Spain's legendary midfielder Xavi Hernandez with his pregnant wife Nuria Cunillera after he received the 'Marca Leyenda' award at the Aspire Academy yesterday. PICTURES: Othman Iraqi

By Sahan Bidappa/Doha


Back in June, Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez fought back tears as his contribution to the Catalan club was recognised by his club at an event. Yesterday, the Spanish midfielder once again was close to tears as he went through the journey of his glittering career.
At the Aspire Auditorium yesterday, Xavi and the small motley group witnessed the former Barcelona star’s exploits on the big screen. There were tributes from David Villa, Sergio Busquets and Andre Iniesta, his former teammates at both Barcelona and Spain, which brought smile into Xavi’s face.
But it was a video from his childhood days, him training at the La Masia, the Barcelona youth academy, that got Xavi emotional. The decorated midfielder, however, managed to hold back his tears as the audio-visual came to an end.
Xavi helped Barcelona clinch 25 trophies during his 17 seasons in the ‘Azulgranas’ first team and has won everything there is to win, including the World Cup and European title with Spain. Since bidding an emotional farewell to Barcelona, after more than two decades with the club he joined as an 11-year-old in 1991, the 35-year-old has made Qatar his home, playing for QSL club Al Sadd on a two-year contract.
So it wasn’t a surprise when Spanish sports newspaper Marca decided to honour Xavi in Doha. Called Marca Leyenda (legend), the award has been given to top sports persons from all over the world and this year they chose to bestow the honour on Xavi, making him the 22nd footballer to
receive the award.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, the man who guided Xavi and co. to glory on that unforgettable night in Johannesburg at the 2010 World Cup, was the guest of honour at the ceremony and presented the award to legendary pass master.
“I’m truly honoured to be granted this prestigious award, and I’m very proud to be joining the other football legends who have received it through the years,” said Xavi, as his wife Nuria Cunillera  and family watched.
Xavi, known for his humility, said he never imagined he’d be so successful. “I never dreamed of having even half the career I’ve had when I started out at Terrassa. Back then I just wanted to enjoy my passion, because football is my religion. It took a different direction once I turned professional and started winning titles. I’ve surpassed even my wildest dreams. I’ve really enjoyed myself out on the pitch and I feel privileged,” he said.
On his new life at Al Sadd, the winner of eight La Liga titles, six Spanish Super Cups, three Copas del Rey, four Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups and two Club World Cups, said: “I’m delighted with the decision to come here, which is one of the best I’ve made in my life. I want to thank the club’s staff for giving me the chance to keep enjoying my football and to help the Aspire Academy team. My family is here and they are very happy in Qatar too.
Xavi is known to be a natural leader on and off the pitch, so the question on him becoming a coach was inevitable. But the Barcelona legend wasn’t sure what the future holds for him. “I can’t talk about the future. Right now, I’m just enjoying playing football. I can’t predict the future. Being a coach is not easy. At the moment, it’s a new stage in my life in Qatar and I am really enjoying it,” he explained.  
Del Bosque, Spain’s World Cup winning manager, paid tribute to Xavi calling him modest and a natural leader. “I’m proud to be here and to be able to congratulate him in person”, the Spain boss gushed.
Del Bosque hailed his former charge as a role model. “Xavi set an example as a leader on the pitch for many years, but I’d also like to emphasise that he’s been a leader through the way he’s conducted himself off it, which we should be very proud of,” he noted.
The coach went on to talk about how the 35-year-old is missed within the ‘La Roja’ camp: “When we head out to train, I always say to Busquets that if Xavi were there, he’d be out there with a ball from the word go. We think about him frequently. He would always grab a ball and start spraying it around with his teammates right away. Xavi has always stood out for his ability on the ball, for picking the right passes, and he’d always be out there passing it around with some team-mates right from the beginning of each training session. Hopefully we’ll keep remembering him for many more years to come,” signed off del Bosque.