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Why did Xavi Hernández leave Barcelona in 2015 and move to Qatar?

During his playing career, Xavi chose to leave both Barcelona and the national team while he was still at the top of his game, before becoming a burden.

Why did Xavi Hernández leave Barcelona in 2015 and move to Qatar?

Xavi Hernández once said that out of everyone in his family, the biggest Culé of all was probably his mother Maria Mercè Creus. That was surprising coming from someone like him - very few players have identified with FC Barcelona, or become as closely associated with the club quite like he has. Until only recently no one else had played as many games for the club as he had - his all-time appearances record - 767 matches, was only overtaken by Leo Messi earlier this year.

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Xavi, an early starter with Barcelona

Xavi joined Barça in July 1991, registering for the youth academy, La Masia when he was just 11 years old. Like many of the boys in his age group, he gradually made his way up through the youth categories but he was one of the few to make the grade. A technical report from his time in the Under-14s noted his ability to conduct the ball out from midfield - “A good understanding of how to protect the ball, he hardly ever loses it”.

Within three years he had become a regular for Spain’s Under-17s. Louis van Gaal included him in his squad for the Champions League group game against Newcastle in November 1997. Xavi watched the 1-0 win from the bench. His first team debut came the following season, he scored the opener in the Spanish Super Cup first leg against Mallorca. His LaLiga debut followed in October of that year - Van Gaal handed Xavi a total of 16 starts during the 98/99 season by which time he was starting to be considered as Guardiola’s natural successor.

Xavi in action against Valencia, October 1998.
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Xavi in action against Valencia, October 1998.

Xavi takes over from Guardiola

Xavi cemented his place in the side after Guardiola departed in 2001 and later formed part of one of the most successful teams in football history, when Pep returned to take the coaching post in May 2008. Under Guardiola, Barça and Xavi won 14 trophies, including the Sextuple in 2009. Xavi was instrumental in helping Spain win their first major tournaments in over 40 years as La Roja won back-to-back Euros and the biggest prize of all, the World Cup in 2010.

But by 2012, he was starting to feel the strain. He was 32 and already with over 400 league games for Barça and 100 caps for Spain under his belt. The injuries, calf muscle and hamstring, were more frequent and recovery times longer. 

He had considered quitting international football after Euro 2012 but was persuaded to continue by Vicente del Bosque. But by the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Xavi was ready to step down and focus just on club football. He had two years to run on his contract at Camp Nou but was already thinking about the next decision, the most difficult one of all - when to call it a day with Barça.

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Xavi announces he is leaving Barcelona

The 2014/15 season would be Xavi’s last at Camp Nou. On 21 May 2015, he announced that his time at Barcelona was at an end. “It has been a difficult decision to take but a definitive one. I have talked it over at length with my family, my wife, my people - now is the time for me to leave rather than see out the final year of my contract. I need a change of scenery. I have been participating less within the team and I think I need a change. It’s not what my heart is telling me, it is what my body and my mind is telling me. When you are talking about a top class football team, I don’t think I am up to it anymore. I have been offered work as part of an attractive project in Qatar, where I will continue playing for Al Sadd for two more years and also collaborate with the Aspire Academy along with my brothers. It is the ideal place for me. I hope I haven’t let anyone down, my plan is to return home one day”.

Xavi played his 767th and final game for Barcelona on 6 June 2015, lifting the Champions League trophy in Berlin and ending just how he wanted - the blaugranas finished the season with the treble and he could leave his lifelong club on a high.