Legendary midfielder Xavi Hernandez, who signed for Al Sadd this year, left Spanish giants Barcelona after 24 years on the club’s books.
Only a handful of players in the modern game are as intrinsically linked to the name, and successes, of a single club as Xavi Hern?ndez. FC Barcelona and Xavi have seemingly been interchangeable terms for a revolutionary style of attacking football that has shaped the last decade of European and World football.
From the age of 11, when he first joined the Catalan club, to winning the FIFA U-20 World Cup with Spain in Nigeria, and all the way to lifting the 25th trophy of his club career in Berlin this summer, there is a single line running through Xavi’s career.
Here we take a look at the development of Xavi as a player, the creation of a new style of play and how it has taken him to what he calls “an exciting new challenge” as the captain of Al Sadd in the Qatar Stars League season, which began last weekend.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q. Xavi, you epitomise the home-grown era of success at Barcelona. How was it growing up in the club alongside what would later become the golden generation?
Everyone who came to Barcelona knew exactly what the concept of the game was - that famous Barcelona DNA which everyone took on board. And from there years and years passed and a new, fantastic generation arrived with players like Puyol, Iniesta, Messi, Busquets, Pedro. Players from different generations, who have put themselves together to win incredible things, which we never could have imagined in the eighties or nineties.
And now Barcelona is a model in world football. The same has been the case with the Spanish national team, which has drawn a lot from the Barcelona style. This style has marked an era in Spanish and European football.
Q. Now, working with Aspire Academy, do you see parallels with how talent development is being pushed forward in Qatar?
Yes, in the philosophy to attack, to be protagonists, in the methodical approach to football. I think here there is a great education for a football player, to be professional and to improve.
Q. Let’s talk about your debut with Barcelona, and winning the Spanish league in your first season. How difficult and how rewarding was that experience, and what advice do you have for youngsters attempting to make the same step up in their career?
Yes, it was difficult, because all new beginnings are very difficult. But I had the good luck that I was very well received in the dressing room, there were a lot of people from home, and we won the league. I have fantastic memories of Van Gaal, for example. A very good season even though we did not begin it well. Afterwards we went through a period of four or five years without winning anything, where people did not believe in us, and especially in me because the system was changing a lot. But we were able to get through that bad period to get to an era that was for me the best in Barcelona’s history.
Q. The Under-20 FIFA World Cup in Nigeria was the first international title which you won as a player. Do you think that was where Spain really started to believe in the incredible success that would come later on?
Yes, perhaps it was a turning point. I remember that it was the time of the Bosman ruling and club directors and presidents were going abroad to sign, a new market was opening in Europe. But winning that tournament was a sign that there were good young players in Spain. We won the final 4-0 against Japan and even beat the Brazil of Ronaldinho.
We placed an exclamation mark to show that there was also a good young generation in Spain that could achieve big things. Later three or four of those players went on to lead Spain to the consecutive European and World titles that we won.
Q. Pep Guardiola also played in Qatar. You started your career with him in the dressing room, and later he went on to become your coach in the most successful Barcelona team of all time. How important an influence has he been?
For my career Pep has been a model in every sense of the word. First as a football player to perfect my game. He was an example and a mirror for all of those who were coming up through the ranks. Later as a coach he gave me absolute importance in the game. We talk the same football language, because we grew up in the same house and we understand the game in the same way. He is one of the best coaches in the world. He is very methodical, very demanding, a perfectionist, and that makes him one of the best.
Q. How do you see his Bayern side now – has Guardiola made them a copy of that successful Barcelona side?
Yes, I think he has achieved that, Bayern also has been playing good football for years. The German team of Joachim Loew does the same, and they have had a good reference in Spain in terms of playing good football. The German physical condition is always impressive. And from there, I think Pep is working very well, and every year they are favourites to win the Champions League with Barcelona, Madrid, and the big teams of Europe. Bayern will always be there. They have signed very well, with Arturo Vidal, Douglas Costa, on top of what they had.
Q. Now you are the star signing of Al Sadd Club, and starting a new stage and a new challenge in your career in the Qatar Stars League. How do u intend to cope with lot of expectations?
Yes, I am looking forward to it a lot. I have been getting to know my team-mates and I have seen the quality of play has been higher than I expected. I have seen really interesting football players with a lot of talent. I think we are working well. We have been training for one and a half months now and we have a good team. But there are important teams, like last year’s champions Lekhwiya, and Al Rayyan, who have signed very well.
It will not be easy to win it, but it is one of our objectives, as well as to win the Emir’s Cup and to fight for the Asian Champions League. As we have seen in the pre-season, the teams from Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also very strong and well-prepared. But I have big objectives, and a lot of excitement to play in the league and to compete again. (Sc.qa)
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