QUESTION. How are you in Qatar?
ANSWER. Phenomenal. All perfect. I was surprised for the better! The technical and competitive level is remarkably high and the professionalism is good. However the tactical side needs to improve. The organizational level is more Caribbean, calmer. But in general everything is extraordinary.
Q. What is your reaction to your team mates who will treat you with reverence?
A. It is normal at first. I’ve felt a lot of respect, including the coach, he always takes me specially. But I like to be a normal player. It’s not important for me to have privileges. And then in the field, they are hard. Sometimes they don’t know to stop at time. They are competitive, but need to improve the concentration.
Q. How does your team, Al-Sadd, play?
We are offensive. I’m enjoying. We work with ball conservation and game possession. We train with meaning.
Q. Your other task is to work with Aspire. Are you preparing to be a coach, right?
A. The facilities are spectacular. Ivan Bravo and Roberto Olabe [Aspire Spanish officials] are very educated people. It’s all very well organized and from there I tried to soak in the next generations of Qatari footballers: the under 17, under 19 teams are living pure football.
Q. Did you remove a weight off for responsibility in the dressing room? Now you have more time to your passion. How many games do you see per day?
A. I watch many matches, though in a different way. Now I am watching the U17 Oman-Kuwait Football. I see a lot of these Gulf countries. I am learning. And then, with 16 channels on Bein Sports, I can watch all of the leagues, but that I have always done. What surprises me is that there are many Qatar football fans but they do not go to the stadium. Yes, on Monday they know everything, and more than Madrid and Barca. All. And it is widely held, 50 percent for FCB and 50 for RMD.
Q. Do you usually meet the players, to the left back of Liverpool, for example?
A. In Europe I know the vast majority. the younger players, less. But in my team and I know the names (U17, U19…) The first day I thought, “How am I going to do if they are called all the same name? [laughs]: Ali, Yasser … But yes, now I meet everyone here”
Q. If you become a coach, will you use the same style that you play in FCB?
A. I have clear my philosophy, become dominant, not speculate, press high and close the passing lanes… Obviously, Qatar is different than in Barcelona. In La Masía you search players for a 4-3-3 or for a 3-3-4. In Qatar you have to use what’s there. If there are two good forwards, you have to distribute them in the eleven. Spain national team has done that too. Iniesta is often located on the wings and Silva is not a forward, but they played in these positions because they are top class.
Q. Let’s talk about your features. How did you acquire expertise in the pass?
A. In Barcelona since I was 11. Earlier in Terrassa, while I playing for fun. I also have something innate. In my daily life, I’m always looking back, like in the field when receiving the ball. I always look to see what happens, to control. Asensi, in La Masia, said that before receiving I should look my back for avoid problems if I failed when try to control the ball. They taught me that. Even with Van Gaal and Mourinho as assistant, we did control and pass.
Q. Do you still think that ‘the rondo’ is the best way to practice the pass? Did you will apply when you will be a coach?
A.The rondo is not a whim: Left leg, right leg, look, open spaces, leaving the pressure to think that when someone pressing on you, you have to play with which one the opponent has left … The rondo is bestial. Here I talked with my current coach and told him that we have to practice that everyday.
Q. Does it bother you when you fail a pass?
A. I lose a match but failing a pass is what angers me more. I go home angry if I fail passes. In the practice match, I want to win, but while playing well. I don’t want to win in any way. And yes, someday I’ll fail many passes and it will be difficult to accept for me.
Q. Are you prepared to accept the frustration that, as a coach, achieving the win will not always depend on you?
A. Being a coach is difficult. You have to think for your 25 players, as a psychologist and as a motivator. That’s the reason because I’m preparing in Qatar. As a footballer, you came to the training with the vanity and come on, play! As a coach, you have to plan a lot. But still, it seduces me. I know they are going to demand a lot so I must prepare for it. Also to see my place and know where I can help and where not. Maybe I will serve more as sports director, I do not know yet. I look me on the pitch now.
Q. Would you have liked to have a better long pass, for example?
A. People think I just use short pass, but I also use long pass a lot. Yes I would have liked to be faster. What makes Andrés (Iniesta) to leave my rival with a change of pace. Then I had to think more, understand the game.
Q. Who has helped you not lose your head towards success?
A. My father is the most important person in my career. I have been educated to live football professionally since I was 13: eat well, rest and eat three hours before playing. I was lucky with my family and my friends from school. It is the best grounding. My home values are the ones I kept, and also were the same as in La Masia.
Q. Do you think that La Masía is in crisis?
A. Never. Another thing is that La Masia generations cannot always go as we have lived these years. That was exceptional. Barca is a club trainer, but also a winner. And it’s hard to see the limit. In a year that they do not win anything, you have to sign a player from outside. And if this year they won everything, maybe it’s time for Munir, Sandro or Samper. Barca must always nurture from La Masia.
Q. It comes from the treble. How should the club fight against overconfidence?
A. That is a problem and has happened to us other times. This year may be difficult since January. If they win – as expected – the Club World Cup in January, they must be careful with the details. They lost the Supercup (vs Athletic) and maybe that will help them to avoid the overconfidence.
Q. What do you remember from the ‘miracle of Anoeta’ last year?
A. Luis Enrique had a lot of humility. I was surprised by his reaction. He’s a very visceral man and performed very well. He communicated with everyone, including Messi. There I learned that the coach should be secondary; who is angry and has problems is the player. And Luis interpreted well. He spoke with the player. Communication is fundamental.
Q. Was Luis Enrique the one who persuaded you to stay and live the treble?
A. He was frank. He said he needed me in the dressing room, but I already had a long age and was going to play what I deserved. I came before holiday and he convinced me. I felt I should stay. But beware (!), I had already made my decision to leave. And look what happened then: a dream farewell with the treble.
Q. Will it be possible to repeat the success of Barca this season?
A. In the club there is a spectacular human group. Starting from Andrés, who is wonderful as a man, to Leo, and passing for Piqué or Mascherano. My weakness is Busquets, he is exemplary for all: have leadership, speaks well, in the field he never puts a foot wrong … There are players in there that I would put in the best eleven of history, indeed. And they are there together. With Neymar and Luis Suarez; the team is still outstanding.
It seems that Xavi is enjoying his time and beginning in Qatar after a fruitful Barcelona career that made him the revered player he is today. He talks like a coach, with knowledge of all the aspects needed to excel in that field and working with Spanish coaches at ASPIRE will certainly help him pave his pathway.
Now he ultimately had choices from Qatar and the United States (and possibly various other nations) but to choose Qatar is a smarter option for him. Qatar is very much a developing country in footballing terms but there are many good players who shape up the league in the Gulf nation.
The reason for choosing Qatar is a win-win situation for both Qatar and Xavi, as the former will reap the rewards and the latter will most certainly become a helping hand for players. Look at Fabio Cannavaro and how Al-Ahli have become one of the most successful teams in the U.A.E if not the region itself. Cannavaro passed many things on to his teammates, many of whom became first team and national team players over the last couple of years.
Qatar will also – controversially – host the 2022 World Cup and Xavi will look to enhance the image of the tournament by helping out with ambassadorial duties concerning the tournament. After – predictably – grabbing an assist on his debut for Al-Sadd, he will bring more attention to one of the big Asian clubs.
What is interesting about him is how he guides the coach to implementing new tactical ideas onto the pitch. This will no doubt help Al-Sadd improve a region mired by generic tactical ideas (you get tactically intelligent teams in Al-Hilal under Donis, Al-Ahli under Cosmin Olaroiu and Lekhwiya under Laudrup but not much else) that lead to scrappy games often.
The idea of implementing the rondo may help enforce a change into Middle Eastern Football and for the better…