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How Barcelonas incredible 134-day turnaround exposed grim $1.7bn United disaster

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There’s no doubt about it.

Barcelona and Manchester United are two European giants that were, and in some respects still are, in desperate need of a rebuild.

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They even made managerial changes within a month of each other last year; Ronald Koeman departed the Camp Nou in late October and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left in late November.

Both clubs have tossed money around like it’s nothing in recent years, with United spending over $AUD1.7 billion on players and wages in the years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 and have very little to show for their astronomical expenditures.

Barcelona too had a plethora of similar problems on their doorstep and as The Telegraph’s Jason Burt notes, “a blind belief they could buy themselves out of trouble and have been harking back to the good old days for the past few seasons, clinging on to what they were instead of understanding what they are.”

Go away those problems did not, as the debts continued to pile up.

The club received the violent awakening it perhaps needed most when Lionel Messi was forced to leave the club because they simply couldn’t afford to keep him.

But from the moment both clubs changed managers in the latter stages of 2021, the mood surrounding each couldn’t be more different at this moment in time.

So, how has one club seemingly got it so right, and the other so wrong?

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CAN CLUB LEGENDS LAST?

In November, Xavi was appointed as Barcelona manager and Ralf Rangnick received the interim gig at Manchester United.

Xavi, a club legend having played over 500 games for Barca, had only been a manager two-and-a-half years with Qatar Stars League club Al Sadd, not exactly a club that’s known for catapulting coaches into high-end jobs.

As for Rangnick, he arrived with plenty of pedigree and is often credited as the ‘Godfather’ of gegenpressing, the style of football that has influenced managers such as Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann to name three.

In terms of their managerial credentials, they couldn’t be more different.

So to is their meaning to the clubs.

Rangnick, in theory, is just passing through.

He had no prior association to the Red Devils before his appointment and while he will be at Old Trafford for two years in a consultancy role as part of his deal, he’s unlikely to ever be held in the same regard at United that Xavi is at Barcelona.

Xavi has enjoyed a strong start to life as Barcelona manager. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Xavi has enjoyed a strong start to life as Barcelona manager. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Source: Getty Images

Whisper it quietly, but is that the big difference that has seen such differing moods in the camps after their respective appointments?

It’s worth noting that there are some eerie similarities to the early days of Xavi’s reign and that of Solskjaer when he signed on as interim boss.

As Burt notes, both have done a job at “bringing back the fun, relieving the pressure and educating the players on what the club stands for.”

It’s undeniable that Solskjaer’s success as a player at United as well as the start he had to life as interim manager before being handed the full-time gig earned him plenty of credit in the bank.

He brought a feel-good factor to a club that needed something, anything, to give it a pulse after a soul-sucking run of managers in Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.

Now Xavi is getting the same love after taking over from Koeman, a manager who was a club legend himself but signed onto a job that many felt would only end badly.

It’s still early doors in the Spaniard’s tenure at Barcelona, but there’s every chance we could be witnessing something special.

HOW FOUR GOALS CAN TELL THE BIGGER STORY

Against their biggest rivals, just 134 days after Xavi took charge, Barcelona won their first Clasico in three years and in epic fashion at that.

Four goals scored, none conceded and it all happened at the Santiago Bernabeu.

For United, they limped to a 4-1 defeat against their noisy neighbours Manchester City only a few weekends ago in a performance that Red Devils fans spent most of the 90 minutes watching through their hands.

Ronaldo was absent, Harry Maguire notably struggled and it seemed so disjointed.

It highlighted even further just how big the gap had become between the two.

If you had predicted how large the difference in clubs would become ten years earlier, you’d have been put into an asylum for the insane.

Harry Maguire has come under fire of late for his performances. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Source: Getty Images

But in Spain, this victory proved that even if there may be a gap too large to overcome in the league table, Barcelona are on the right trajectory to return to where they belong.

In fact, The Athletic’s Dermot Corrigan points out that victories like the one on Monday hint at something larger.

“Such big wins at the Bernabeu are part of the legacy left by previous key Barca players-turned-talismanic coaches Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola,” Corrigan said.

Speaking after the win, Xavi noted that “we are very far from winning the league, but, OK, we need to believe: this is the way.”

So, Barcelona seemingly know the way forward and what’s needed.

But for United, there’s always more questions than answers.

THE FOUR TRANSFERS THAT FLIPPED THE SWITCH

It is hard for any debate on the transfer front in terms of a direct comparison between Rangnick and Xavi, given United didn’t sign anyone in January as their summer window brought in Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane.

But in Xavi’s first window as boss, he signed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ferran Torres, brought back 38-year-old club legend Dani Alves and picked up La Masia graduate Adama Traore on a loan deal from Wolves.

Alves has proved to be Xavi’s trusted lieutenant in the dressing room, Aubameyang has been scoring for fun since moving and Traore has been his explosive self.

Again, it’s only one window and Xavi is likely to have a few misses when it comes to transfers.

But given how his first window went and the success they’ve brought, it’s looking the goods and Corrigan believes “it will also giv…

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