FC Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez, currently playing for Qatari club al-Sadd, has given his thoughts on Arab footballers playing in topflight European leagues, including Roma's star Egyptian winger Mohammad Salah and Leicester's Algerian sensation Riyad Mahrez.
The Spanish great recently sat down with The New Arab's sports reporter Muhammad Azeem and also spoke about his experience playing the beautiful game in Qatar and his days playing at Barcelona.
How do you like it here in Qatar?
Life is great here, in such an amazing football club. I have adapted quickly to life in Doha because my family is here with me along with my brothers Oscar and Alex who work at the Aspire Sports Academy. I have met lots of wonderful people during my time here as an ambassador for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. I think that we have enough time to get ready for this massive event, which everyone is expecting will be extraordinary.
How has your time been at al-Sadd?
I have to say that this season we have not played as well as our fans have hoped. We have faced many obstacles; however I cannot go on without acknowledging the excellent performance of al-Rayyan, which won the Qatar Stars League many weeks before the end of the season after completely dominating the rest of the competition to such an extent that you sometimes think they are on totally different level from the other teams.
|Messi or Ronaldo? [TNA]|
We still have three more games until the end of the season and we will give it all we have to take the second spot, despite the fierce competition from al-Jaish and Lekhwiya, which both also want to be runners-up. We may have not taken the league but we will fight to take the other domestic competitions such as the Emir of Qatar Cup and the Qatar Crown Prince Cup.
What are the differences between the Qatari and Spanish leagues?
The difference between the Qatari league and the major European leagues is tactics. In Europe, there is more focus on tactics and in the Qatari league there is less. Even though there are many high profile European managers here such as Gianfranco Zola, Sabri Lamouchi and Jesualdo Ferreira.
How are the fans in Qatar?
The fans in Qatar are not that different from other fans around the world. Both young and old are very passionate about football. I have also noticed that there is a big following for the major European leagues such the English, Spanish, Italian, French and German leagues.
You were considered the best player at Barcelona while Pep Guardiola was manager but after Luis Enrique took over that changed with his focus on Messi, Neymar and Suarez. Do you think that Enrique created a new philosophy at Barcelona?
No, absolutely not. Changing Barcelona's football philosophy would be extremely difficult. And we would be making a huge mistake if we ever consider changing the team's philosophy. Johan Cruyff established the team's philosophy 30 years ago and since then it has not changed. Every manager has his thoughts on how his team should play, Guardiola reached perfection in his managing and Enrique developed the team according to his way of thinking by relying on Neymar, Suarez and of course Messi.
The difference is that Barcelona today doesn't need 50 passes to reach the other team's goal and score. Thanks to these three players, creating opportunities doesn't require a lot of passes. Enrique hasn't changed Barcelona's philosophy, he has evolved the team while holding on to its core philosophy. The biggest mistake that could happen to Barcelona would be signing a manager who has his own philosophy that he wants impose on the team. Thanks to this philosophy we have won many titles.
What are the differences between Messi and Ronaldo?
Ronaldo is a goalscorer, and Messi is also a goalscorer; however, Messi is a much better team player than Ronaldo. I think Messi is the best footballer in the world. In football, there are two important elements: fitness and intelligence. Ronaldo is very fit but Messi has both the fitness as well as the intelligence, so simply put he is better.
Do you follow Arab football and footballers?
Yes, because I am here and play with al-Sadd I have discovered many players in and outside the Qatari league such as Khalfan Ibrahim for example who is a very good player with huge potential, as well as Hassan al-Haidos, who I think is one of the best players in the Qatari league. Other players include Boualem Khoukhi who is playing a great season with al-Arabi. I also like the UAE's Amoory at al-Ain. As for Arab footballers playing in Europe I really like Roma's Egyptian winger Mohammad Salah and Porto's Algerian player Yacine Brahimi as well as Valencia's Sofiane Feghouli, who is also Algerian.
|Xavi in action in the Qatar Stars League [TNA]|
Tell us more about Salah.
Salah is a super fast player, sometimes his speed is unbelievable. It is not easy for a player to quickly adapt his style of play to the European leagues especially the big ones. Salah is a very technical and fit player, which has helped him make a name for himself in the Italian league.
Do you think Salah is faster than Ronaldo?
Possibly, his strength is his amazing speed and charging defenders as soon as he gets possession. Arab players are generally highly technical and are very good at ball control.
What do you think about Riyad Mahrez? Are you following him at Leicester City?
He is a very good player. He suddenly came to my attention this season, I didn't know about him before, but this season he has blown up. He has made a name for himself among the top names in the English league and played exceptionally well. Thanks to what he has done for his club, he can now play for any big club in Europe.
Even with Barcelona?
Yeah, why not? He could play for Barcelona in the future. He is talented, but that is not in my hands these days (laughs).
What team do you think will win the Champions League?
Obviously, I want my team Barcelona to win the title. I think they are the most likely to win along with Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich, however of course, we must be wary of Real Madrid because when they have unstable results in the league they usually play better in the Champions League. But I still think Barcelona is the best team to win.
What are your favourite memories of the El Clasico?
The El Clasico is without a doubt the most exciting match of the season and in the lives of each player. I have lots of great memories, but the two that stick out the most are the historical matches when we beat Real Madrid 5-0 and 6-2.
Who is the best player you faced in the El Clasico?
Lots of players but the ones I can't forget are Ronaldo "the phenomenon", Luis Figo, Raul, Fernando Hierro, Roberto Carlos, Zidane and in the later years Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil. However, the best out of all these I would say were Zidane and Ronaldo the Brazilian.