“Pep Guardiola is the best coach in the world and I am a novice,” says Xavi. “The comparison happened as a player but now we can’t be compared.”
Xavi was one of the best players of his generation but he accepts coaching is a discipline he is a long way from mastering.
Five months after his stellar playing career ended the former Spain star is taking his first steps in management with Al Sadd in Qatar.
It is where he spent his final four years as a player and where he has set up home.
The lure of Barcelona remains strong, he still describes himself as a “cule” – a nickname reserved for Barca’s ordinary fans – and remains determined to return as manager one day.
But, having worked with the best, the World Cup winner and double European champion is ready for the next chapter.
“Guardiola is a reference for me,” he tells the PA news agency. “As a player he already was, because we played in the same position, we spent three years together in Barcelona as players and then four magnificent years with him as coach.
“He is a brilliant, demanding, passionate, obsessive person, that’s why he’s doing so well. It transmits a lot to the footballer. I learned a lot and enjoyed my time at his side.”
Those lessons are something he hopes to take with him on a new journey in Doha.
“Obviously Al Sadd is not in Europe but it is a winning team,” Barca’s record appearance holder said.
“I have no experience as a coach and we are obligated to win since Al Sadd is historically a winning team and also one of the best in the country – or the best.
“We are obligated to achieve great challenges, even here. The league has improved a lot in recent years. Obviously, there is still a step from what football is like in Europe but they are competing.
“It’s a good experience for me to start in a club like Al Sadd, even if it is in a small country but speaking in terms of football it’s growing and I am learning.
“It is an extraordinary country for me, in life it is a very important project.”
He may be a rookie but success has been instant with a Qatari Super Cup victory over Al-Duhail and three wins, scoring 13 goals, from the opening three games.
The defending champions travel to Al Sailiya on Tuesday joint top of the Qatar Stars League.
Xavi helped them to their first title since 2013 in his final year as a player and is revelling in the transition to manager.
“In the end it’s football, it’s true that it’s more work because you have to control a whole technical and medical staff, as well as the players,” says the 39-year-old.
“You feel even more responsible for them, but I like it, I enjoy it, it is my passion, to help players improve as individuals and as a team – which is the most important thing.”
And managing in England one day?
“I don’t hide it, my goal is to return to Europe and return to Barca, it is my challenge ahead, but I’m still learning in this project and I’m also enjoying it,” reiterated Xavi, who won 133 Spain caps.
“My idea, which also happened to me as a footballer, is to be in Barcelona.
“That is my goal, but obviously, who doesn’t like the Premier League? The football atmosphere, the packed stadiums and the people who play in the Premier League say it’s extraordinary.
“Obviously if I had to choose, I would choose a big team, City or United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Tottenham.
“Training this type of team would be a privilege and the greatest privilege for me would be to return to Barca.”
Talk unsurprisingly returns to his former team-mate and manager Guardiola, who he won three of his eight LaLiga titles and two of his four Champions League crowns under.
The Champions League has eluded Guardiola since he left the Nou Camp in 2012.
Three semi-final defeats with Bayern Munich are the closest he has come in that time, while he is yet to guide Manchester City past the quarter-finals.
Xavi was Guardiola’s captain for Barcelona’s 3-1 final win over Manchester United in 2011, the last time the City boss lifted the trophy, and believes it is Guardiola’s ultimate title.
“He has been chasing it since he left Barcelona,” he said.
“He couldn’t get it with Bayern after three semi-finals. This year he had very bad luck against Tottenham due to VAR.
“They are after the Champions League. They had very bad luck. In the end you can win or lose the Champions League due to very small details. He has not been lucky, but I think his goal is to win everything.
“He is doing an extraordinary job, he had bad luck because Liverpool were spectacular and won the Champions League.”
Xavi’s career in Qatar continues to raise the profile of the Middle Eastern state ahead of its World Cup hosting in 2022.
The country is not without controversy, from being awarded the competition in 2010 to last week’s report by Amnesty International which said hundreds of migrant workers in Qatar are going unpaid.
But Xavi expects his adopted home to prove it can host the World Cup and challenge perceptions.
He added: “I think Qatar is betting heavily on sport in general, not just football. There is a lot of prejudice towards the country. People do not know what Qatar is.
“I invite you to come, see, live here, and understand what this culture is. It is a very generous culture, they are calm and very family-oriented. I have been here for over four years I am delighted to live in this country.
“People are happy, it is an easy country, very simple, and people will see this.
“Obviously I think it will be a successful World Cup, but I think Qatar needs that positive image to open up to everyone, especially when people come here they will see what this country is and they will be surprised.”
- Xavi is an official ambassador for the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, the organisation responsible for delivering tournament infrastructure for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
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