Xavi passed up Brazil chance in order to return to Barcelona

MADRID (AP) — Xavi Hernández wanted to be back with Barcelona so badly that he passed on a chance to coach Brazil.

“We spoke with the Brazilian federation,” he said at his official presentation at Barcelona on Monday. “The idea was to be an assistant to (coach) Tite and to take over the squad after the Qatar World Cup.

“But my desire was to come to Barcelona. I waited until the right moment and I think this is the right moment. I feel I am very well prepared now.”

Xavi, who turned down Barcelona last year because he felt he wasn’t fully prepared to take over as coach at the time, rejected the invite from Brazil in the offseason.

Thousands of fans welcomed him at the Camp Nou Stadium, hoping he can turn the club’s fortunes around after a dismal start to its first season post-Lionel Messi.

Xavi, who thrived as a Barcelona player alongside Messi, was introduced at a reception usually offered only to top players. A crowd of nearly 10,000 chanted his name and waved club flags in the stands.

“I am very excited,” Xavi told the fans. “We are the best club in the world and we will work hard to be successful. Barça can’t be satisfied with draws or losses. We have to win every match.”

The 41-year-old Xavi, who signed a contract until June 2024, waved back and sent kisses to the crowd after entering the field alongside president Joan Laporta.

“I have a big advantage because I know the club well,” Xavi said. “Barcelona is the most difficult club in the world because you have to win and you have to play well. Winning 1-0 is not enough. We will try to win and to play well.”

He said he thinks Barcelona can still play an attacking style despite the absence of Messi, who joined Paris Saint-Germain this season because of the Catalan club’s financial struggles.

“Messi sent me a message offering me good luck,” Xavi said. “He is the best player in the history of the club but he is not here anymore. We have the players that we have and we will work with them.”

Xavi said he was moved by the welcome and chanted along with the crowd. Some of his relatives were also on the field during his presentation.

“We need you,” Xavi told the fans. “Especially during the bad moments. We are in a difficult situation as a club. We need you more than ever. We have to be more professional than ever. You don’t have to be tough, you have to have rules and make sure they are followed.”

Xavi was hired last week to replace Ronald Koeman, who couldn’t get the squad going this season amid one of its worst-ever crises on and off the field. He takes over with the club in ninth place in the Spanish league and second in its Champions League group.

“Today is a day that will go down in club history,” Laporta said. “Xavi has a difficult task at hand because he has to rebuild the team, but we have full confidence in him.”

Xavi returns to a club mired in financial difficulties and finds a squad depleted by injuries and struggling with young players and untested new signings.

Ansu Fati and Eric Garcia are the latest players to be added to the club’s injury list, joining Sergio Aguero and Gerard Piqué among others.

Xavi faces a tough schedule, with his first match in charge being the league derby against Espanyol on Nov. 20 at the Camp Nou. The club next hosts Benfica in a match that could decide its fate in the Champions League, a competition in which it hasn’t failed to advance past the group stage in nearly two decades.

Barcelona’s next matches are at Villarreal, against Real Betis and at Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Xavi will lead the squad in training for the first time on Tuesday, though most of the team’s top players will be on international duty.

Barcelona had been coached by interim manager Sergi Barjuan, who is now back with the club’s “B” squad. In the three matches under his command, the team drew 1-1 with Alavés, won 1-0 at Dynamo Kyiv in the Champions League and drew 3-3 at Celta Vigo on Saturday after squandering a three-goal lead.

Xavi played for Barcelona until 2015, helping the club win 25 trophies, including four Champions Leagues and eight Spanish leagues in 17 seasons. He was also key to Spain’s run of titles when it won the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

He had been at Al-Sadd since leaving Barcelona, first as a player and then as coach. He leaves with the team top of the Qatari league after nine games as it attempts to retain its title.

Xavi turned down his first chance to coach Barcelona in January 2020 after Ernesto Valverde was fired in the middle of the season.

His former teammates still in the squad include Piqué, Jordi Alba, Marc-André ter Stegen and Sergio Busquets.

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