Former Barcelona captain Xavi Hernández said his new focus after hanging up his boots as a player for the last time is to build up coaching experience with his club Al Sadd, which is based in Qatar, with his eyes set on a return to the Catalan giant.
Qatar, which is set to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, hopes to benefit from Hernández's skills as part of its plan to achieve an international reputation in the world's soccer scene.
"The idea is to start as a trainer in Qatar, where there is less pressure, to test myself and get some experience, and the objective is to return to Europe and, moreover, Barça," Xavi told Efe in an interview in Tehran just hours before his last game as a professional player.
Considered one of the best midfielders to grace the sport, Xavi is set to retire following the duel between Al Sadd and Iranian side Persepolis in the group stages AFC Champions League, in which his team has already secured its spot in the next round.
Xavi praised the soccer atmosphere in Iran – although acknowledged he never expected to be playing there in his career.
One aspect he was not so happy with was the government's policy of banning women from stadiums during games.
"That has to absolutely change," he said. "There are a lot of taboos with regards women in this region and there cannot be differences between men and women in society," he said.
The soccer player said the current rule had no place in 2019 and urged everyone to mount pressure to change it.
The former Spain international told Efe in an exclusive interview that it was a big day for him, and that he was heading into the game in good spirits and with the desire just to "enjoy these last 90 minutes" of his professional career as a midfielder.
"I've had a very long career, I'm relaxed and, besides that, I have the goal of becoming a coach. I think that having an objective when you finish a wonderful chapter makes it a little easier, too," the 39-year-old said.
He said that as a child he could never have imagined winning so many titles, either with the La Liga powerhouse or the national team.
Xavi said he felt he had his "big send-off" with Barcelona in 2015, the year they won La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League – the continental treble.
"I saw it as my own farewell to soccer," he said. "I've already done it all, I get the feeling soccer has given me everything and I'm super grateful," he said.
Now, his focus will be to coach Al Sadd, a position which will be made official shortly, and he said he has already begun organizing the calendar and upcoming friendlies.
Asked whether he had any role models, he named several coaches he's played under, but underscored Luis Aragonés, Spain's former coach, and Pep Guardiola, the ex-Barcelona coach who is currently at the helm of Manchester City and is widely regarded as one of the world's best.
"Right now, the best coach in the world is Guardiola," Xavi said.
According to the midfielder, he looks to Barcelona when it comes to adopting a style of play, as he considered it "attractive soccer, where you dominate the game and keep possession of the ball."
"That's what I want to bring. I grew up that way and I took so much pleasure from the style, we won with that style, Barcelona and the national team, in fact, I think it's the best way to play," he continued.
Rumors in the soccer world have already linked Xavi with a move back to northeast Spain.
"Right now I'm going to start my career from scratch, I can't take on a Ferrari or a trans-Atlantic liner, I have to small with a little boat, a small car, go along testing myself, getting experience and, yes, it is true that the aim is to get back to Barcelona but calmly," he said.
Persepolis will host Al Sadd at the Azadi Stadium in the Iranian capital.EFE-EPA