November 10, 2021
(DOHA, Qatar) — For fans of Qatar men’s soccer, the last few weeks have been full of highs and lows.
On Oct. 22, Al Sadd beat Al Rayyan 5-4 on penalties to win the Amir Cup in front of a full-capacity, 40,000 person crowd at the newly inaugurated Al Thumama stadium in Doha. But just a few days later, Al Sadd’s CEO, Turki Al-Ali, announced on Twitter that the team’s coach, Xavi Hernández, will be leaving to return to Barcelona.For those attending the Oct. 22 match, however, the occasion was a celebration. Al Thumama, which is shaped in a traditional Arab “ghafiya” cap, is one of five new stadiums in Qatar erected ahead of next year’s FIFA World Cup. Only fully vaccinated fans were allowed to attend the match – a rule that Qatar also plans to uphold for the World Cup matches.
Qatar has been holding matches at the newly opened stadiums in part as an organizational test for the World Cup, since the country’s first metro opened in May 2019 to secure easier access for the fans.
Emma Daniel and Jenna Baillie, who work as independent contractors helping train staff in preparation for World Cup 2022, came all the way from the UK to enjoy the game as fans. The women told The Click they were happy with the way everything came together and that Qatar’s decision to hold the World Cup in November and December was a “smart move”, considering the country’s hot summers that reach up to 123 degrees Fahrenheit.Jameela Alansari, a Qatari local and a supporter of Al Sadd, told The Click that she was happy both about the victory of her team and the fact that Qatar is hosting the World Cup next year, despite some international fears over accommodating such a large event in this small Gulf country.
“It will be busy, but they are all welcome,” Alansari said.Mohamed and Mustafa, two Egyptians who declined to give their last names, said that they came to the match hoping to see Hernández and experience the atmosphere of the new stadium ahead of the World Cup.
“We don’t really support either of the two teams,” admitted Mohamed “We’re here because of Xavi.”
Little did they know that it would be their last chance to see him in his role as coach for Al Sadd. Hernández joined Al Sadd as a player in 2015, after a 17-year long career as a midfielder for Spain’s Barcelona, and in 2019 he took on the role of Al Sadd’s coach, winning seven titles with the team.His return to Barcelona comes at a critical time for the Spanish team, after the departure of long-standing player Lionel Messi from the team in August this year, and the firing of Barcelona’s coach Ronald Koeman, who was with the team for only 14 months.
“Xavi informed us a few days ago of his desire to go to Barcelona at this particular time, because of the critical stage his hometown club is going through, and we understand this and decided not to stand in his way,” said Al-Ali on the club’s official Twitter account. “Xavi and his family will remain welcome in Doha, and our relationship will continue.”
“I’m a Saddawi now, a supporter of Al-Sadd, and it will be forever ,” said Hernández in his farewell interview with Al Sadd.
“Of course, you never know; maybe it’s not the time to say goodbye. Maybe I will come back in the future. Why not? I feel Al-Sadd is my home.”
Barcelona has signed a two-year contract with Hernández that will last until 2024. It is yet unclear who will take over as coach for Al Sadd.