Spanish great Xavi to play on until at least end of year

by David HARDING
Al-Sadd captain and midfielder Xavi has decided to extend his playing career at the Qatari side before going on to earn coaching qualifications

Legendary former Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi Hernandez has upset his own plans to retire and announced he will extend his career until at least the end of this year, he said on Sunday.

Widely expected to end his illustrious playing career at the end of this season, the World Cup champion and four-times Champions League winner told AFP he feels fit enough to continue playing a little longer.

"I have decided to continue at least six months more," said the 38-year-old, who now plays for Qatari club Al Sadd.

Asked why he was playing on, he replied: "Because it depends on my physical condition. Maybe in December I decide to continue."

The decision is unexpected as Xavi had signalled that the current season would be his last before he focuses on earning his coaching badges.

He even spoke about not being about not being able to cope with the physical demands of professional football.

But he has now had a change of heart.

Xavi, who won 133 caps for Spain, had been expected to take the reins at Al Sadd from next season and has been tipped to be the Qatar coach in 2022 when the Gulf state hosts the World Cup.

The announcement that he will continue playing comes almost two decades to the day he made his first team debut for Barcelona against Leida back in 1998 and became synonymous with the club's tiki-taka style of play.

He went on to make more than 700 appearances for the Catalan giants, winning eight La Liga titles and 31 trophies in all, which was a record when he left Spanish football in 2015 to move to the Gulf.

Xavi had already extended his original two-year contract to play this season and remains the biggest name in the Qatari domestic league.

Although the league season has ended in Qatar -- Al Sadd finished runners-up -- Xavi is still involved in two cup competitions.

On Monday, Al Sadd play in Doha against Saudi Arabian side Al Ahli in the first leg of the AFC Champions League last 16.

Later this week, Al Sadd will also play in the semi-final of Qatar's biggest domestic cup competition, the Emir Cup.

Xavi has so far added three more trophies to his collection while playing in the Gulf and is approaching playing 1,000 games throughout his long career.

Since being in Qatar he has also been named as a global ambassador for the 2022 World Cup.

Al-Sadd captain and midfielder Xavi has decided to extend his playing career at the Qatari side before going on to earn coaching qualifications