Barcelona versus Cadiz is not a fixture that particularly stands out on the Spanish football calendar, but Sunday's meeting between the two is momentous for Lionel Messi.

Having played his 505th LaLiga game for Barcelona last weekend against Deportivo Alaves, Messi has now broken a record set by one of Barcelona's most-revered sons.

Xavi retains a legendary status at Camp Nou – his influence during a 17-year career in Barca's senior team was arguably unmatched, as the team was almost constantly built around him as that metronomic hub in midfield.

In the five years since his departure, many midfielders have been signed in the hope they can pick up the slack left behind, but none have successfully replaced him.

He may yet return as coach one day. Indeed, by all accounts it seems he was offered such a chance at least once last year.

But while the legacy of his playing days will remain unblemished, he has lost a slice of Barca history to Messi…

The appearances record

After starting the visit of the Andalusians, Messi moved one clear of Xavi's previous record haul of 505 LaLiga appearances in the Blaugrana.

Like Xavi, it has taken Messi 17 seasons to go beyond 500 outings in Spain's top flight.

But while Xavi opted to depart for a final payday in Qatar with Al-Sadd, whom he now coaches, Messi's career at the very top appears to be far from over.

His penalty in the 4-1 midweek mauling by Paris Saint-Germain took Messi to 20 goals across all competitions for the 13th successive season.

His stunning brace last weekend in the dismantling of Alaves left him on 15 in LaLiga, just one fewer than pacesetter Luis Suarez – it's pretty strong form considering many regard this Messi's worst individual season in over a decade.

 

Messi played his first LaLiga game for the club in 2004-05 before firmly securing himself a place in the first-team squad over the following two campaigns.

Xavi arguably made a slightly quicker impression, his 41 league outings across his first two seasons 17 more than Messi managed.

But Messi's remarkable consistency and longevity are reflected in the fact he has not played fewer than 31 LaLiga games in a single season since 2007-08, when he featured 28 times. The year before he made 26 appearances.

Having surpassed numerous club greats such as Guillermo Amor, Carles Puyol, Victor Valdes and Andres Iniesta along the way, he now moves past the final pillar.

More records to come?

Of course, it almost goes without saying that it's unclear what further LaLiga records Messi will break because his future is so uncertain.

Will he stay? Will he join PSG or Manchester City? 

Given Messi's previous insistence that Barca have to be challenging for titles, on the evidence of this season and their financial state, it's difficult to see them in the hunt for the major honours in the near future.

As such, many will expect him to follow through on his attempt to leave last year when his contract expires at the end of the season.

That shouldn't prevent Messi taking another of Xavi's club records, with the Argentinian just seven behind his former team-mate's 767 Barca appearances across all competitions. No one has made more.

But Messi, who became LaLiga's all-time leading goalscorer long ago, will likely miss out on the chance of setting a new overall league record for appearances.

His 506 is still 116 fewer than Andoni Zubizarreta's 622, with Real Betis midfielder Joaquin – still active at 39 – the closest to the former goalkeeper's record on 568.

Sergio Ramos is the only other active player ahead of Messi on 507, with Athletic Bilbao's Raul Garcia (505) just behind the Barca captain.

Although missing out on such a record would be a minor footnote in an otherwise astonishing career, it's hard to escape from the thought Messi's legacy might be that bit more magical were he to spend all of his playing days at the same club.

Lionel Messi equalled Barcelona's all-time LaLiga appearances record set by Xavi by starting Saturday's clash with Deportivo Alaves.

It was thought Ronald Koeman might opt to leave Messi out given the importance of Tuesday's Champions League round-of-16 first-leg game against Paris Saint-Germain.

However, given the depleted nature of the Barca squad at the moment, Koeman made the decision to include his captain from the start.

It was Messi's 505th LaLiga appearance for Barca, tying the haul managed by club great Xavi, and the Argentinian could surpass his former team-mate next week at home to Cadiz.

"Nobody is safe," declared Gerard Pique after Barcelona were humiliated by Bayern Munich in their final match of a long, long season.

The defender was very clear that changes must be made in the wake of an 8-2 battering in the Champions League quarter-finals.

President Josep Maria Bartomeu is expected to chair an extraordinary board meeting on Monday, when the dismissal of head coach Quique Setien appears likely to be ratified.

Barca's problems stem far beyond the man in charge of the first team, but Setien looked powerless in the dugout in Lisbon on Friday and is the first obvious departure as part of a top-down clear-out at Camp Nou.

Appointing a replacement is complicated by next year's presidential elections. Assuming Bartomeu does not heed growing calls to step aside, he will be in power for at least another 10 months. That means any coach who comes in now could find himself supplanted by the preferred choice of the next president.

With that in mind, here are six of the firm favourites to take over from Setien.

 

Mauricio Pochettino

The favourite in many quarters, former Tottenham boss Pochettino could be a hugely tempting - and low-cost - choice.

The Argentinian, who left Spurs last November five months after reaching the Champions League final, has softened his stance on coaching Barca after previously declaring he could never take the job due to his allegiance to Espanyol.

Barca would represent by far the biggest job of his coaching career and the sheer challenge of getting them back on track could appeal to Pochettino, who turned Spurs into Premier League title challengers and top-four regulars over five years.

There are reports, however, that Pochettino's appointment could be a majorly divisive move, given his previous comments about Barcelona.

Xavi

Barca's former captain turned down the coaching job in January when Ernesto Valverde was sacked, and he may think the time is still not right to take the reins.

The Catalans would need to buy out his deal with Al Sadd as well as convince Xavi to come back, plus there are political complications, with presidential challenger Victor Font declaring the former Spain star would be his choice in 2021 if he wins the election.

Still, there are few who better understand the 'Barca DNA', he is adored by the fans and, crucially, he could be the man to convince Lionel Messi to stay.

 

Massimiliano Allegri

Another unattached option, Allegri has a commendable pedigree from his time with Milan and Juventus. Six Serie A titles, seven domestic cups and two Champions League finals in the past decade give Allegri a CV to rival any candidate.

He would certainly bring an uncompromising authority to the dressing room, as well as vast experience, but the 53-year-old could well be put off by the complications of those elections, especially given other leading clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Inter are said to be interested if they make a change.

Patrick Kluivert

Kluivert represents one of Bartomeu's more sensible possible appointments given he would probably accept the job despite the uncertainty of next year.

The former Barca striker is currently head of youth football at Camp Nou, and that is a role to which he could return if the head coach position became untenable in 2021.

He is another who understands the club well, would presumably be more than happy to promote youngsters to the first team, and he learned some of his coaching craft at the right hand of Louis van Gaal with the Netherlands national team.

 

Ronald Koeman

Another former Barca star who knows only too well the demands of the club, Koeman also spoke with them about replacing Valverde only to turn them down.

Like Xavi, Koeman is committed to his present project, which is to lead Netherlands at Euro 2020. With that tournament having been pushed back to next year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 57-year-old would appear unlikely to quit his national team now for the sake of a potential short-term posting at his old club.

Garcia Pimienta

Like Kluivert, Pimienta represents an internal candidate who would likely be unmoved by the looming elections.

A former academy player who made one appearance for the senior side, Pimienta has been coaching at La Masia since 2001 and took charge of the B team two years ago.

It would be unfair to expect him to become the new Pep Guardiola or Luis Enrique, who also honed their first-team credentials with the B team, but the 46-year-old would likely be a popular choice for the new generation of talent breaking through, even if the appointment lasted only until next year.

Lionel Messi is a "competitive beast" who will definitely play at the 2022 World Cup according to Xavi, who has reiterated his desire to one day coach his beloved Barcelona. 

Argentina great Messi will be 35 by the time the next international global showpiece is held in Qatar across November and December. 

Messi has suffered more than his fair share of heartbreak with La Albiceleste, losing three Copa America finals and the 2014 World Cup final to Germany. 

Despite turning 33 last month, Messi's numbers continue to be phenomenal and he topped LaLiga's goalscoring and assists charts with 25 and 21 respectively this term. 

Xavi, who played alongside Messi in Barca's first team from 2004 until his Camp Nou departure in 2015, is coaching Qatari side Al Sadd and fully expects to see his former team-mate involved at the next World Cup. 

"I see Leo playing until he wants to. On a physical level, he is fast, strong, he is a competitive beast, physically an animal," Xavi told Marca.  

"I have no doubt that he will play in Qatar 2022."

Xavi won eight league titles and the Champions League four times during a glittering Barca career. His name was heavily linked with the coaching vacancy at Camp Nou when Ernesto Valverde was sacked and while Quique Setien got the job, there is now speculation over his future too. 

Xavi has made no secret of his desire to one day return to Barca but says respect must be shown to Setien, who he feels has done some good work despite missing out on the league title to rivals Real Madrid.  

"I do not hide, and I have always said, that my main goal, when it occurs, is Barca. It is my home and it would be a dream," he said. 

"But now I am focused on Al Sadd, looking forward to the new season. When Barca has to come, in the short or long term, it will come. Above all, Quique Setien must be respected and I wish the team all the best. 

"Sometimes Barca plays very well, others well, and others not so well. But I like the idea of Setien, now and with his previous teams - dominate and make an attractive game.  

"Sometimes it is not possible, it is true, but the rival makes it difficult for you. We have seen very nice and very good games of Barca with Setien. Definitely."

It was revealed over the weekend that Xavi had returned a positive test for coronavirus, which meant he was not on the bench for Al Sadd's 2-1 victory over Al Khor. 

The World Cup winner says he is doing well but expects the transfer market to suffer as a result of the global health pandemic. 

"I am fine, although logically isolated, and wanting to train soon," he said. 

"It [coronavirus] will lower the level [of the market], like everything after this pandemic. It will be very damaged. There will be a reorganisation of everything, of clubs and players. It is a shame, but it will be so." 

Xavi has been in charge at Al Sadd for a little over a year, during which time they have won the Qatari Super Cup and Qatar Cup, while they also reached the AFC Champions League semi-finals last term. 

He spoke of the difficulty of trying to compete against other wealthy teams in Qatar and welcomed the arrival of former international team-mate Santi Cazorla to Al Sadd. 

"When you are in a winning club, like this one, the goal is to win everything, although you have to be aware of our rivals," he added.  

"In Qatar, we have ahead of us Al Duhail, who has twice the budget of us and Al Rayyan, who has made a great financial effort.  

"With them it is difficult to compete. At the Asian level, we want the Champions League. We have reached the semis two years in a row [as player and coach].  

"In 2020, I have the hope of reaching the final. For that we have signed Cazorla, to make a good team." 

Xavi has ended speculation that he was set to return to Barcelona by signing a one-year contract extension with Al-Sadd.

It was reported that the ex-Barca captain was poised to replace the under-pressure Quique Setien at Camp Nou.

Xavi has made no secret of his desire to coach the Catalan giants, but the 40-year-old has agreed to remain in Qatar for at least another season.

The former Spain midfielder has won the Qatari Super Cup and Qatar Cup in his first season in charge of Al-Sadd and is hungry for more trophies.

He told the club's official website: "I am happy that the squad is complete today after the return of the remaining first-team players, in preparation for this upcoming period and the resumption of the league championship.

"I am happy to continue with Al-Sadd, and the team's goal will always be to compete for all titles."

Xavi's side are third in a Stars League that will resume later this month after being halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Al-Sadd trail leaders Al Duhail by 10 points with only five matches to play.

Barca legend Xavi recently stated that he will only return to the LaLiga champions when the time is right, having turned down the chance to replace former coach Ernesto Valverde in January.

"I'm a club man. I would like to return at the right moment to start a project from zero," he was quoted as saying by Sport.

"I've said it a lot of times, but I want to take footballing decisions at Barcelona.

"It's clear that after the [presidential] elections the stage would be set, of course. I'm not ruling anything out.

"They came for me in January, we were speaking. I told them the circumstances and timing weren't right."

Xavi said he was still dreaming of becoming Barcelona boss one day, seeing himself as a capable coach.

The Al-Sadd boss was linked with the job earlier this year when the LaLiga giants sacked Ernesto Valverde, before they turned to Quique Setien.

Xavi, 40, said taking over at Camp Nou remained a dream and he is increasingly confident about his coaching abilities.

"I don't know why people see me like this, but I am proud and I like it," he told DjMaRiiO in a YouTube interview.

"Now that I have tried as a coach, I see myself as capable and it is an illusion, a dream to return to Barcelona.

"I have already said it on many occasions, I consider Barca my home, it is my life.

"I am in an apprenticeship. I am learning a lot as a coach here in Qatar. Obviously, training for Barca are big words, you have to see it clearly, be very prepared.

"It is all a process and I hope that someday I can arrive."

Xavi won eight LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies as a player at Barcelona.

Barcelona star Lionel Messi is the best player of all-time while Ronaldinho belongs among the greats, according to Xavi.

Messi is a record six-time Ballon d'Or winner and is considered among the modern-day greats, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.

His former team-mate, Xavi, has no doubt the Argentina international is the greatest player ever.

"Ronaldinho is at the level of the best. Ronaldinho is at the level of the best, perhaps what he lacked was constancy," the Al-Sadd coach told Globo Esporte.

"Perhaps he lacked constancy in being at his peak. For me, only Messi is above Ronaldinho because of the constancy of the last few years."

Xavi added: "Messi is the best in history, but Ronaldinho is with the best. The rest follow.

"He [Ronaldinho] is with the best – with Ronaldo 'Fenomeno', with Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, that group."

Messi had scored 24 goals in 31 games this season before the campaign was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Xavi named former Barcelona team-mates Carles Puyol and Jordi Cruyff as the men he wants by his side should he get the chance to fulfil his ambition of becoming head coach at Camp Nou.

The 40-year-old won his second trophy as Al Sadd boss when he guided the club to glory in the Qatar Cup final in January, days after turning down the offer of taking charge of Barcelona.

At the time Xavi said it was "too soon" for him to coach the LaLiga champions, but in an interview with La Vanguardia magazine he made it clear that becoming Barca's boss is very much in his plans.

"I am clear that I want to return to Barca," he said. "I am very excited.

"Now that I have seen myself coaching, I think I can contribute things to the players.

"But I made it clear to them that I saw myself in a project that started from scratch, and in which decision-making was mine."

Xavi shared 15 years as a Barcelona with Puyol and together they won six LaLiga titles, two Copa del Rey titles, three Champions Leagues, the UEFA Super Cup and two FIFA World Cup Cups.

Cruyff's time at Camp Nou came in the mid-90s, but Xavi said the 46-year-old, who is now head coach of Ecuador, would be his first choice as technical secretary.

"I would like to work together with people in whom I have confidence, with whom there is loyalty, and who are very valid people," said Xavi. "There cannot be anyone toxic near the locker room.

"We are talking about Carles Puyol, who was captain of Barca, and Jordi Cruyff, a very good businessman and with a lot of experience in the technical secretary.

"I am a team person; I don't want to decide alone. Obviously I would like to be very in tune with everyone.

"In the locker room there can be no negativity, nothing toxic. I would like to enter with people from my environment to form a good team."

Andres Iniesta says the prospect of taking on a joint coaching role with Xavi at Barcelona "doesn't sound too bad".

Former midfielder Xavi was one of the candidates to take over from Ernesto Valverde, who was sacked as head coach following the 3-2 Supercopa de Espana semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid.

The Al Sadd boss confirmed he held talks with his old club but turned down their offer as he considered it too early in his coaching career.

Quique Setien has since been installed on a two-and-a-half-year deal, but it remains widely expected that Xavi will return to Camp Nou in future to take charge of the first team.

Iniesta, whose midfield partnership with Xavi was a cornerstone of one of Barca's greatest eras, likes the idea of reuniting with his old team-mate in the dug-out.

"The Xavi-Iniesta tandem doesn't sound too bad, but it's not possible right now," he told El Partidazo.

"I think Xavi will sooner or later be at Barca, but I don't know at which moment."

Iniesta, who spent 22 years at Barca after joining as a youngster, thinks the idea of former stars coming back to the club can only be a positive.

When asked about the prospect of another ex-team-mate, Carles Puyol, taking up a role of sporting director, with Xavi as coach and Gerard Pique as president, Iniesta said: "I truly believe those players, one day, should be at the club, although I don't know in which role.

"Firstly, because of their abilities, and then because of what they represent and the good they can do at the club where they have spent their lives."

Iniesta caused a stir when he described Barca's conduct as "ugly" when Valverde was dismissed this month.

The former Spain star has moved to clarify his comments, saying: "People who know me know it's very difficult for me to criticise the way Barcelona do or don't do things. Maybe the word 'ugly' is strong, or everyone can use it to say I've given a bit of attention to Barca, as I read, but it's not like that at all.

"If you like, take away the word 'ugly' for any other. What I believe is that the manner wasn't correct - even [president Josep Maria] Bartomeu recognised that. That was just one way of saying it."

Iniesta, who confirmed he spoke with Valverde following the news, now hopes to see Setien enjoy success with his commitment to possession-based, attacking football.

"I've spoken with him [Setien] one time," said the Vissel Kobe man. "He had long since been tipped to coach Barcelona.

"I think he's a coach, and everyone agrees with this, who has a way of understanding and watching football with a lot of possession, and who likes to play well and attack.

"I believe, and I hope, he can have a great period." 

Barcelona great Xavi says he rejected an offer from the club to succeed Ernesto Valverde as head coach.

Valverde was sacked in the wake of the 3-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals of the inaugural expanded Supercopa de Espana this month.

Xavi was reportedly on a shortlist of candidates put forward to the Barca board before former Real Betis boss Quique Setien was appointed on a two-and-a-half-year deal.

The Al Sadd coach has confirmed he was made a formal offer by technical secretary Eric Abidal and CEO Oscar Grau but says he turned it down as it would be "too soon" for him to take charge at Camp Nou.

"Yes, I received an offer from Barcelona in the presence of Eric Abidal and Oscar Grau, but I didn't accept it," he told reporters on Thursday.

"It's too soon to coach Barcelona, but it will continue to be my dream to be Barcelona coach in the future."

Xavi is said to have met three times with Abidal and Grau in Doha last weekend, and he admits the uncertainty made it difficult to focus on his job at Al Sadd.

However, the former Spain star insists he is now fully focused ahead of Friday's Qatar Cup final against Al Duhail.

"I told my family first and then the Al Sadd players because they were following the topic," he said when asked who first learned he had turned down Barca's approach.

"I wasn't in my best position during the three days, but I'm now totally focused on Al Sadd."

Ernesto Valverde has taken Barcelona training amid widespread reports he will meet with the club's board later on Monday.

Despite his side sitting top of LaLiga, the Barcelona head coach is under intense pressure, scrutiny which increased after last week's 3-2 loss to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final in Saudi Arabia.

Valverde was pictured taking training as reports in Spain suggested he could lose his position depending on the outcome of talks with the Barca hierarchy.

Barca great Andres Iniesta made an appearance at the session shortly after telling reporters the saga around Valverde had become "ugly", urging respect for his former boss who he felt had seen his position "weakened" by the constant speculation.

Iniesta's former team-mate Xavi, now head coach of Al Sadd, met with the Camp Nou side's director of football Eric Abidal in Qatar on Friday.

But while conceding coaching Barca was his "dream", he did not divulge what was discussed and reiterated his respect for Valverde when he faced reporters after leading Al Sadd into the Qatar Cup final with a win over Al Rayyan.

Reports on Sunday then suggested Xavi had turned down the chance to take charge of Barca immediately.

Ronald Koeman, Massimiliano Allegri and Mauricio Pochettino are the other leading contenders to replace Valverde if the former Athletic Bilbao boss is removed from his role.

While managing Tottenham, Pochettino had insisted he would never contemplate taking charge of Barca due to his ties to his old team Espanyol, though reports claim the five-time European champions are still keen to make an approach.

Valverde took charge in 2017 and won two league titles, the Copa del Rey and a Supercopa crown over his first two seasons.

Barca are due to train on Tuesday before a day off on Wednesday and will next be in action with a Sunday home league contest against Granada.

Andres Iniesta has urged Barcelona to show more respect to head coach Ernesto Valverde following "ugly" reports they are attempting to line up club legend Xavi as his replacement.

Barca are on course for a third successive LaLiga title and remain in the Champions League, but Valverde is under increasing pressure.

Following the 3-2 Supercopa de Espana semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid in Jeddah, reports of the board's apparent frustrations with Valverde have escalated.

Strong speculation has claimed club directors used the trip to Saudi Arabia to open talks with Xavi regarding the possibility of replacing Valverde, but the 39-year-old – who is in charge of Qatari club Al Sadd – is said to have told them he is only willing to take over at the end of the season.

Barca have not confirmed the stories, but they do not sit easy with Iniesta, who spent a season playing under Valverde at Camp Nou.

"What comes to my mind a little, if all this is so, is that the way everything is being done is a bit ugly," he told Onda Cero.

"I think that there should always be respect for the coach. The boss' situation and position has been left very weakened.

"My relationship with the boss is very good. During the year we have been talking sometimes. Really, beyond whether we like the coach or not, I think the situation is not pleasant for anyone: the coach, the team or the fans."

Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino have been mentioned as potential alternatives to Xavi if he decides he is not ready to return to Barca.

But Iniesta opted against outright backing anyone, suggesting Xavi and Koeman have positives and drawbacks.

"There is a case for everyone," Iniesta added. "In the case of Pep Guardiola, who was at Barca B and then he took over the first team, the one who knows [the team and club] best is Xavi.

"He will have analysed all the variables that there can be and let's see what happens, but Koeman has a lot of experience as a coach and Xavi is starting out now.

"But a lot of times, experience counts for nothing. Both of them have been at Barca and know the club."

Barcelona appear ready to turn to their next coaching target as the LaLiga giants eye Mauricio Pochettino.

Ernesto Valverde is under enormous pressure after the Supercopa de Espana semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid, but Xavi has reportedly turned down the job – for now.

Amid contrasting reports over Barca's next decision, they may be lining up a move for Pochettino.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA CONTACT POCHETTINO OVER COACHING JOB

Barcelona contacted former Tottenham manager Pochettino to be their next boss, according to RAC1.

It comes as widespread reports in Spain say Al Sadd boss and former Barcelona star Xavi turned down the position.

Meanwhile, Catalunya Radio reported Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman also rejected the opportunity.

After a meeting on Sunday, Barca decided to stick with Valverde for now, according to Sport.

ROUND-UP

- Amid reports Manchester United had agreed to terms with Bruno Fernandes, the Mirror says the Premier League club are set to bid £65million (€76.1m) for the Sporting CP midfielder this week.

- Tottenham are set to sign Benfica's Gedson Fernandes as further details about a possible move emerge. Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano reports Spurs will sign the Portugal international on loan with an option to buy for between £42.7m (€50m) and £51.2m (€60m) in 2021.

- Jerome Boateng continues to be linked with a Bayern Munich exit. Milan are ready to challenge Arsenal for the defender, according to Sky Germany.

- Coming out of contract at season's end, it appears Layvin Kurzawa's future is away from Paris Saint-Germain. L'Equipe reports the left-back – who has made just five Ligue 1 starts this campaign – recently rejected Inter but the Serie A club remain hopeful of signing the 27-year-old this month.

- Juventus are looking to the future. CalcioMercato reports the Serie A champions are keeping an eye on teenage Ajax midfielder Ryan Gravenberch and AZ forward Calvin Stengs.

Xavi has resisted the chance to join Barcelona immediately in favour of staying with Qatari club Al Sadd, reports said on Sunday.

Speculation is rife over the future of head coach Ernesto Valverde at Camp Nou, after back-to-back LaLiga champions Barca were defeated 3-2 by Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals on Thursday.

Valverde's position has been in doubt since a collapse in the Champions League semi-finals against Liverpool and a defeat to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final the end of last season.

Spanish media widely reported on Friday that Barcelona chief executive Oscar Grau and technical secretary Eric Abidal had travelled to Doha to meet with Xavi.

The purpose of the trip was said to be to offer Xavi the chance to replace Valverde in the coming days, rather than wait until the end of the season.

However, Xavi is reported to have rejected Barcelona's offer, with Spanish sports daily Marca saying he will wait until June of this year or June 2021 to take over at Camp Nou.

Al Sadd confirmed their coach oversaw training ahead of the Qatar Cup final aginst Al-Duhail on January 17.

Xavi acknowledged he met with Barcelona officials but refused to go into detail over the meeting due to his respect for Valverde.

"Coaching Barca is my dream, I cannot hide that, everyone knows I support them from the bottom of my heart," Xavi told reporters on Saturday.

"Yes, Abidal is my friend. I've met him many times, so I cannot say anything, just that I respect Barcelona, I respect Valverde, I respect the players, I respect my club.

"They [Barca] were here to talk to me and we discussed many things. I cannot say anything else. Sorry, but I cannot inform you too much. I met Abidal, he is my friend, that's it.

"I'm doing my job here, I'm doing my best. I was focused on the semi-final and now we play the final so I'm very happy. I'm very happy to coach Al Sadd and I am focused on my team."

Xavi described becoming Barcelona head coach as his "dream" but insisted he respects under-pressure incumbent Ernesto Valverde.

Valverde's position has come under increased scrutiny after Barca's dramatic 3-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final.

Al Sadd boss and Barca legend Xavi confirmed reports he had met with the Camp Nou club's director of football Eric Abidal in Qatar on Friday amid speculation he will be offered the opportunity to succeed Valverde at the end of the season, or potentially before that.

But the 39-year-old was reluctant to go into detail about the meeting, insisting he respects his former club and their coach.

"Coaching Barca is my dream, I cannot hide that, everyone knows I support them from the bottom of my heart," Xavi told reporters after leading Al Sadd into the Qatar Cup final with a win over Al Rayyan on Saturday.

"Yes, Abidal is my friend. I've met him many times, so I cannot say anything, just that I respect Barcelona, I respect Valverde, I respect the players, I respect my club. 

"They [Barca] were here to talk to me and we discussed many things." 

"They were here also to check on Ousmane Dembele, that's all," Xavi added of the Barcelona forward, who is recovering from a thigh injury in Qatar.

"I cannot say anything else. Sorry, but I cannot inform you too much. I met Abidal, he is my friend, that's it. 

"I'm doing my job here, I'm doing my best. I was focused on the semi-final and now we play the final so I'm very happy. I'm very happy to coach Al Sadd and I am focused on my team."

Xavi endured a long and distinguished playing career with Barca, with his incredible list of honours including eight LaLiga titles and four Champions League triumphs. 

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