offpitch | 2017-09-03
Xavi: "The board have signed players who do not fit the system."
Barça legend, Xavi Hernandez speaks to MARCA about Barcelona and improvements that need to be made.
Former Barcelona player, Xavi Hernandez rains down on Barcelona’s board and thinks the club should be managed better. The full interview can be found below:
MARCA: “You still look like you're enjoying playing football. How is that possible in a league like Qatar's after having won everything in LaLiga?”
Xavi: "My body can no longer be at the top level and Qatar allows me to keep playing football. I want to keep playing because football excites me and I'm still competitive. I am going to train and do so happily. The feeling I have when the ball arrives at my feet is wonderful and I have never fallen out of love with the ball. I am going to extend what I can, even if this might be my last year. This league is no party."
MARCA: “How did they convince you to come to Qatar?”
Xavi: "In 2014 I had two very significant offers, one of which was from New York City in the MLS. So I said to [Josep Maria] Bartomeu and [Andoni] Zubizarreta that I was going to go, but that summer the president phoned my agent and suggested I stay until January, when the MLS season starts. I called Luis Enrique and a week before the pre-season started and I had it clear in my mind that I was going to stay. I liked what Luis Enrique said and I liked his leadership, so I decided to stay. He told me I might not play all the time, but that I could still contribute to the team."
MARCA: “So why did you decide not to move to the MLS in the end?”
Xavi: "It was because you travel a lot there and there is too much time being away for games. It's a physical and competitive league. It is on the way up and I wanted to drop down a level. In Qatar they could offer work for my whole family, so I spoke to Raul and started to tie it all up."
MARCA: “In Qatar they say that you represent the values of sport...”
Xavi: "I'm a normal person, who has the education I received from my parents and from Barcelona. At home we respect everybody, we are humble and we are simple. I do not believe in the idea of leaders because I really like to make a team. I think my personality is in line with football, which is a team sport."
MARCA: “How have you adapted to the Arabic world?”
Xavi: "People from Qatar are more similar [to Spanish people] than Spanish people think. They are good people, hospitable and humble. This country is one of family. I didn't have any idea of what it'd be like because I couldn't have an opinion of something I hadn't lived. It annoys me when there are prejudices about Arabic culture from people who do not know about it."
MARCA: “Does it pain you to see Barcelona in their current state?”
Xavi: "No, because except from in the Supercopa de Espana they are normally better than the opposition. It's been like that for many years because even last season they were the better team when they played at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu and they were also more dominant when [playing Real Madrid] at the Camp Nou."
MARCA: “How do you view the current Barcelona?"
Xavi: "I was part of an era that was so impressive that it now seems as if it's not the same. They play football well, but they could have signed better. They have fallen asleep because five or six years ago they had the best players in the world for the Barcelona system. Now they have five or six players for it, in [Andres] Iniesta, [Jordi] Alba, [Lionel] Messi, [Gerard] Pique, Luis Suarez and [Sergio] Busquets. Yet Barcelona should have 11 players who fit the system. You never used to say "this player would fit in well at Barcelona" because all those players were already there. They have signed players who do not fit the system."
MARCA: “Have they ignored the youth academy?”
Xavi: "They turn to it, but starting players from the academy is another thing. You need to strengthen it. Whenever there is a moment of doubt, you should turn to what you have in-house. During the best Barcelona era they nourished at least 60 percent of the youth teamers. Thiago, for example, left, as was his right, because they were not giving him opportunities. Yet everyone should be patient as it's the most difficult team in the world [to break in to]."
MARCA: “Why is it the most difficult?”
Xavi: "Because there is a demand to win and to play well. Real Madrid can win 3-2 in a terrible manner and they'll say they were the best and that it was another Juanito-esque epic comeback. If we win in the 90th minute then it's analysed all week, looking at possession, at how the other team had three chances, at whether or not our full-backs attacked, at why there was superiority in the centre and not outside. There aren't questions of 'why' at Real Madrid. They win and there's no debate."
MARCA: “Are Real Madrid mentally superior to Barcelona?”
Xavi: "The difference is that at Real Madrid when things are going badly the fans, the coach, the players and the press unite. There hasn't been opposition to the president at Real Madrid for some years. There always is at Barcelona and a president can only be in charge for six years. It's almost never united at Barcelona. I insist that it is the most difficult club to succeed at, and not just for the players."
MARCA: “What short-term or medium-term solutions do Barcelona need?”
Xavi: "Patience. In the year we won the treble Real Madrid won I don't know how many matches in a row. They appeared invincible in January, but then they lost in Valencia and then at home and we ended up winning three titles. The club should also look after its players and make them happy, as they were during the Joan Laporta era. They also need signings. Barcelona need everything to fall into place to win as Real Madrid are very strong."
MARCA: “Are Real Madrid currently a lot superior to Barcelona?”
Xavi: "In the table they are below Barcelona, which shows that the great thing about football is you never know. With Pep Guardiola I had a feeling of superiority on the field that I have not felt again. Yet of the four Champions Leagues we should have won in that era, we only won two."
MARCA: “So you don't see much difference between Barcelona and Real Madrid?”
Xavi: "Real Madrid come into the season as a winning team and they have momentum. The feeling is that Real Madrid have a more ready-made team and Barcelona are starting a new era. But that doesn't mean they cannot win LaLiga. The year we won the treble, everybody wanted to fire Luis Enrique in January."
MARCA: “Do you like Paulinho?”
Xavi: "I played against him at the Confederations Cup and he brilliantly man-marked me and Iniesta. He is very powerful. If Real Madrid signed Paulinho there would be no criticism."
MARCA: “Do you feel like Barcelona are experiencing ups and downs since Guardiola left?”
Xavi: "I don't want to think that we've abandoned our idea [of playing]. I see a team that is trying to play [good football] at the same time as they've given us so many titles. If that were to change then it'd be a historic screw-up. Since Cruyff arrived Barcelona has been different and respected by everybody, wowing football fans. So how could we abandon that idea? I don't know the current directors, but I would not like to see Barcelona play a different way."
MARCA: “When you watch Barcelona do you ever think how well a Xavi would suit them?”
Xavi: "Selfishly, you like to hear that they miss you, but that's what happens at big clubs. When things aren't going well, they remember those who aren't there."
MARCA: “You didn't always enjoy your time at Barcelona, no?”
Xavi: "It was also tough at times. In the three or four years between Luis Figo's departure and Laporta's arrival there was fierce criticism. I like challenges and don't run away when things go bad. I am a Barcelona fan and that is a plus. If Barcelona lose then I get pissed off."
MARCA: “Did Neymar leave because he was not happy?”
Xavi: "He left for a number of reasons. He wanted a change of scenery because he wasn't content at Barcelona any more, because the offer was very good and because he'll be the leader at PSG. All he told me was that he wanted to leave."
MARCA: “But doesn't being next to the best make a player better?”
Xavi: "Yes, Messi makes any player better. The whole group made me better, because I need all my teammates. I can't do things alone, I'm not that strong and am better in positional play, knowing where my teammates are."
MARCA: “Is Cristiano Ronaldo at Messi's level?”
Xavi: "Messi is a master in the collective and individual senses. But for Ronaldo, that kind of linking up takes a lot. Messi does everything well. If a coach were to say "we're going to play with us all running back" then Messi would also be the best at that. If you ask Ronaldo to play with one or two touches then I don't know if he would be the best. Ronaldo is [the best] as a shooter, he's incredible at that and is a historic player. But with Messi you cannot compare. He is the best player at Barcelona and he would also be the best if playing for [Diego] Simeone's Atletico Madrid."
MARCA: “What is Messi really like?”
Xavi: "It's good for the footballing world that the best player, Messi, is a small guy, because he is a role model for children. He is never loud away from the game and he always respects everybody. He is intelligent, empathetic and humble. He is also simple and if he's happy then there's never a problem. It's easier to deal with Messi than many people think, as you just have to communicate with him. Leading a dressing room is a pantomime, so you need someone to do it with. Coaches are overrated in football and sometimes they just seem like a spokesperson for the club. It's the players who are truly important."
MARCA: “Is Messi delaying his contract renewal to force the club to sign players?”
Xavi: "I don't think he has done that, but it would be within his rights."
MARCA: “Are you happy with the choice of coach?”
Xavi: "I really like [Ernesto] Valverde as what he brings fits in with Barcelona. He has his ideas clear in his mind. They've done well to hire him."
MARCA: “What do you think when you hear people call for you to return as coach?”
Xavi: "I've always felt that pressure. It's a proud feeling that they're waiting on me. It's not possible in the short-term as I don't have the certificate and it will take two or three years."
MARCA: “Would you like Iniesta to join you in Qatar?”
"I'd recommend it if he is thinking of changing. People live well here. But he is only 33 and I think he has two or three years of good football left. "
MARCA: “What is the 'pausa' in football?”
Xavi: "That's the understanding of knowing the game and when to attack. I follow Cruyff's philosophy, that there is only one ball and that if you have, the opponent does not. So how do you defend? By having the ball."
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