Tehran (AFP) – Xavi Hernandez’s dazzling career came to a low-key end when his Qatari side Al Sadd were beaten 2-0 by Iranian giants Persepolis in their last group match of the AFC Champions League on Monday.
The 39-year-old midfield genius, who helped Spain win the World Cup in 2010 and won four UEFA Champions League titles and eight La Liga titles with Barcelona, was cheered by fans at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran where already-eliminated Persepolis produced an improved display to register only their second win in six matches.
Just 11,000 spectators were present in the 100,000-capacity stadium, mostly wearing the red of Persepolis, who won the Iranian league title days before this match.
Several home fans brandished banners reading “Adios Xavi” to show their appreciation of the player who with Andres Iniesta formed the backbone of one of Barcelona’s greatest ever sides.
Xavi was also honoured by the Persepolis management who presented him with a jersey featuring the number six he has worn in his career.
But Al Sadd’s second defeat in a row, following their 4-1 thrashing by domestic rivals Al Duhail in last week’s Amir Cup final in Doha, meant Xavi’s illustrious career ended in a low-key fashion.
– Low-key send-off –
Xavi, who became the first player in history to play 150 UEFA Champions League matches, has indicated that he will stay in Qatar to begin a coaching career, probably remaining in a highly-paid role with Al Sadd, rather than return to Spain.
“The idea is to start as a coach in Qatar, where there is less pressure, to test myself and get some experience,” Xavi told Spain’s Efe agency in Tehran just hours before facing Persepolis.
“I think football has bid farewell to one of the best players in the world … it was beautiful to work with a player with Xavi’s calibre,” Al Sadd’s current head coach Jesualdo Ferreira said after the match.
Ferreira has predicted Xavi “will be a great manager”.
Fellow Al Sadd midfielder Gabi also paid tribute to his captain and fellow Spaniard, calling him a “role model”.
Al Sadd had already qualified for the last 16 of the Asian tournament, although Xavi will not play on, and they had hoped a victory on Monday would be an apt send-off for their captain who has been with them for four years.
But although the Spaniard produced some signature passes and saw a late free-kick sail agonisingly over the goal, it was Persepolis who made the most of their chances.