Xavi Hernandez is right to be wary of a quick return to Barcelona to become head coach. The 39 year-old may have had an outstanding playing career and be a genuine legend at the club but he is no Pep Guardiola, not yet anyway.
If reports coming out of Spain are to be believed then the Catalan giants want the former midfielder to take over as head coach. If more reports are accurate, Xavi has turned it down, for now at least.
The first part is less surprising. Xavi has a special place in the heart of all Barca fans. And if he is anywhere near as good a coach as he was a player then you can understand why. Appointing Guardiola, another well-liked former player, back in 2008 worked out as well as it could have with ‘Pep’, (his coaching exploits mean that he is one of the few people in football who can go by their first name with Xavi earning that privilege as a player) becoming a true coaching great.
You can’t blame Barca for trying the same thing again in the hope that something similar will happen. At the very least, appointing one of the best players in the club’s history is going to go down well with fans.
The fact that Xavi looks likely to stay in Qatar with Al Sadd is more of an eyebrow raiser. After all, who turns down Barcelona? To say that you can take a job a little later down the line does not always work in football. The chance to manage Barcelona may well come around to Xavi once more but it may not.
Yet he is correct to think twice. For one, he has been coaching only since May 2019 and in those eight months or so with Al Sadd, he has yet to really show that he is ready for one of the biggest coaching jobs in the world.
Al Sadd is an institution in Qatar and one that wins often and expects to win all the time. The 14 league titles, 16 Emir of Qatar Cups and two Asian Championships are just some of the honours on the list. This is a club that demands success as it usually has the best players in the country.
Xavi has yet to get the most out of a talented squad. Al Sadd score plenty of goals but then they usually have done in the past and at the moment enjoy the services of the ‘Algerian Assassin’ Baghdad Bounedjah. His goalscoring record is one of the best in world football. This season, he has already scored 12 goals in 10 games though all are hoping his form returns to that of last season when he managed 39 in 22. In total, the 28 year-old has found the target an incredible 94 times in just 67 league games for the club.
He is helped by Akram Afif. Not only is the winger the current AFC Player of the Year but he is also an assist king, as he demonstrated at the 2019 Asian Cup by creating no less than ten goals as Qatar won the title. With other Qatari stars such as Hassan Al Haydos, Abdelkarim Hassan and Boualem Khoukhi in the line-up along with South Korean internationals Nam Tae-hee and Jung Woo-young then it is one of the best squads in Asia. This is a team that scored 100 goals in a 22-game league campaign last season.
Yet this time around Al Sadd are struggling to challenge at home and are nine points off the pace. The team scores lots of goals, it would be hard not to considering the firepower at the coach’s disposal, and are often able to overwhelm teams but when that does not happen, there are issues. In the nip and tuck of a tight tactical battle then Xavi is still finding his feet. If you can whether the Al Sadd storm then you have a great chance.
Not winning at home can be overlooked if there is Asian glory but Al Sadd slipped up in the Champions League too. When Xavi took over, the team were already in the knockout stage and he led Al Sadd to the last four and a massive showdown with Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia. Despite taking an early first leg lead at home, Al Sadd left themselves wide open and ended up losing 4-1. They went for it, this is their only way of playing, in the second leg, and gave the Saudi Arabians a scare by winning 4-2.
Still much to learn then for this legendary player. His time at Barca may come but for now, best to stay in Asia.