Mark van Bommel doesn't consider it a disgrace that Antwerp FC received a 5-0 thrashing from Barcelona on their Champions League debut Tuesday evening. The 46-year-old coach addressed a notable exchange he had with Xavi after the match.Embed from Getty Images
Van Bommel raised the eyebrows of Belgian TV analysts by striking up a conversation with Xavi, his old teammate from Barça in the 2005/06 season, after the 2-0 goal by Robert Lewandowski. Jan Mulder and Marc Degryse didn't quite understand that. 'I wouldn't do this too often if I were Van Bommel,' said Degryse with a laugh. Mulder didn't find it amusing. 'He could be a bit more fierce and fiery here, instead of conversing with the opponent.'
The former international didn't want to make a big deal out of the moment himself. 'Well, Xavi and I are good friends,' Van Bommel responded afterwards in the Belgian media. 'We had already spoken to each other before the match. That 2-0 goal had a beautiful pass from Frenkie de Jong. I went to tell him that,' Van Bommel said, noting that Xavi mentioned that Antwerp had started well. 'No, I didn't ask him to go easy. I might have done better.'
In the end, Antwerp was heavily defeated in Spain. Belgian media concluded that the national champions were seeing stars, but Van Bommel wasn't angry. 'On the contrary. The first ten minutes were very good. You have to be super focused throughout the match. The smallest mistake gets punished. That was evident. I can't blame the players. We were good on the ball, throughout the entire match. With courage. But you can't drop the ball.'
Because at the very top level, every mistake is instantly punished, Van Bommel knows. 'In that initial phase, they shot at goal three times and scored three times. That's their quality. They cut through the middle and from there they showcase their individual talents. But I don't want to spin a negative story. This is the Champions League, the elite of Europe, the top of the world. That's where we need to be. But we are still far from it. That's no disgrace. This is a significant learning moment for us.'
While Van Bommel himself might have been able to put the defeat into perspective, it was a heavy blow for his players. The coach doesn't think the thrashing by Barça will linger long. 'It's never nice to lose 5-0, I know that too. But you have to see it in context. Barcelona is a contender to win the Champions League. They can certainly reach the semi-finals and even win. We have young players, and they've already experienced this. That's valuable. They learn from it.'Updated: 10:51, 20 Sep 2023