Barcelona - Barcelona's most decorated player of all-time,
Xavi Hernandez, announced on Thursday he will bring to an end a stellar 17-year
playing career with the Catalan giants at the end of the season.
The 35-year-old will follow in former international teammate
Raul's footsteps by joining Qatari side Al Sadd in a major coup for the
domestic football in a country set to host the 2022 World Cup.
Yet, before bidding farewell to his homeland for the Middle
East, Xavi has two more titles to add to his collection of 23 trophies with the
Copa del Rey and Champions League finals to come.
A fitting tribute will be paid to the man who has worn the
Barca shirt more than any other on Saturday as the Blaugrana celebrate their La
Liga title at home to Deportivo la Coruna.
However, it is even more apt that the midfielder that has
proved so decisive on the biggest stage for club and country over the past two
decades will say farewell on the biggest stage.
The Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao will be his
final game at the Camp Nou on May 30 before he hopes to claim a fourth
Champions League title against Juventus in Berlin a week later.
Win both and Barca will become the first club to win a
treble of league, Cup and Champions League for the second time. It will also be
a second for Xavi, having been at the heart of Pep Guardiola's treble-winning
side in 2008/09.
It could have been very different. Benched for the title
decider against Atletico Madrid last season as Barca missed out on a major
trophy for the first time in six years and the final two matches of Spain's disastrous
World Cup defence in Brazil, he seemed set for a move to Qatar 12 months ago.
"Last summer it would have been too early. I was
downhearted with two big disappointments at the World Cup and here at
Barca," he said.
"Now we are capable and have the opportunity to make
history. I am very happy to have stayed."
Convinced to stay on for a final year by former teammate
Luis Enrique, his illustrous Barca career has had the final curtain it deserved
as demonstrated by his tears at clinching an eighth Liga title when the
Catalans exacted revenge on Atletico last weekend.
Xavi was also an integral part of the Spain side that swept
all before them in winning back-to-back European Championships in 2008 and
2012, as well as the country's first World Cup in 2010.
His presence wasn't just felt on the field in his metronomic
passing as Spain's flock of mini maestros led by he and sidekick Andres Iniesta
gave birth to the technique reliant "tiki-taka" style at a time when
the game was morphing into the age of the super-athlete.
Xavi's success with the national team started well before
Vienna in 2008 as he won the World Youth Championship in 1999 where a
friendship with Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas first began.
Together they brought a solidarity to the Spain squad from
both sides of the Barca and Madrid divide to overcome the tag of perennial
underachievers, even after the incendiary events of four El Clasico clashes in
18 days in 2011 as Jose Mourinho attempted to burn bridges between the two
"I don't think there will be another player like him.
He is an unique, inimitable player who has been instrumental to the club and
the national team," Iniesta said on Tuesday.
Fortunately for Xavi, Barcelona and Spanish football as a
whole, he will leave as he deserves to; as a winner.
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