The current coach of Al Sadd in Qatar is the candidate with the most options to replace Ronald Koeman, dismissed at dawn after the defeat against Rayo Vallecano. In November 2020, Xavi Hernández, who was then the coach of the candidate’s candidacy to preside over Barça Víctor Font, granted an exclusive interview to EL PERIÓDICO. In it, he distilled his football ideology.
There is only one Spanish player among the eleven best footballers in history, those chosen to make up the Dream Team of the Ballon d’Or according to the vote organized by France Soccer with a network of 140 journalists. It is the azulgrana brain Xavi Hernández Creus (Terrassa, 1980). There is also Lionel Messi, of course. That line-up has been shaped by goalkeeper Lev Yashin; the defenders Cafu, Beckenbauer and Maldini; midfielders Xavi, Matthaus, Pelé and Maradona and a forward made up of Messi, Ronaldo Nazario and Cristiano Ronaldo.
What does it feel like to be in the Dream Team of the Ballon d’Or?
As you can imagine, tremendous pride. It is a recognition for life. It’s more than a Ballon d’Or. Being in the starting eleven still gives me goose bumps. I found out from my brother Òscar. ‘Congratulations, uncle’, he told me. ‘You are in the eleven of the history of France Soccer ‘. ‘What the hell, nano!’, I replied. He was hallucinating, he was speechless. Maradona, Messi, Ronaldo, Beckenbauer and I there, among them. Cracks that have been idols, world references. I don’t know if it’s excessive, but it feels like a blast. I am very grateful that they voted for me.
What qualities do you think have valued you?
Those that I could have, but I think they have valued more what I represented. As a representative of a style, of Barça’s style of play, of the best generation in history, and the best generation of the Spanish team. It is spectacular. I’m still excited
Yes? Do you feel that it represents a style?
Some of them have chosen me as a representative of a collective success for Barça and the national team. The journalists will have thought that there must be a Spanish footballer. The selection chained the European Championship, the World Cup and the European Championship, and between Barça and Madrid they have added eight Champions in eleven years.
“Being in the Dream Team of history is a recognition for life. It is more than a Ballon d’Or. I am very proud”
“I represent a style: that of Barça, of the best generation in history, and of the best Spanish team”
He has been chosen as a defensive midfielder. Ahead of Busquets, Gerson, Guardiola, Pirlo, Schuster, Xabi Alonso …
Being a recuperator was not my main quality, but it was intuitive and had positional sense. I recovered balls because the team exerted very high pressure and if you know how to interpret the action… It is evident that my virtues were not defensive, but creating play, trying to think before receiving, how to attack… is what Cruyff said. I’ve spent my life thinking. I am the son of Cruyffismo and I am very proud. Son of a very technical way of playing, of understanding the game. You play with your feet and think with your head. I do not represent strength or fury or aggressiveness, but understanding.
Is the vertigo due to the election itself or when reviewing the rest of the team?
I feel more vertigo for the companions. If of the five myths there are two that have not entered, which are Cruyff and Di Stéfano! Not Zidane, for example. When you do an eleven you end up being unfair. An individual title in a team sport contains a small injustice. Being distributed in demarcations has benefited me. It was a small advantage, although I was ahead of Guardiola, Pirlo, Busquets, Alonso … In an open vote I would not be among the best eleven, the same would be 30.
“I have spent my life thinking. I am the son of Cruyffismo, the son of a very technical way of playing, of understanding the game. I do not represent strength or fury or aggressiveness, but understanding”
You proclaim that talent always wins.
The talent, the perseverance … I didn’t have it easy when I started. There were many criticisms. I had to believe a lot in myself.
But now there is a lot of talk about fitness.
It is also important. I was the one who ran the most on the team, with 11 or 12 kilometers per game. In the World Cup final I did 15 with extra time. They see you small, like Iniesta and Messi, but you can be a physical animal. Look at Roberto Carlos or Dani Alves. You don’t have to be a six-foot guy. People confuse vigor and size. The important thing is the understanding of the game.
To what extent is this game or will it be more physical?
It is difficult for it to be more physical. What can be trained more is talent, because less and less quality things happen on a football field, and in the end, talent makes the difference. You can also work more on the psychological aspect. In the physical matter, everyone prepares more or less the same. But the talent, the understanding of the game, can always be improved.
In the kids?
At any age! If you learn things at 30, why not go teach them at 12 or 14. Everything can be improved and trainable, regardless of age. If it has happened to me! For example, a training exercise where there is decision-making, if it is practiced, that decision-making will be faster and more successful.
“It is difficult for the game to be more physical. What can be trained more is talent, because less and less quality things happen in a field, and in the end the talent makes the difference”
“The idea is the main thing, it is what determines the style. It can be won in any way: in a counterattack, with 20% possession, with a strategy play … That is why football is so great. The wisest the world can predict one thing and another happens “
He has said that he feels like a son of the Cruyff school.
Totally. And very proud of it. It was he who changed the history of football because the successes of Barcelona generated that change in modern football with the positional game played by many teams. Most of them now want to have possession of the ball, play from behind, high pressure… these are characteristics of Cruyff from 40 years ago. Apart from geniuses like Messi, Maradona, Ronaldo, we are all children of Cruyff. This way you can also win European Cups.
Does Al Sadd practice positional play? Is it teachable or do we return to the need for talent?
Everything is trainable. If you have uncles like Cazorla it is much easier. Because of what he teaches and because one who does not have his level, will approach him. If Cazorla had played for Barça, he would have been considered a world star. There are coaches who prefer not to have the ball. I prefer to have it; if I don’t have it, I suffer.
In the dilemma between the system or the ideas …
The idea, the idea is the main thing. The system changed it a lot. Sometimes I play 4-3-3, I used 4-2-3-1, this year I use 3-4-3 more to have superiorities in the center of the field… The idea is what determines the style. It can be won in any way: in a counterattack, with 20% possession, with a strategy play…. That is why football is so great. It is addictive. The wisest in the world can predict one thing and another happens. Sometimes the result is so unfair …
“The change of Koeman with Umtiti? You can put a defender and not change your ideas. A substitution in minute 50 is not the same as in minute 90. You know that they are going to hang balls and that you have to win the duels”
“Ronald is a great one in our history and we must respect him. He deserves credit and time. I am not running to be a Barça coach”
And the border between the show and the result?
Sometimes you have played a great game, you lose 1-0 and they talk about the failure of such a team. We all play for results, all of us. But you have to analyze a little further. Coaches have been fired for an unfair loss. Man, wait a bit … In that matter we would talk about how the leaders decide, the influence of the fans, how the press presses …
Koeman has been criticized for putting Umtiti in the 89th minute to protect 1-0 against Levante.
It is understandable. You can put up a defense and not change your ideas. Guardiola, for example, put Keita in, moved Iniesta to the extreme and that didn’t mean you were going to defend. It was a resource to have more possession.
Would you do it?
Of course. In the end you defend a result. A substitution in the 50th minute is not the same as in the 90th minute. You know that they are going to hang balls on you, that you have to fight them from above and that you have to win the duels. Barça, football, is this: coach who makes decisions there is only one. Let me say, by the way, that the best thing I have is my team, my coaching staff.
He knows that his name sounds like a future coach, at least two nominations.
He has never hidden that coaching Barça is my dream. I would like to, but I don’t know when or how. Now I am enjoying a lot in Qatar, we are doing very well, it is an enriching experience. And here too there is pressure. Al Sadd is as if it were Barça, we are obliged to always win. Be careful: I am not running to be a Barça coach and, furthermore, you have to respect Koeman, who is a great in our history.
“I am an asset of Barça but I am not proactive of any candidate. If the president of Barça, whoever, needs me, I will always be predisposed to listen, to help him”
“With Font I have had a lot of relationship in the last five years, in which we have talked about the future and its needs at a sporting level. And with Laporta we have a lot of harmony. He has been the best president I have had at Barça”
It is a pillar of Víctor Font and Joan Laporta also thinks of you.
I am an asset of Barça and I do not want to be proactive about any candidate. I am friends with both of you and I wish you both better, I love you both very much. I have had a lot of relationship with Font in the last five years, in which we have talked about the future of Barça and its needs at a sporting level. And with Laporta, who I did not know who was performing until recently, we are very in tune. He has been the best president I have had at Barça.
Will you vote?
I will not be able to come to vote. I just hope the best one wins. If the president of Barça, whoever he is, needs me, I will always be there. Like Bartomeu, who called me and explained my personal and professional situation. I will always be willing to listen, to help the future president, but now the coach is Koeman and he deserves credit and time.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.