, with his decision to take off Xavi and Andres Iniesta with Barca a goal down at San Mames seen as significant.
But Xavi told Radio Catalunya that the new Barca boss was very impressive and insisted everyone inside the Camp Nou dressing room was relaxed about the situation.
“Tata, like Guardiola, is a natural leader,” Xavi said. “He is rigid, demanding, he talks very directly and his ideas are very clear. We are very relaxed inside the dressing-room. We believe in what we are doing.
“We know that these are two consecutive defeats, and that the level of demands is very high. The fans pressure us a lot to return to playing the same as we did before, and that is difficult. But from inside we are relaxed, we know we are doing things well.
“Barca are not playing on the counter-attack, but for a passer like me it is always nice to find spaces [to play more directly]. The style does not change, it is all compatible.”
The La Masia graduate, who said that the calf muscle injury that has hampered his training this week was nothing serious, maintained that he understood concerns from Barca youngsters including Christian Tello, Martin Montoya, Marc Bartra and Sergi Roberto about their limited playing time, but stated Bartra’s regular inclusion this season showed the value of patience.
“What Tello said seemed fair to me,” Xavi said. “He was talking of his own personal situation. With Bartra, he now feels very important in the team, he has played many games. At the start of the season that did not seem the case, but he has turned the situation around. The boss counts on him. Sergi Roberto is very patient. He is a very good footballer who has many years left at Barcelona.”
Bartra and fellow defender Montoya are out of contract at the end of the current season, although Mundo Deportivo has claimed that the former is close to an agreement over a new deal.
The Catalan centre-half told AS that he appreciated the role his more senior Blaugrana colleagues had played in his development.
“This is my second year with the first team, I am very aware of the players that are there, the best in the world, but they have always treated me very well from the first moment,” Bartra said. “I have tried to follow the advice from every teammate and the boss. It seems like this year things are going much better, I feel good physically and mentally, which is very important.”