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 Posted by ESPN Staff
May 9, 2008

Xavi defends axed Barcelona coach Rijkaard

Barcelona star Xavi insists the players are to blame for the decision to axe coach Frank Rijkaard.

The long-running saga of Rijkaard's future on the Barca bench was finally brought to an end on Thursday when the Catalan giants announced the Dutchman would be replaced by Josep Guardiola at the end of the season.

Barca president Joan Laporta declared the change just a day after seeing his side suffer a 4-1 humiliation at the hands of bitter rivals and newly-crowned champions Real Madrid.

That result means third-placed Barca can no longer claim a top-two finish in La Liga and an automatic place in next season's Champions League.

It crowns a season of disappointment for the Catalans in which they have failed to pick up any silverware for the second year on the trot, and Xavi believes the blame lies squarely on the players' shoulders.

'The players are the main ones responsible for this,' he admitted. 'We could have done much more to not be in this situation.

'Rijkaard was a kind and helpful coach who always told us that we had to be professionals and because of that talked about the players managing themselves.

'It was the crisis of not winning anything for two years in a club that can't allow themselves to do so that spelt the end for him.

'But football is unjust and functions in that manner.

'He deserves all our praise. He was an example for us in every way, a man who treats people marvellously, who got through to us in the dressing room, an example on every level, not only as a coach.'

Despite admitting that the players were partly to blame for Rijkaard's exit, Xavi insisted that they had all given 100% during the season.

'We might have been found lacking in many ways,' he said. 'But never in attitude.

'I don't understand how a player, a professional footballer who plays for, in my opinion, the best team in the world could not have commitment to the badge he represents.'

Xavi is well aware that drastic changes need to be made at the Catalan club over the summer.

And the 28-year-old, who knows Guardiola well, having played with him at international level as well as during the final three years of his new coach's playing career at Barca, believes he is the right man to inject a much needed boost into the club.

Xavi insists that despite Guardiola's inexperience and youth - the 37-year-old has never coached at the top level before - their new boss is the ideal man for the job.

'This is like a home for him,' added the Spain midfielder. 'He knows the club well, grew up here, has a lot of personality.

'He has always understood the game and already when he was a player he had a lot of presence, as much in the dressing room as on the pitch.

'For me, he has all the experience in the world because this club has been his home and he has lived all its experiences.

'We learned a lot from Rijkaard and he set us on the right path.

'We hope that Pep will do the same.

'He already made his mark on the club as a footballer and we hope that he can do the same as a coach.

'But the players know that first there must be a lot of changes.'