Football

Managing Barcelona is Xavi Hernandez's dream

Former Spain star wants to begin coaching career in Qatar after playing his last match for Al Sadd

Xavi Hernandez's dazzling career came to a low-key end when his Qatari side Al Sadd were beaten 2-0 by Iranian giants Persepolis in their last group match of the AFC Champions League yesterday morning (Singapore time).

The 39-year-old midfield genius, who helped Spain win the World Cup in 2010 and won four Uefa Champions League titles and eight La Liga titles with Barcelona, was cheered by 11,000 spectators at the 100,000-capacity Azadi Stadium in Teheran.

Several home fans brandished banners reading "Adios Xavi" to show their appreciation of the player who, with Andres Iniesta, formed the backbone of one of Barcelona's greatest sides.

Xavi was also honoured by the Persepolis management who presented him with a jersey featuring the No. 6 he wore during his career, AFP reported.

But Al Sadd's second defeat in a row, following their 4-1 thrashing by domestic rivals Al Duhail in last week's Emir Cup final in Doha, meant that the Spaniard's illustrious career ended in a low-key fashion.

Xavi, who became the first in history to play 150 Uefa Champions League matches, has indicated that he will stay in Qatar to begin a coaching career, probably remaining in a highly paid role with Al Sadd, rather than return to Spain.

"The idea is to start as a coach in Qatar, where there is less pressure, to test myself and get some experience," Xavi told Spain's Efe agency in Teheran.

The Nou Camp icon, who holds the all-time appearance record for Barca with 767, added that he wants to manage Barcelona in the future.

"I am raring to get started as a manager," Marca quoted him as saying.

"As things stand, I do not consider myself to be ready to become a coach at the top level. I need to walk before I can run.

"Obviously, my ultimate goal is to end up becoming the Barcelona coach. It would be too quick to go back to Barca or to coach a La Liga team now. I need to learn the ropes before I can start thinking about that.

"I have lots of ideas and footballing concepts that I want to pass on to my future players.

"Football can be played in many different ways, but I have always been a huge fan of Barcelona's approach.

"The way in which they control the game and keep the ball is the style that I have grown up with and it is the style that I will use when I am a coach."

Xavi, who won 25 titles with Barca, scoring 85 goals in the process, also spoke about some of the biggest influences on his 21-year career.

PEP'S THE BEST

"I have worked under many fantastic coaches from Luis Aragones to Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique to Louis van Gaal. The two who have had the biggest influence on my career are Aragones and Guardiola. For me, Guardiola is the best in the world," he said.

Al Sadd head coach Jesualdo Ferreira has predicted Xavi "will be a great manager".

"Football has bid farewell to one of the best players in the world ... It was beautiful to work with a player of Xavi's calibre," Ferreira said after the match.

Fellow Al Sadd midfielder Gabi also paid tribute to his captain and fellow Spaniard, calling him a "role model".

Keisuke Honda quits Melbourne Victory

Japanese superstar Keisuke Honda yesterday announced he will leave Melbourne Victory this week after one season as he pursues new challenges.

The former AC Milan striker, one of the highest profile names in Asian football, was an instant hit with fans, with his early season form drawing rave reviews.

However, a hamstring injury kept him sidelined for nine matches mid-season.

"I am proud to have been a Melbourne Victory player and grateful for having the opportunity to play in Australia," Honda said in a statement.

"I leave now for my next challenge, but will never forget my time at Victory. I wish the club good luck in the future as they pursue success."

He played 23 games across all competitions, scoring eight times, with his last appearance today in Victory's AFC Champions League clash with Japan's Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

The 32-year-old's announcement came a day after long-time Victory head coach Kevin Muscat quit.

"Keisuke has been a professional in every sense of the word and we've been lucky to have him with us at Melbourne Victory this season," club chief executive Trent Jacobs said.

"He's obviously an incredible talent on the pitch, but also the impact he's had on our club off the field has aided our growth this season." - AFP

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