Xavi Hernández, FC Barcelona’s most decorated and longest serving player, has announced he will leave the Catalan club after 17 brilliant years of service.
The Champions League final on 6 June will provide a fitting stage for the 35-year-old’s farewell before he links up with Qatari club al-Sadd SC on a two-year deal, with the option of a third year.
“I was offered another year but I’d made my mind up,” he explained. “It’s time to think about the future, and it’s my objective to come back here some day. This is my home, whether that’s as a coach or in another capacity. In my head and body it’s the right time to go – not in my heart as Barcelona is all there is in my heart.
“The script has worked out perfectly,” he added. “We have won the league – the most difficult and special thing to win. It reflects the work of a whole season. I’m very excited to be able to lift that trophy for the last time in front of these supporters. It couldn’t have been a better way to end my time here.
“I’m delighted with how well my career has gone,” he explained. “I’ve made the most of my assets as a footballer. I feel very happy right now. It’s just a question of winning these two trophies that are left and saying goodbye to the fans. I’ve been at the club for 25 years, I couldn’t have been in a better place.”
The midfielder has been at Barcelona since he was 11 and was 18 when he made his first-team debut in a Spanish Super Cup meeting with RCD Mallorca on 18 August 1998. Some 763 appearances later – the next highest is Migueli on 549 – Xavi has won everything there is to win for the club, also inspiring Spain to unprecedented success on the international stage.
Starting out, he was given the unenviable task of replacing local hero Josep Guardiola, who told the youngster one day in training:
“You are going to retire me.”
Not that Xavi’s ascent was entirely smooth, and a lack of opportunities led him to seriously consider an offer to move to Manchester United FC at one point.
His decision to stay and fight for a place at his boyhood club was vindicated. A first trophy with the club arrived that first season under Louis van Gaal as Barcelona picked up the Liga title.
Yet Xavi only really took the reins of the team after the arrival of Frank Rijkaard in 2003, and a switch to a more attacking role. Two league titles and the 2006 UEFA Champions League followed, although Xavi had to watch the final from the bench after a knee injury. He would have other opportunities.
Player of the tournament as Spain won UEFA EURO 2008, Xavi was the architect of Barcelona’s incredible success under Guardiola. He was instrumental as they won six trophies in 2009, providing the cross for Lionel Messi to head in the second goal of the UEFA Champions League final against Manchester United.
“The fans need to know that this does not stop here, this party will keep on going,”
Xavi said in Rome that night. He was not kidding. Barça won the Liga again in 2010 and 2011 and United were once more the victims in the 2011 UEFA Champions League final, Xavi claiming another assist.
A month ago president Josep María Bartomeu said the player had “earned the right” to decide when to leave the club: that moment has now come. On Saturday Xavi will lift the Liga trophy at the Camp Nou. The following week Barcelona play Athletic Club in the Copa del Rey final, and then the grand finale against Juventus in Berlin.
Xavi’s Incredible Trophy Haul
3 x UEFA Champions League (2005/06, 2008/09, 2010/11)
2 x UEFA Super Cup (2009, 2011)
2 x FIFA Club World Cup (2009, 2011)
8 x Liga (1998/99, 2004/05, 2005/06, 2008/09, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2012/13, 2014/15)
2 x Copa del Rey (2008/09, 2011/12)
6 x Spanish Super Cup (2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013)
1 x FIFA World Cup (2010)
2 x UEFA European Championship (2008, 2012)