Futbol Club Barcelona have named former midfielder and captain Xavi Hernandez as head coach on a contract until 2024, following the sacking of Ronald Koeman.
The La Liga club received the green light on Friday to sign the 41-year-old after they paid the release clause in his contract with Qatari side Al-Sadd.
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Xavi played for Barcelona for 17 years, making 767 appearances and winning 25 trophies, including four Champions League wins and eight league titles.
“FC Barcelona have reached an agreement with Xavi Hernandez for him to become first team coach for the rest of the current season and two more seasons,” the club said in a statement that was headlined “WELCOME BACK HOME, XAVI!”
“Xavi Hernandez, a youth team product at Barca, has left his current club, Al-Sadd of Qatar, after talks held over the last few days with the owners of the club.”
Dutch coach Koeman was sacked after a 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano last month which left Barca, as it is commonly known, ninth in LaLiga.
The club are still in ninth place after Sergi Barjuan was appointed as caretaker coach and sit nine points behind leaders Real Sociedad with a game in hand.
Barjuan is set to remain in charge for their league match at Celta Vigo on Saturday, with Xavi arriving in Barcelona this weekend before his presentation on Monday.
“It wasn’t goodbye, it was ‘see you soon’. The Camp Nou has always been my home,” Xavi said in a video addressed to the fans.
“You’re my fans, my people, the club that I love the most. And now, I’m coming home. See you soon, Culers. Forca Barca!”
A legend on the pitch, with the soul of a manager pic.twitter.com/FFNvE98hNV
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) November 6, 2021
Xavi’s first game would be a local derby against Espanyol on November 20, after the international break.
A former Spain international, Xavi joined Al Sadd as a player in 2015, becoming the head coach after hanging up his boots in 2019. In April, he led his side to the Qatari domestic league title with the team unbeaten.
He turned down the chance to coach Barca in January 2020 after Ernesto Valverde was sacked, but remained linked with the job even after Koeman succeeded Quique Setien in August of last year.
Nicknamed the “Maquina” (the Machine), Xavi is widely considered one of Barcelona’s greatest-ever players and there is huge excitement about his potential as a coach after his influence on the iconic Barca team managed by Pep Guardiola.
His passing style was seen as the embodiment of Guardiola’s “tiki-taka” team that won the treble in 2009.
“One of the greatest midfield maestros of all time, he helped redefine the art with his creative mind, pinpoint passing and sublime ability to read the game,” Barca said in their statement, heralding the return of “an absolute legend”.
Xavi faces a formidable challenge after Barcelona let Lionel Messi join Paris Saint-Germain in the summer.
The club are also in dire financial straits, having posted debts of 1.35 billion euros ($1.6bn).
In Europe, Barca face a fight even to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League while any rebuilding will have to be carried out on a shoestring budget as the club struggles to deal with the debts it partly built up paying Messi’s wages.
Xavi will also be charged with improving the team’s style of play, which was a key criticism during the tenure of Koeman, another former Barca player.