End of an Era at Al Sadd as Barcelona’s Golden Boy Leaves Qatar
Late on Friday, November 5th, Barcelona announced that Xavi -considered one of the club's greatest midfielders ever - was coming home to take the helm as the first-team coach. The revelation ended weeks of speculation and was a dream come true for the thousands of Barca fans. Though sad to leave Qatar, his home of six years, Xavi has never made any bones about his eventual desire to become head coach of his boyhood club. Al Sadd FC, while reluctant to let their star manager leave, was also keen to help him achieve his dreams and, alongside many fans in Qatar, will be wishing him the best in his new role.
From Qatar to Spain
While Xavi turned down the role of head coach at Barcelona twice in 2020, preferring to expand his experience as a coach in Qatar until 'the time was right', there was never any real doubt that he would eventually take the job. Then, on Wednesday, October 27th, when Ronald Koeman was sacked from his coaching position, after Barca's abysmal run of form, culminating in a humiliating loss to Rayo Vallecano - only recently promoted to first division football - the rumour mill began again in earnest. Fuel was added to the fire after Barcelona officials Rafa Yuste and Mateu Alemany travelled to Doha on Tuesday, November 2nd. Finally, following negotiations between Barca officials and Al Sadd, Barcelona released a statement on the 5th confirming the move.
In a statement headlined, "WELCOME BACK HOME, XAVI!" the European super club stated, "FC Barcelona have reached an agreement with Xavi Hernandez for him to become the first-team coach for the rest of the current season and two more seasons."
Al Sadd CEO Turki Al-Ali was reported to understand his team's manager's desire to return to Barcelona, especially during 'the critical stage his hometown club is going through' and was keen not to stand in his way. After the release clause in Xavi's contract was met, Al-Ali also wished Xavi and Barca well and suggested that relations between both club and manager would continue fruitfully.
For his part, Xavi, following a tearful farewell with Al Sadd players and club staff, addressed his Barca fans, saying, "It wasn't goodbye, it was 'see you soon'. You're my fans, my people, the club that I love the most. And now, I'm coming home. See you soon, Culers. Forca Barca!"
Xavi will begin his new role on November 8th, starting with an official unveiling ceremony and a press conference - then the hard work will begin. While the homecoming to Camp Nou will undoubtedly be exciting for all concerned, and Xavi can expect a truly warm welcome, Barcelona has taken a fair few hits recently, which will make the transition a bumpy one.
Barca is in dire financial straits brought about by mismanagement and compounded by the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. The financial issues are such that the club couldn't even afford to keep star player Messi on the books this year, losing him to Paris Saint-Germain. As such, Xavi will be constrained when signing new players; he certainly won't be able to afford the cream of the crop. In addition, many believe the current team has also suffered mismanagement in the form of underwhelming signings, not befitting the prestige of Barca, that have contributed to the clubs' woes. On the field, the squad's sporadic form of late and unconvincing performances in La Liga, seeing the team languishing in 9th place, have not managed to quell those misgivings.
Xavi's job now is several fold. He will need to inject some much-needed positivity into the club, get the team back into shape after recent losses, and create a cohesive team that challenges for trophies...all with the players currently at his disposal. He will also need to win over fans with some quick successes - he needs, at least, to push the team back up La Liga standings to fourth place to qualify for next season's Champions League.
Barcelona fans and the football community at large will all be watching with interest to see how the club's golden boy performs. If he can amass half the trophies as a manager as he did as a player, this surely would go down as the appointment of the century and lift Barcelona back to the footballing powerhouse it has always been.
Barca legend Xavi, regarded as the best player of his generation, began his illustrious career for his home team in 1998. He stayed at Camp Nou for seventeen years, whilst playing for his national team Spain, before leaving to play for Qatar's Al Sadd Football Club and eventually making his mark as the team's football manager.
At Barcelona, he played in 767 matches, an enduring club record, was the first player in the club's history to play a combined total of 150 European and FIFA Club World Cup games, and scored a total of 85 goals. He also was part of the squads that won eight La Liga titles and four UEFA Champions League titles.
During his years at Camp Nou, Xavi made his senior team debut for Spain in 2000. With his national team, he won the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the UEFA EURO (2008 and 2012). He made 133 appearances for his country and played an integral role in the team's successes.
After the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Xavi announced his retirement from international football, and in 2015, he departed Barcelona for Qatar's Al Sadd. During his time at Al Sadd, he won four trophies - the Qatar Stars League (2018-19), the Emir Cup, the Qatar Cup and the Qatar Super Cup (all in 2017) before retiring in 2019.
During his time as a player, he was known for his impeccable precision passing and goal creating skills and an ability to virtually never relinquish possession. In addition to his playing ability, Xavi was also known for his leadership skills, which he put to good use as squad captain at both Barcelona and Al Sadd, and as vice-captain for Spain at the 2010 World Cup. After retirement, he naturally transitioned to coaching and was appointed as manager at Al-Sadd in 2019.
As a manager at Al Sadd, Xavi has used his experience at Barcelona and Spain to mould the team around the system for which Barça are famed - possession-based dominance. It is a tactic that worked for the team. The Al Sadd side is one of the best-attacking forces in the Middle East. Under Xavi's watchful eye, the team won a full house in domestic competition titles - the Qatar Cup in 2020 and 2021, the Qatar Super Cup in 2019, the Qatar Stars Cup in 2020, the Qatar Stars League in 2020/21 and at the Emir Cup in 2020 and 2021.
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