Barcelona legend Xavi Hernández appears set to join Qatar’s Al Sadd at the end of the La Liga season, according to Al Sadd first-team manager Abdullah Al-Berik. Although no deal has been formalized and Xavi’s agent, Ivan Corretja, has declined to confirm the signing, reports suggest that Xavi is poised to sign a three-year deal worth $11 million per year.
The reported deal comes as a surprise to many who believed earlier reports that Xavi would join Major League Soccer’s New York City FC after calling time on his Barcelona career. NYCFC coach Jason Kreis’s comical comments on Xavi possibly not being the right fit for NYCFC, after the Qatar news broke, did little to dispel the idea that Xavi to New York would have happened if Xavi wanted it to happen.
Despite Kreis’s comments, many things about a move to NYCFC did make perfect sense. Xavi is the king of the type of possession game the former Real Salt Lake coach adores. Xavi has plenty of experience playing and winning major trophies with NYCFC designated player David Villa from their time together at Barcelona and with the Spanish National Team. Xavi is brilliant in tight spaces, and NYCFC’s home field, Yankee Stadium, is the size of tennis court. Plus, he’s Xavi. MLS and every MLS team needs Xavi. Most teams everywhere need Xavi, even 35-year-old Xavi. Hell, probably even 38-year-old Xavi.
But assuming Qatar’s draw isn’t purely financial, why would Xavi decide to play in Doha instead of New York City?
Here’s my guess: Barring catastrophe, Xavi will be coaching Qatar at the 2022 World Cup.
The minute the news broke about Xavi’s move to Al Sadd, I started doing the math: Three years at Al Sadd in Qatar. Meanwhile, Xavi can work on his coaching badges at the Doha-based Aspire Academy, which various outlets have reported he’s planning on pursuing. That takes us to the summer of 2018, when the World Cup will presumably be kicking off in Russia. Does Xavi go back home to become La Masia’s official mascot, drilling children in his spare time on pressing high up the field and the importance of triangles? Or is there a bigger Qatar-based project in the pipeline, one that could fast-track his dreams and aspirations?
If this deal goes as planned, Xavi will be in Qatar in 2018, four years away from the 2022 Qatar winter World Cup, ready to put his coaching badges to work. Meanwhile, within its borders, Qatar will be in possession of one of the greatest midfielders ever to play the game, who will have had three years to become culturally acclimated to Qatari culture and the Qatari game. Both Xavi and Qatar will be able to check a whole lot of dream scenario boxes — long-term project boxes MLS could never provide. Xavi could transition into a high profile name off the field almost instantly. Qatar’s national team, on press alone, would become a perpetual talking point globally. Everyone’s profile wins, if things go according to plan.
When you take all of these factors into account, it’s pretty easy to imagine how an iconic player coming to the end of a sparkling career might be thinking beyond a final payday and to what his career will look like when he finally hangs up his boots. It’s easy to imagine the allure of being a World Cup manager of a host country, at 42 years old, with all of the resources that money can buy at your disposal. It starts to become a little easier to imagine how Doha could look a little bit better than New York City.
Now, of course this is all speculation. For all I know, Xavi has been spending his time in Qatar over the international break, laying the groundwork to open a string of Nando’s chicken shops in new Qatari malls. But Xavi, leader of Qatar in 2022, sure makes a hell of a lot of sense to me. At least, on paper.