He has made more appearances for Barcelona than any other player in their history — but now midfielder Xavi Hernandez has confirmed he is bringing down the curtain on his illustrious career at the Camp Nou.
Xavi, who has been with the Catalan club for 24 years and made his first appearance in the first team back in 1998, said he would join Qatari outfit Al-Sadd in the summer.
The 35-year-old former Spain international told a news conference he had made a decision that was “definitive yet difficult.”
He leaves for Qatar with Barcelona having clinched the Spanish league title — his eighth with the club — and could yet say farewell having completed a treble by adding the Spanish Copa del Rey and Champions League trophies.
“I’d like to announce that I’m leaving Barca after this season,” Xavi said. “It’s going to be tough for me not wearing the Barca shirt.”
He opted to remain with the club after being linked to MLS side New York City FC last summer and added: “I’m happy to have stayed at Barca this year. It was tough to make a decision. I want to thank the fans, who have been great to me.”
But he said he felt the time was now right for a change of scene, explaining: “I had a very good offer to renew with Barca — but I didn’t even tell my mother about it. I think the Qatar project is nice, and it’s ideal for me.
“In the future, I’d like to come back to Barca. They will continue to be great without me.
“I’m a Barca product. I think I’ve performed very well — I’ve done what I was taught. I’m very happy. I couldn’t have had a better career.
“What haven’t I done? Scored a hat-trick or a bicycle kick… but I still have some time!”
Xavi’s contribution to the successes enjoyed by both Barcelona and Spain was hailed by Andres Iniesta, a colleague in both teams, who said: “I will not find anyone of the stature of what he represents as a person and a player.
“He is a unique player, unrepeatable, and has been fundamental at the club and with the national team. It is a pleasure and privilege to have spent my entire career at his side.”
Xavi made 133 international appearances, a record for a Spanish outfield player, winning the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships.
His international debut came in a friendly against Holland in November 2000 — but his final appearance saw Vicente del Bosque’s team humbled 5-1 by the same opponents at last summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
Barcelona has links with Qatar including a partnership with the non-profit Qatar Foundation and a shirt sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways.