Xavi’s journey in Qatar: from a sea of ​​doubts to a triumphant walk

In mid-2019, after a thousand official matches and 20 seasons as a professional footballer, Xavi Hernandez hung up his boots. For many, the best Spanish footballer of all time decided to put an end to his career as a player and, with almost no time to assimilate it, he went to the other side of the line. One day he was a footballer, and the next he became a coach. Xavi changed function, but not club. The Catalan began his career on the bench defending the Al Sadd shield, the same one that he wore during his last afternoons as a footballer and with which he won four titles: a Qatar Stars League, a Qatar Cup, an Emir Cup and a Super Cup. “Winning the league, the only title I was missing, was a perfect end to my playing career in Qatar. Since I arrived, we had won everything except the league, so I am very happy for Al Sadd, an admirable team that has worked very hard to deservedly win this title, “said Xavi at his farewell, who revealed that he felt identified” with the style that we developed for many years under the influence of Johan Cruyff and La Masía, and that has its greatest exponent in the form of play football for Barcelona “. “I love seeing teams take the lead on the field, attacking football and getting back to the essence of what we have all loved since our childhood days: possession football,” he added.

Xavi Hernández, who replaced Portuguese Jesualdo Ferreira on Al Sadd’s bench, made his debut as coach in a demanding round of 16 tie in the AFC Champions League against Al Duhail, the other great club of the moment in Qatar. He surpassed it with solvency (4-2 overall) and four days later he beat the same rival to win the Super Cup. Xavi had been on the bench for 10 days and had already won a title, but not everything was going to be rosy. Al Sadd was eliminated in the semifinals of the Asian Champions League at the hands of Al Hilal. The team led by Xavi Hernández lost 1-4 in the first leg, but won 2-4 in the second leg and was just one goal away from reaching the final of the continental tournament. After the meeting, the Catalan coach was “proud” of his players, although “disappointed” not to emerge triumphant in a match that “will enter the history books of Asia.” The feelings were positive, but that elimination was the beginning of a period of uncertainty: Al Sadd suffered heavy losses in the league (4-1 against Al Duhail or 0-3 against Qatar SC), which, added to his disappointing role in The Club World Cup, led to the first doubts about Xavi as a great coach project.

“The most precious thing in football is having the ball. I suffer when I don’t have it. It happened to me when I was a footballer and now, on the bench, even more so”


Xavi Hernández, in ‘The Coaches’ Voice’

The doubts about Xavi, however, were the flower of a day. Al Sadd finished third in the league, but showed his power by winning a Qatar Cup in which he thrashed Al Rayyan and Al Duhail. It was then that Covid-19 hit the hardest. The world went into a pandemic and it took four months to see Xavi Hernández sitting on a bench again. Those of Doha went to the stoppage after falling 1-0 against Al Rayyan and returned being a practically perfect machine in which Santi Cazorla serves as captain general. “It is the connection that they lacked between defense and attack. He has scored goals and assists and, in addition, he has pulled the car in the most difficult moments”, analyzed in AS Marc Muniesa, Al Arabi center-back. “He’s a marvel of a gamer. Every game he plays is a ‘master class’ for Qatari footballers. It is important to me that he arrived with that competitive spirit. He always wants to win, “added Félix Sánchez, Qatar coach. Santi’s signing did not help Al Sadd to take a step forward in the Asian Champions League -in 2020 they fell in the second round against Persepolis, ultimately a finalist, and in 2021 they did not pass the group stage – but they did to dominate Qatar’s football with an iron fist. Since the arrival of the Asturian midfielder, Al Sadd does not know what a league game is and has won five trophies: an Ooredoo Cup, two Emir Cups, a Qatar Cup and a Qatar Stars League in which he exhibited an overwhelming superiority: he did not lose a single match, which led to Xavi and Cazorla being voted best coach and best player of the championship.

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With Cazorla in his deck, Xavi ended up building a style in which the main idea is to dominate through the ball. “The most precious thing about football is having the ball. I suffer when I don’t have it. It happened to me when I was a footballer and now, on the bench, even more so. I do my best to dominate the game through possession, regardless of the system . I am obsessed with the possession of the ball, but not to have it to have it, but to attack and make chances and damage to the contrary“, discovered the Catalan coach in ‘The Coaches’ Voice’. Xavi Hernández has tried numerous systems in Al Sadd, but none has given him as much performance with the 3-4-3 that he currently uses and for which he needs centrals with an exit very clean ball, double pivot, wide open ends and intensity to recover as close as possible to the opposing goal. “He has hit the key and that is the system with which they feel most comfortable. They take a lot of risks, but it clearly pays off. Pedro and Hassan, who are wingers, are playing as centrals, although they do not lose their offensive projection. The teams withdraw so much that even the centrals can join the attack. Nobody has been able to counteract his proposal, “he analyzed in AS Félix Sánchez, which included 11 Al Sadd players in the last call-up of the Qatar national team.” They create superiority in the middle to play later on the outside. It is what Xavi has sucked both in the national team and in Barça, “added Marc Muniesa, who coincided with him at Barça and now suffers in Qatar:” We are neighbors and, when we have to face each other, he tells me: ‘Another Did you see Al Arabi? Don’t you get tired of losing? ‘

Xavi Hernández’s coaching staff in Qatar
Al sadd

The third season of the marriage between Xavi Hernández and Al Sadd could not be off to a better start. The Doha club won the Emir Cup, Qatar’s most prestigious trophy, and has accumulated 34 consecutive games without losing in the league. In the 91 games in which he has sat on Al Sadd’s bench, Xavi, who He has won seven titles and does not know what it is to lose a final, has garnered 63 victories, 12 draws and 16 defeats with a balance of 253 goals in favor and 112 against. Some numbers that could stop changing soon, since the Catalan is the great favorite to replace Koeman on the Barça bench. “My ideal is to coach Barcelona. I have never hidden it, it is my goal and my dream. I don’t know if it will happen or not, if they will need me or not, but for the moment I am happy to be in Al-Sadd and very proud of it. . If an offer arrives, it will be evaluated and then we will try to decide, but for the moment I am very happy here “, Xavi acknowledged in ’20 minutes’. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but if Xavi can’t be Barça’s coach, nobody can be. He’s made for that position,” said Tintín Márquez, current Al Wakrah coach. The world champion with the Spanish team would arrive at the Camp Nou with the ‘staff’ that accompanies him in Qatar, which is made up of the assistants Sergio Alegre and Óscar Hernández, the goalkeeping coach Xavi Ferrando, the physical trainer Iván Torres, the retrainer Mario Jiménez, the physiotherapist Carlos Nogueira and the analysts David Prats, Sergio García and Toni Lobo.

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