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Xavi Hernández: The midfield legend, brilliant coach, and great man!

All my family are football fanatics. We have been so privileged because we have dedicated ourselves to what we love the most—football

Johan Cruyff the late Barcelona forward and coach once said about Xavi: “If he has a bad day, then Barcelona do not play half as well.” Others like Real Madrid legend Jorge Valdano went even further, once musing that if football were a science, then Barcelona’s number 6 would have discovered the formula!

Yes, we are talking about Spain’s midfield legend, ex-FC Barcelona player, and now the new FC Barcelona coach, Xavi Hernández! The greatest footballer to wear the number 6 jersey has granted The Middle Eastern an in-depth interview before returning to FC Barcelona as its new coach. In other words, we conducted this interview during his last few hours in Qatar, where he spoke about how the support of his family made him one of the most successful players in the history of football. He also revealed more secrets about his all-time idols and the players he most enjoyed playing alongside.

We were lucky enough to get inside the mind of one of the greatest central midfielders to have ever laced up a pair of boots. He also spoke to us about his football experience in Qatar, both as a player and a coach, and his life in Doha in general.

  • We know that you come from a home that is passionate about football, so do you think it’s fair to say that your family was an essential part of your professional success?

Yes, you are right. All my family are football fanatics. We have been so privileged because we have dedicated ourselves to what we love the most—football. Football has been my passion since I was a child. I remember that I was chasing the ball a lot at 3 or 4 years old. All my family were football fans: my brothers, father, and even my mother.

  • Xavi, can you tell us about your first memory of football?

For as long as I can remember, my first memory was at home with my brothers. As I told you, I come from a family that loves football. Though my mother was a fan, she complained about us playing football in our tiny apartment—it wasn’t uncommon for us to break a vase or plate while playing in our room. I can remember that I used to kick the ball against the wall alone when my brothers weren't with me!

We will not value Messi enough until he retires. He is the greatest player in history
  • Back when you were a kid, what player did you enjoy watching or look up to as an idol?

First, there was Bernd Schuster. I think he was a tremendous player in Barça's midfield. Then, there was Pep Guardiola. When I was 13 or 14 years old, Guardiola was already playing for Barça. After joining Barça as a player, the head coaches advised me to look up to Pep, as I played in his position. I tried to follow in his footsteps as a player. When he became Barcelona’s coach, I learned a lot from him. His coaching instructions helped me and opened my eyes to some football tactics related to possession and pressure. Guardiola has always been a role model of mine.

  • We know that you have two kids: 5-year-old Asia and 2-year-old Dan, whom do you think resembles you the most?

I think Dan looks a lot like me, though he turned out blond like my mother! On the whole, Dan is pretty much the same as I am. He's lively, restless, and likes football and cars. On the other hand, Asia is calmer, more relaxed. She likes to play alone, and I see her character and personality as more like her mother, Nuria.

  • In 2015, you arrived here in Qatar. What was your first impression of this Middle Eastern country?

Before I settled in Qatar, I paid a visit to the country in March 2015 to check out the team's facilities, Aspire Academy, and to become more familiar with Doha in general. Since most of the Qatar national football team’s players are from the Al-Sadd club, I wanted to ensure they prepare well for the FIFA World Cup 2022. Qatar’s national team had a very good coach, Félix Sánchez, who is also a good friend of mine. My first impression of Qatar was that it’s a quiet and peaceful country. People here are very friendly and welcoming. Nuria and I felt like we were at home here in Qatar.

  • You have witnessed two epic moments: In 1999 when Spain won the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Nigeria, and in 2020 when the Spanish men’s national team won its first World Cup title in South Africa. Which moment was the most impressive and significant for you?

At both these moments, I felt like I had reached the peak of my profession. Every time Spain participates in a World Cup football tournament, whether it is FIFA U-17, U-20, or the Men’s World Cup, the main goal is to get past the quarter-finals. In 2020, we said to ourselves, why not compete with Germany, Brazil, or Argentina? We knew we could as we had already done this before in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Nigeria and at UEFA Euro 2008 against the best teams in Europe: why not win the World Cup title? We did it in 2020 because of this mentality. It’s a memorable moment I won’t forget.

During the last six years, the Qatari footballers have grown a lot with the Aspire Academy
  • Can you name the players you enjoyed playing alongside the most?

Well, there is Ronaldinho. He had that beaming smile when he played football. It was wonderful to see him on the pitch. In fact, he was one of the players who changed the dynamics of the club a little bit. He helped us a lot, and used to radiate positivity with his smile and attitude. Before him, there was Ronaldo—the phenomenon. I was not yet a first-team player as I was in the youth team, but sometimes I saw him training and playing. That was something to see. For sure, there’s Messi. I think Messi has overtaken Maradona as the greatest player in history. For me, he is the best in every game he plays, and it has been like that for the last 15 or 16 years. I believe that we will not value him enough until he retires. I would also like to mention some great players I enjoyed playing alongside, such as Samuel Eto'o, Luis Suárez, Andrés Iniesta, and Puyol.

  • It has been almost six years since your arrival in Qatar, is playing football in Qatar’s All-Star league different from the La Liga in Spain, and how?

I can say a lot has happened in Qatar during these six years. The Qatari footballers have grown a lot with the Aspire Academy. The players are now more organized and have become better physically. Tactically, the coaches in the All-Star league have learned a lot during the last six years. Now we have a very good league, and there is quality in the matches that are played these days. We have five foreigners in each team, so that improves the level of competition. However, there is still a significant gap between the local league and that of Europe, mostly related to the level of intensity and rhythm. In Europe, there isn’t even time to think; players have to react really fast. On the other hand, in the local league, there is less intensity, and the pace is somehow slower than that of Europe. But, in terms of tactical and physical talent, I think the local and European leagues are very similar already.

  • Qatar will host the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East and Arab world in 2022; do you think the country is ready for that?

Sure, I predict a historic World Cup. I think Qatar has all that it takes to host the biggest football event in the world. It is a very rich country, capable, and very hospitable. They have prepared ahead of time. They had ten or eleven years to prepare for this World Cup, so when you see the stadiums and their organization of many world-class competitions, you will know how prepared they are. One more thing, the FIFA World Cup 2022 will be in November and December, which means the weather will be ideal for the players. Also, a small country will be an advantage for the players who won’t have to travel on long flights and will always stay in the same hotel, and people are going to watch three games in one day, which is another advantage.

  • What do you like about life in Qatar?

Qatar is such a family-friendly country. The services are excellent. There is exclusivity in everything, whether it is in the hotels, restaurants, etc. For my two children who were born in Qatar, this country is heaven. Nearly all my family and friends who come to visit us in Qatar fall in love with it.

  • What are the places you like the most here in Qatar?

I like Villaggio mall; we almost live there! This shopping mall has the Gondolania Theme Park as well—a mini-Venice featuring canals, gondolas, and an artificial daytime sky ceiling. Also, we always enjoy going to Banana Island, a 20-minute luxury ferry ride from Doha. It looks like you are in the Maldives. It is an excellent resort.

Nearly all my family and friends who come to visit us in Qatar fall in love with it


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