Xavi described his return to Barcelona as "the biggest challenge of my career" after he was officially confirmed as the club's next head coach.

Barca announced in the early hours of Saturday that former Spain star Xavi had been appointed as Ronald Koeman's replacement at Camp Nou.

Club delegates travelled to Qatar this week to formalise the payment of the release clause in the 41-year-old's contract with Al Sadd, where he has been head coach for the past two and a half years.

Xavi's first senior coaching role in Europe will see him entrusted with steering Barca through one of the most difficult periods in their modern history.

Debts of more than €1.2billion meant the Blaugrana could not afford to sign Lionel Messi to a new contract or make any significant investment in the playing squad before this season, and results on the pitch have been concerning: they are ninth in LaLiga, having won only four of their first 11 games.

Xavi made 767 appearances for Barca in all competitions, a tally only surpassed by Messi (778), before retiring as a club hero in 2015 after winning his eighth league title and fourth Champions League.

However, he believes returning to the club at this time represents by far the toughest test he has faced as a professional.

 

Speaking to reporters before flying back to Spain, he said: "It's the biggest challenge of my career. I'm really happy, I'm coming home, coming back to Barca. It's a major challenge.

"I'm really grateful to Barca. They came to Doha, my contract was rescinded, there was a clause, and each of us has done our part. I'm really grateful to the club."

Xavi hopes his familiarity with some of Barca's more experienced players could serve as an advantage as he attempts to hit the ground running.

"The first thing to do is to speak with the players, to explain to them the ideas I have and to work a lot," he said.

"To coach friends is an advantage, it's a positive point. I know how they train and I know what they're like. I see it as an advantage."

Xavi has finally landed his dream job as head coach of Barcelona.

The 41-year-old was confirmed in the role early Saturday, and it will be his first coaching job in Europe after spending the past two and a half years in charge of Qatari side Al Sadd.

Xavi had two years to run on his Al Sadd deal, but Barcelona paid his release clause to allow the Camp Nou legend to replace Ronald Koeman.

He has signed a contract through the end of the 2023-24 season, with the new hire coming as a huge boost to the Catalan giants during a turbulent time for the club.

Barcelona said Xavi will be presented in an event Monday at Camp Nou. 

Al Sadd CEO Turk Al-Ali earlier said: "Xavi informed us a few days ago of his desire to go to Barcelona at this particular time, because of the critical stage his hometown club is going through, and we understand this and decided not to stand in his way."

 

Xavi racked up 767 appearances for Barca during his playing career – a tally only surpassed by Lionel Messi (778) – and won a glut of individual and team honours.

He won LaLiga eight times and the Champions League on four occasions before ending his 24-year association with the club in 2015.

After seeing out the final four seasons of his playing career with Al Sadd and adding four more trophies to his collection, Xavi made the transition into coaching in May 2019.

The 2010 World Cup winner has enjoyed success in the dugout, too, having guided his side to the top-flight title last season, on top of winning the Qatar Cup and Qatari Super Cup.

Former Spain international Xavi departs with Al Sadd three points clear at the top of the league following Wednesday's 3-3 draw with second-place Al-Duhail.

That proved to be Xavi's final game at the helm, and he now faces a huge job at Barcelona, who are down in ninth place in LaLiga with 11 games of their season played.

Barca lost to Real Madrid and Rayo Vallecano in Koeman's last two games before the Dutchman was sacked.

They have since drawn with Deportivo Alaves in the league and beaten Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League under interim boss Sergi Barjuan, who will lead the team Saturday at Celta Vigo. 

Xavi is set to be confirmed as Barcelona's new head coach after leaving his role with Al Sadd. 

The 41-year-old will take over at Camp Nou having spent the past two and a half years in charge of Al Sadd.

Xavi still had two more years to run on his deal, but Barcelona have paid his release clause and reached an agreement with the Qatari side for the club legend to replace Ronald Koeman.

A statement from Al Sadd CEO Turk Al-Ali read: "The Al Sadd administration has agreed on Xavi's move to Barcelona after the payment of the release clause stipulated in the contract.

"We've agreed on cooperation with Barcelona in the future. Xavi is an important part of Al-Sadd's history and we wish him success.

"Xavi informed us a few days ago of his desire to go to Barcelona at this particular time, because of the critical stage his hometown club is going through, and we understand this and decided not to stand in his way."

 

Xavi racked up 767 appearances for Barca during his playing career – a tally only surpassed by Lionel Messi (778) – and won a glut of individual and team honours.

He won LaLiga eight times and the Champions League on four occasions before ending his 24-year association with the Catalan giants in 2015.

After seeing out the final four seasons of his playing career with Al Sadd and adding four more trophies to his collection, Xavi made the transition into coaching in May 2019.

The World Cup winner has enjoyed success in the dugout, too, having guided his side to the top-flight title last season, on top of winning the Qatar Cup and Qatari Super Cup.

Former Spain international Xavi departs with Al Sadd three points clear at the top of the league following Wednesday's 3-3 draw with second-place Al-Duhail.

That proved to be Xavi's final game at the helm, and he now faces a huge job at Barcelona, who are down in ninth place in LaLiga with 11 games of their season played.

Barca lost to Real Madrid and Rayo Vallecano in Koeman's last two games and have since drawn with Deportivo Alaves in the league and beaten Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League under interim boss Sergi Barjuan.

Xavi is set to be confirmed as Barcelona's new head coach after leaving his role with Al Sadd. 

The 41-year-old will take over at Camp Nou having spent the past two and a half years in charge of Al Sadd.

Xavi still had two more years to run on his deal, but Barcelona have paid his release clause and reached an agreement with the Qatari side for the club legend to replace Ronald Koeman.

A statement from Al Sadd CEO Turk Al-Ali read: "The Al Sadd administration has agreed on Xavi's move to Barcelona after the payment of the release clause stipulated in the contract.

"We've agreed on cooperation with Barcelona in the future. Xavi is an important part of Al-Sadd's history and we wish him success.

"Xavi informed us a few days ago of his desire to go to Barcelona at this particular time, because of the critical stage his hometown club is going through, and we understand this and decided not to stand in his way."

 

Xavi racked up 767 appearances for Barca during his playing career – a tally only surpassed by Lionel Messi (778) – and won a glut of individual and team honours.

He won LaLiga eight times and the Champions League on four occasions before ending his 24-year association with the Catalan giants in 2015.

After seeing out the final four seasons of his playing career with Al Sadd and adding four more trophies to his collection, Xavi made the transition into coaching in May 2019.

The World Cup winner has enjoyed success in the dugout, too, having guided his side to the top-flight title last season, on top of winning the Qatar Cup and Qatari Super Cup.

Former Spain international Xavi departs with Al Sadd three points clear at the top of the league following Wednesday's 3-3 draw with second-place Al-Duhail.

That proved to be Xavi's final game at the helm, and he now faces a huge job at Barcelona, who are down in ninth place in LaLiga with 11 games of their season played.

Barca lost to Real Madrid and Rayo Vallecano in Koeman's last two games and have since drawn with Deportivo Alaves in the league and beaten Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League under interim boss Sergi Barjuan.

Xavi looked set to take a significant step towards becoming Barcelona's new coach on Thursday.

The former Barcelona captain appears to be the only candidate the club have in mind to replace the sacked Ronald Koeman.

This has led a delegation from Barcelona to travel to Qatar in an effort to persuade Al Sadd, where Xavi is head coach, to release the former Spain midfielder from his contract.

Talks have taken place between senior officials from both sides and are said to have been convivial, and now it will reportedly fall to Xavi to take the next step.

Al Sadd chief executive Turki Al-Ali said earlier this week that the Stars League side remained "committed to keeping our coach Xavi with us".

However, Xavi told Mundo Deportivo he was "very eager and excited" about the prospect of a Barcelona return, insisting: "I really want to go home."

What could prove telling are discussions between Xavi and club president Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Thani, with the 41-year-old expected to tell the sheikh his heart is set on moving to Camp Nou. According to widespread reports in Spain, those talks will take place on Thursday.

The cash-strapped Blaugrana are reluctant to pay a €5million release clause for Xavi, Barcelona-based newspaper Sport reported.

It has been suggested in Spain that Al Sadd players are expecting Xavi to move on, with a 3-3 draw with Al Duhail on Wednesday followed by several messages on social media.

Rodrigo Tabata re-posted a video from supporters bearing the caption "Thanks Xavi", and team-mate Baghdad Bounedjah did likewise with a post from Al Sadd's official account that showed him embracing the coach.

Yet those appear tenuous and could also be interpreted as messages of support, to show how the players value Xavi, with Al Sadd's stance showing little sign of shifting.

 

World Cup winner Xavi has spent the past two and a half years in charge of Al Sadd and still has two more years to run on his deal.

As a player, he racked up 767 appearances for Barca during his playing career – a tally only surpassed by Lionel Messi (778) – and won a glut of individual and team honours.

He won LaLiga eight times and the Champions League on four occasions before ending his 24-year association with the Catalan giants in 2015.

After seeing out the final four seasons of his playing career with Al Sadd and adding four more trophies to his collection, Xavi made the transition into coaching in May 2019.

Quoted in Mundo Deportivo on Wednesday, Xavi said: "I really want to go home. The two clubs are in talks and a resolution must be reached. I am very excited, but it's a matter of respect – I have a contract."

Xavi said he "really wants to go home", with Barcelona in talks with Al Sadd to make him their new head coach.

Barca's first vice-president Rafael Yuste and director of football Mateu Alemany were in attendance for Al Sadd's 3-3 draw with Al Duhail on Wednesday, a result that kept Xavi's side three points clear at the top of the Stars League. 

The former midfielder, who made 767 appearances for Barca as a player and won 25 trophies during an illustrious spell for the club, has been the frontrunner to take over following the dismissal of Ronald Koeman last week. 

Al Sadd last week insisted Xavi was solely focused on the Qatari club, with whom he has a two-year contract, but the coach confirmed an agreement on his future could be reached in a matter of hours. 

"I really want to go home. The two clubs are in talks and a resolution must be reached. I am very excited, but it's a matter of respect – I have a contract," Xavi told Mundo Deportivo. 

"It would be a return home. The two clubs have to agree. Hopefully it will be done, because I am very eager and excited. 

"I am very positive. I have been very clear about my position. I think it will be a matter of hours, maybe days. They know my stance and hopefully it can be done." 

He added to TV3: "I am a positive person and it is a matter of common sense. They have to agree. The two clubs know my position and I hope it will be sorted soon." 

After a 1-1 draw with Deportivo Alaves in their first game since Koeman's dismissal, Barca boosted their qualification hopes in the Champions League by beating Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday. 

Speaking more generally about what Koeman's successor needs to do at Camp Nou, Xavi added: "The coach who goes does not have to be a messiah. We saw a different Barca yesterday. 

"Everyone has to row in the same direction for Barca to win games. We are all very excited. We will see if it ends up being done, but it would be spectacular." 

Al Sadd have addressed rumours linking manager Xavi with the vacant head coach role at Barcelona by reiterating the former Spain international remains tied to a two-year contract.

Ronald Koeman was sacked by Barcelona after the club's dismal start to the 2021-22 campaign continued with a shock defeat to Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday.

That left them ninth in LaLiga and six points off the top – that gap has since been stretched to nine.

Sergi Barjuan was placed in temporary charge until a permanent successor to Koeman is found, and Blaugrana great Xavi is the hot favourite.

The 41-year-old has long been seen as a potential future head coach at Barca, and he is even reported to have turned down two approaches in the past: before Quique Setien was hired to replace Ernesto Valverde, and earlier this year when Joan Laporta reclaimed the presidency.

Laporta addressed the media beside Sergi on Friday and did little to cool speculation as he spoke of his surety that Xavi will one day coach Barcelona – though the president did at least follow that with the caveat of not knowing when that would be.

But while it seems inevitable that Barca will approach Xavi once again in the coming days, Al Sadd have at least attempted to calm the situation from their own perspective.

A statement posted to Twitter read: "In response to what's circulating recently, the Al Sadd management reaffirms that Xavi has a two-year contract with the club and is fully focused on the team's upcoming matches, to maintain our lead at the top of the league and to defend the title."

Xavi came through the ranks at Barca and went on to make 767 appearances for the club during one of their most illustrious periods.

He left for Al Sadd in 2014 and finished his playing career there, before taking over as coach and leading them to seven domestic trophies.

Barca face Deportivo Alaves at Camp Nou on Saturday and are away to Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League three days later.

Xavi insists he is focused on his work with Al Sadd amid reports he is set to take over as the new head coach of Barcelona. 

Barca sacked Ronald Koeman on Wednesday following a 1-0 loss at Rayo Vallecano that left them six points off top spot in LaLiga. 

It was the Catalan giants' first defeat to Rayo since December 2002 and ended a run of 13 straight LaLiga victories against them. 

Sergi Barjuan has been placed in temporary charge, with Xavi expected to be allowed to leave Al Sadd next week following their clash with Qatar Stars League title rivals Al Duhail. 

Asked about the possibility of an impending return to Camp Nou on Thursday, Xavi said: "I am focused on my work with Al Sadd and I won't talk about anything else."

Xavi came through the ranks at Barca and went on to provide 184 assists and score 85 times in 767 appearances for the club during one of their most illustrious periods. 

He left for Al Sadd in 2014 and finished his playing career there, before taking over as coach and leading them to seven domestic trophies.

Barca face Deportivo Alaves at Camp Nou on Saturday and are away to Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League three days later.

James Rodriguez has left Everton to join Qatari side Al-Rayyan for an undisclosed fee.

The Colombia playmaker, who did not make his nation's squad for the Copa America due to concerns over his fitness after missing the end of Everton's 2020-21 campaign, had not featured in a competitive game for the Toffees so far this season.

Rafael Benitez reportedly did not see the 30-year-old as a key player in his squad and confirmed earlier this month that Everton had been open to offers for the former Real Madrid man, who won the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup.

Signed on a free transfer from Madrid by previous manager Carlo Ancelotti, James made 26 appearances in all competitions for Everton last season, scoring six goals and creating a further eight.

However, with the Qatari transfer window still open, Al-Rayyan – coached by former Paris Saint-Germain and France boss Laurent Blanc – have now signed the Colombian star. 

Blanc took over Al-Rayyan in December 2020 and guided them to a third-placed finish in the Qatar Stars League, behind Al-Duhail and Al-Sadd, coached by Barcelona legend Xavi.

James' signing represents a coup for the league ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, though he will still have to fight his way back into Reinaldo Rueda's Colombia squad.

Though injuries did limit his game time, James was a creative fulcrum for Everton under Ancelotti, forging 54 chances, placing him second in the squad behind Gylfi Sigurdsson (60), who made 18 appearances more.

James led the way for Everton with chances created from open play (38) and when it came to crafting big chances (14) – defined by Opta as situations where players should reasonably be expected to score. 

Per 90 minutes played, James created 0.56 big chances in the Premier League, putting him just below Jack Grealish and Bruno Fernandes (0.58), ranking sixth in the competition among those who played 20 or more matches.

Everton went unbeaten in their first five games under Benitez but lost 3-0 to Aston Villa last Saturday before heading out of the EFL Cup with an 8-7 penalty shoot-out defeat to Queens Park Rangers on Tuesday, following a 2-2 draw at Loftus Road.

"To be fair, I don't have too much information," Benitez said when asked about James after the EFL Cup exit. "I know he is already there [in Qatar].

"Don't forget, we are talking about a special situation from this club, the financial fair play rules have to manage everything in the best way we can."

Everton have been operating under tight financial constraints this season, with four of the five arrivals under Benitez coming on free transfers, while Demarai Gray cost a reported £1.7million from Bayer Leverkusen.

Xavi is eyeing the Barcelona job and an opportunity to coach superstar captain Lionel Messi, insisting he is ready to work at Camp Nou.

Barca great Xavi has long been linked with the head-coaching role and he was strongly tipped to return to the club before president Joan Laporta opted to retain Ronald Koeman.

Xavi signed a new contract with Al Sadd in May, tying the 41-year-old to the Qatari side until 2023.

But Xavi, who held the record for most Barca appearances before it was broken by Messi this past season, has his sights set on taking charge at some stage.

"I am always on the market," Xavi said during a news conference on Thursday. "The club decided to continue with Koeman and I wish him the best.

"In these last four months, I have not had any contact with [president Laporta] or anyone from the board.

"I don't know when the moment will arrive but, for me, it would be a dream to return to Barca one day. I'm in no rush, honestly, but I hope it happens.

"I understand people may think I am not ready, but I want to make it clear that I am.

"I know the club, the environment... I am coaching at a professional level, not kids, and I feel prepared. People also criticised [Pep] Guardiola and [Zinedine] Zidane before they took charge at Barca and [Real] Madrid.

"But Koeman's the coach now and you have to respect that. I don't want there to be a permanent debate about that."

Xavi played alongside the likes of Messi, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets at Barca, where he won eight LaLiga trophies and four Champions League titles among other honours.

"For me, it would be an advantage [to work with them]. I'm in a situation at Al Sadd where I am coaching players I played with and I think it helps, because you know them," Xavi added.

"What coach wouldn't want to train Messi? Who wouldn't want a joker up their sleeve like Leo, who can make the difference in 0.1 seconds? Physically he is still in good shape. He is still the best. It would be a huge privilege to coach Messi."

Xavi has guided Al Sadd to Qatar Stars League (2020-21), Qatar Cup (2020 and 2021), Qatari super Cup (2019), Emir of Qatar Cup (2020) and Qatari Stars Cup (2019) success since becoming coach in 2019.

Xavi has signed a new contract with Al-Sadd to put an end to speculation linking him to LaLiga giants Barcelona.

A Barca great, Xavi has long been tipped to return to Camp Nou as head coach – firstly before Ronald Koeman's appointment at the start of 2020-21 and after Joan Laporta's presidential election victory.

But Spaniard Xavi will remain in charge of Qatari side Al-Sadd until 2023, it was announced on Wednesday.

The 41-year-old has guided Al-Sadd to Qatar Stars League (2020-21), Qatar Cup (2020 and 2021), Qatari super Cup (2019), Emir of Qatar Cup (2020) and Qatari Stars Cup (2019) success since becoming coach in 2019.

"We achieved a lot together, scored goals, won matches and titles, and we are all very proud of this success. Getting this kind of support is the best thing any coach can get," said Xavi, who spent 17 years with Barca, where he won eight LaLiga trophies and four Champions League titles among other honours.

"I have everything I could want to do well, and I feel proud to continue with Al-Sadd for an additional two seasons."

Xavi – who held the record for most Barca appearances before it was broken by Lionel Messi this season – also denied he has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave Al-Sadd amid Barca links.

"This is incorrect," the former Spain international added. "I have a two-season contract with Al-Sadd, and I respect this contract - and I also respect the official negotiation methods between all parties."

Xavi was celebrating on Sunday as his Al Sadd team clinched the Qatar Stars League championship, the first league title of a coaching career that many expect will lead him back to Barcelona.

The former Spain and Barca midfielder saw his players secure the trophy with a 3-0 win over Umm Salal that puts them 13 points clear with four rounds of games remaining.

Xavi previously helped Al Sadd land the 2018-19 title in what proved to be the final year of his playing career.

The 41-year-old stepped up to be head coach of the team following that campaign and has led Al Sadd to a string of trophy successes in cup competitions, but he was thrilled to finally land a league title.

"We created a new history for Al Sadd," Xavi said. "I am happy to win the league title for the first time as a coach with Al Sadd, after winning it as a player."

Goals from Baghdad Bounedjah, Yousuf Abdurisag and Rodrigo Tabata secured Sunday's win.

Xavi told the club's website: "I am happy to be in this group of players, officials, technical and medical staff. Our goal is to win all the tournaments we participate in.

"Special thanks to the fans of Al Sadd who supported the team with full force throughout the season and also in the championship match against Umm Salal, and we promise them to continue working to make them happy and win more championships for the club."

Those supporters will hope Xavi's message signals a long-term commitment to the Al Sadd cause, given he has frequently been linked with a return to LaLiga giants Barcelona, the club where he spent his entire career until moving to Qatar at the age of 35.

Such suggestions were revived during the campaign to decide Barcelona's new president; however, the man heading for victory in the vote on Sunday, Joan Laporta, indicated recently that Xavi may not yet have sufficient experience to return to Camp Nou as head coach.

Al Sadd's league title was the 15th in their history and a 75th trophy in total, the club said.

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