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How was Xavi as coach in Qatar?

His experience as a manager extends only to Asian football

FBL-QAT-AMIR-CUP-SADD-RAYYAN Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images

Xavi is reportedly on the brink of joining FC Barcelona, the team he once captained, as manager. Besides his legendary playing career, Xavi’s other credential is his experience as a coach in Qatar.

Fans of European football probably don’t watch Al-Sadd much, so let’s explore what his time coaching them has been like.

Xavi first joined Al-Sadd as a player, directly after winning the treble with Barcleona in 2015. He played with them for four years while getting his coaching badges, being groomed to take over as manager after his retirement.

After retiring as a player in 2019, he immediately took over as Al-Sadd’s coach.

Al-Sadd is a team from Qatar’s capital city, Doha, and are the team that has won the Qatar Stars League the most times - 15. However, when Xavi joined as a player, they were struggling to keep up with their rivals and regularly finishing second or third. It would take until Xavi’s last season as player for Al-Sadd to win their first league title in six years.

In his first year as coach, Xavi was able to lead Al-Sadd to two cup wins, and the semifinals of the Asian Champions League, but they finished a disappointing third in the league.

In the following season, Xavi’s men were able to secure a domestic treble with a league win and two cups, including the country’s prestigious Emir of Qatar cup.

Currently, Al-Sadd are once again at the top of the table in Qatar. They have eight wins and one draw from nine matches, and look almost unbeatable.

Xavi, as you can expect, prioritizes a possession-based approach to football as a coach. Seen as the maestro at the heart of Spain and Barcelona’s tiki-taka style, it’s no surprise he has his teams play with a similar philosophy. However, he has not opted for the traditional 4-3-3 they use at Barcelona, instead going with a 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3 formation.

He prioritizes a methodical build-up using short passing and Al-Sadd tend to win the possession battle in every match they play. Santi Cazorla, whom Xavi knows from the Spanish national team, is now the face of the team and an integral part to both keeping possession and creating chances.

Xavi wants his team to keep the ball moving but also wants the players themselves to keep moving. He wants them to make forward runs often, or find space to disrupt opposition defenses.

Despite discouraging long balls, Xavi still wants Al-Sadd to operate at a high speed with lots of quick passing and one-touch football. And defensively speaking, Xavi’s team uses possession to deny the opposition many chances on the ball. When do they lose the ball, they rely on an urgent press to recover it and keep their high line from being exposed.

Xavi’s appointment to Barcelona would probably signal a return to the tiki-taka style which has been abandoned somewhat by Ronald Koeman. However, Xavi brings new ideas that he hopes will help revitalize his former club. Quique Setién promised a similar “return to tiki-taka’s roots” approach and was sacked shortly thereafter. Xavi comes in with a much weaker squad, lacking the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, Antoine Griezmann, or Ivan Rakitić. However, Xavi does have an advantage in the sense of having a lot of youngsters at his disposal to mold into the kind of players he wants.