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Xavi under no illusions ahead of fairytale on Barcelona return

Barcelona (AFP) – Xavi Hernandez said he is prepared for the “biggest challenge of his career” before leaving Qatar for Spain on Saturday, as Barcelona’s legendary former midfielder returns home to take over as coach.

Xavi’s appointment was confirmed by Barca in the early hours of Saturday morning and the 41-year-old will be presented to fans at Camp Nou on Monday.

“I’m very happy as you can imagine, it’s the biggest challenge of my career,” Xavi told Spanish journalists at Doha airport. “I’m going home and I am very happy.”

Xavi faces a huge challenge, with Barcelona adrift of La Liga’s top four, struggling to make the knock-out stages of the Champions League and grappling with debts of more than a billion euros.

“I have also experienced bad situations,” Xavi said. “It’s not the best moment in the history of the club but I want to explain what my idea is and to work hard, to make a team. Obviously the first thing is to talk to the players to see how they are.”

Xavi left Camp Nou to play for Qatari club Al Sadd in 2015, after making 767 appearances for Barcelona, with eight La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues among his 25 trophies.

“It’s time to come home. Welcome, Xavi,” Barca tweeted in the early hours of Saturday morning, as Spain slept. 

“It wasn’t goodbye, it was see you later,” it wrote, along with a video montage of the player’s departure in 2015.

Barcelona said in a statement they had reached an agreement with Xavi to become first-team coach for the rest of the season and two more seasons, replacing the sacked Ronald Koeman.

“It is expected that Xavi Hernandez will arrive in Barcelona this weekend and that on Monday 8, November his presentation as new FC Barcelona first team coach will take place in an event open to the public at Camp Nou,” it said.

Nicknamed the “Maquina” (the Machine), Xavi is widely considered one of the club’s greatest players and there is huge excitement about his potential as a coach after his influence on the iconic Barca team managed by Pep Guardiola.

His passing style was seen as the embodiment of Guardiola’s “tiki-taka” team that won the treble in 2009.

“One of the greatest midfield maestros of all time, he helped redefine the art with his creative mind, pinpoint passing and sublime ability to read the game,” Barca said in their statement, heralding the return of “an absolute legend”.

Al Sadd, which Xavi had coached since 2019, hours earlier said they had reached an agreement with Barca and posted photos on social media of the Spaniard saying goodbye to the players and staff.

– ‘The dream’ –

Barcelona’s attempt to appoint Xavi as Koeman’s successor had been held up on Friday over his Al Sadd release clause, with Xavi and Barca considering splitting the payment to complete the deal.

Al Sadd said Barca had agreed to pay the clause in Xavi’s contract, which is reportedly set at around five million euros ($5.8 million), but Barcelona did not give any details of the deal in their statement.

Spanish sports daily Marca headlined the club hero’s return and estimated the cost to Barca of sacking recent managers Ernesto Valverde, Quique Setien and Koeman at 32 million euros.

Xavi had made no secret of his desire to return to Barcelona, which he joined through the club’s La Masia academy at the age of 11.

“My main objective, when I can do it, is Barca,” Xavi told Marca last year. “It’s my home, that’s the dream.”

Barcelona sat ninth in La Liga on Saturday morning, with concerns growing they might not qualify for next season’s Champions League.

The club are also in dire financial straits, having posted debts of 1.35 billion euros. They could not afford to renew Lionel Messi’s contract in the summer, and the Argentine left for Paris Saint-Germain.

Xavi will also be charged with improving the team’s style of play, which was a key criticism during the tenure of Koeman, another former Barca player.

Xavi’s flight is due to touch down as Barca take on Celta Vigo in La Liga in Juan Barjuan’s last game as caretaker coach before he hands over to the man the fans are pinning their hopes on to turn the club around.

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