After 2,373 days away, Xavi Hernandez will be back with Barcelona for a match at Camp Nou on Saturday and he can expect a hero’s welcome.
Almost 10,000 fans, at 1 pm on a Monday, attended a presentation with club president Joan Laporta last week, when Xavi’s attempts to thank the crowd were thwarted by the sound of them chanting his name.
It is another reminder of Barcelona’s slide away from the elite. They are ninth, already 10 points behind Real Madrid in second, and, more pressingly, six adrift of Atletico Madrid in fourth.
Averting the financial disaster of missing out on Champions League qualification will be Xavi’s first priority between now and May.
They have conceded more goals than Espanyol and Rayo Vallecano, both of whom have just come up from the second division. They have won none of their last four league games and only two of their last nine.
There is unlikely to be the option of a quick-fix either, with the club still desperately trying to reduce record debts of more than a billion euros.
Barca’s chief executive Mateu Alemany said on Wednesday that “as it stands there is nothing left” for signings in the January transfer window.
Yet Xavi’s return, for a while at least and certainly on Saturday, momentarily pushes all that into the background. Dismay at the club’s decline and Lionel Messi’s departure can be forgotten, apprehension even about Xavi’s own credentials as coach saved for another day.