A product of the feted La Masia youth system, Xavi Hernández went on to embody the footballing ideals of Spain and Barcelona for almost two decades, prompting Pep Guardiola to call him “the best Catalan player in history” and Andres Iniesta to “run out of eulogies” in trying to describe his former teammate.
“I’m not just in Qatar to play football,” Xavi tells CNN, having called time on his Barcelona career in 2015 to begin a new chapter at Al-Sadd SC. “I want to be a coach.”
Since moving to the tiny Gulf state, Xavi has combined playing duties at Qatar’s most successful club with an ambassadorial role within the 2022 World Cup committee, while steadily accumulating his coaching badges
He intends to play for one more season, before hanging up his boots when the Qatar Stars League culminates next spring.
“My objective is to work and help Qatar in the 2022 FIFA World Cup,” the Spaniard enthuses, telling CNN he would seriously consider managing the host nation during the tournament.
“I want to go far. Of course, it’s an option. It’s an option which I would like.
“It’s an objective to help them have a good World Cup in 2022, and then in my mind I have it to come back to Barcelona.
“One of my dreams in the future is to coach FC Barcelona.”
A 12-year deadline
Dubbed the “puppet master” during his seventeen years at the heart of Barcelona’s senior side, it’s not difficult to envisage Xavi in the dugout.
It’s as if his career has been defined by his passing, from the first Barcelona youth game as a scrawny eleven-year-old to the final act in the shirt — lifting the 2015 Champions League trophy as captain.
It’s said his parents even met over a game of table football. No wonder Xavi, whom his father Joaquim now proudly calls “a professor” of the game, feels he has something to offer in Qatar.
“I’m here to help them become more competitive and to do the best we can,” he says. “I think Qatar has very good footballers and could have a good World Cup.”
When the oil-rich nation’s controversial bid in 2010 won the right to host arguably the world’s biggest sports tournament, it wasn’t financial resources that worried Qatari officials, but the country’s lack of playing talent.
With the team currently languishing bottom of its Asian qualifying group ahead of Russia 2018, the 2022 World Cup will likely be Qatar’s first major tournament.
To that end, Xavi has been working with the nation’s young players at the “Aspire Academy,” a renowned sports institute bankrolled by the royal family.
“They love football!” Xavi exclaims. “They love football a lot, a lot, a lot. Football’s just one of their passions. They love sport in general. Qatar is investing a lot in sport.”
He acclaims the “individual” quality of Qatar’s players, refusing to criticize their physical attributes. The problem, Spain’s most capped outfield player contends, is “strategic.”
But he points to an influx of coaches to the Stars League — from ex-Porto boss Jesualdo Ferreira to Danish great Michael Laudrup — who are beginning turn the tide.
“The collective aspect is lacking,” Xavi admits, but “they are teaching the youngsters about playing as a team.”
“It’s very, very exciting for me as a coach and as a trainer.”
‘An extraordinary World Cup’
With a young daughter named Asia born in Qatar, Xavi speaks of his new home with unfeigned affection, repeatedly talking of “our vision.”
“We have talent here in Qatar,” he says. “And they want — the Emir, the most important people in the country — they want a good World Cup. A competitive Qatar national football team”
He was lauded as a player that makes the game look simple, but even Xavi must privately acknowledge that success with Qatar — ranked 89th in the FIFA world rankings — will be no easy task.
What he publicly acknowledges is that the 2022 World Cup will be an “extraordinary” tournament.
“Why? Because the country is relatively small,” says Xavi. “The players won’t have to travel far. The fan will be able to see many games in a day.”
The schedule change from June to December will also help, the 37-year-old Spaniard insists, praising the newly-renovated Khalifa International Stadium.
“They’re preparing very well,” he concludes. “They are mentally focused on making an extraordinary World Cup.
“For sure, I will be here to help them.”