Xavi was "in a state of shock" following news of former Barcelona star Dani Alves being arrested on suspicion of carrying out a sexual assault.

Brazilian right-back Alves was arrested in Barcelona on Friday after it was alleged he assaulted a woman in a nightclub bathroom.

The 39-year-old denied committing the offence when he spoke to Spanish broadcaster Antena 3 in early January.

Alves, who has also played for Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla, gave a statement to the Mossos d'Esquadra police force on Friday before the public prosecutor's office requested that he should be detained and not granted bail.

He has been kept in prison while investigations continue, and his contract with Mexican club Pumas UNAM has been terminated.

Xavi, a former Barcelona team-mate of Alves, signed the defender for a short second Barcelona stint last season.

Speaking in a Barcelona pre-match press conference on Saturday, Xavi said: "It is difficult to comment on a situation like this. I am surprised, shocked, in a state of shock.

"It is a matter of justice. Justice will dictate whatever."

Alves became the oldest player to feature in a World Cup match for Brazil when he played against Cameroon in Qatar last month.

Xavi has challenged Ansu Fati to prove he can be a leader for Barcelona while suspended striker Robert Lewandowski waits to return.

Fati only played the closing moments of Barcelona's 3-1 Supercopa de Espana final win over Real Madrid last Sunday as the club landed their first trophy since Lionel Messi left in August 2021. It was Xavi's first trophy as Barcelona coach.

The 20-year-old Fati was a substitute again for the Copa del Rey win over Ceuta on Thursday, coming on to score the third goal in a 5-0 rout.

His bit-part role is something Fati may have to accept given Lewandowski is a seemingly guaranteed starter when available to head coach Xavi. This weekend sees Lewandowski serve the second part of a three-game ban.

Gavi, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele have featured off the Polish striker, with Raphinha and Ferran Torres also getting chances.

Now it seems Fati may get to start against Getafe in LaLiga on Sunday, with Xavi saying: "He plays a decisive role in the team. He makes a difference and has that great communion with the goal.

"He is decisive and is being important for the team, and more so in the games that Robert is not there due to suspension he has to be a reference."

Barcelona are on a high after the Supercopa success, with Xavi saying: "This victory against Madrid means a lot to us, it gives us confidence and morale and makes us believe more.

"Now is the time to maintain our level and compete and fight for the three remaining titles."

They have LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and the Europa League still to play for, having been knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage, with Xavi determined to wring everything out of his players.

"You have to keep demanding and even increase the demands," the coach said. "Now it's easy to relax, and you have to avoid that and make everyone feel important.

"You can play better. The game against Madrid was excellent and brilliant, but you have to keep up the level."

Xavi said there are fitness concerns over Ronald Araujo and Frenkie de Jong ahead of Getafe's visit to Camp Nou.

"They're available, but they're having problems again," Xavi said. "We can't play with players who are at 80 per cent. Every game is a war, it's a final."

Barcelona headed into the weekend with a three-point lead over Madrid at the top of the table, also knowing they had not lost at home in their 17 previous games against Getafe (W13 D4).

The Catalan giants no longer have Memphis Depay in their ranks after he made a move to Atletico Madrid this week, with the Dutch forward having told Xavi he was "not comfortable" and needed to play more often.

Xavi is unsure whether he will be able to make signings before the January transfer window closes given financial fair play limitations, but he said it "wouldn't be a problem" if there is no further movement on that front.

Xavi believes Barcelona have "no secondary players" among their squad, hailing their team effort after brushing aside Ceuta in the Copa del Rey.

A Robert Lewandowski brace, plus goals for Raphinha, Ansu Fati and Franck Kessie saw the Blaugrana sweep past their third-tier hosts on Thursday with a 5-0 victory.

Coupled with their rich form this term in LaLiga, where they have a three-point cushion over rivals Real Madrid, Barca look primed to challenge for silverware.

Former player Xavi, who has steered the club back to steadier waters since his return to Camp Nou, feels he has the team to pull off that pursuit successfully after their latest win.

"The team wants to win, the team is hungry," he said. "It is not easy to come to grounds like these [and win].

"We have been very professional, and we have shown that we have a great squad. For me, there are no secondary players.

"Here, we have players who have had important games for us, and who are going to have them. Marcos [Alonso], Jordi Alba and [Hector] Bellerin have been extraordinary."

Despite facing third-tier opposition, Xavi resisted the urge to rest several players days after victory in the Supercopa de Espana, and shortly before a return to LaLiga action against Getafe.

That included veteran forward Lewandowski, whose inclusion among an otherwise youthful team may have raised some eyebrows among fans.

Xavi was clear in his answer however, adding: "We did not want him to be unemployed for two weeks.

"He has shown us the professional that he is. For us, he is perfect, because he has also scored the goals."

One player not in Xavi's plans however is Memphis Depay, whose move to Atletico Madrid grew nearer on Thursday after the Dutchman trained with the Rojiblancos.

The coach suggested finding a replacement is more preferable than imperative, adding: "Memphis asked to leave.

"I don't know if it is official but he is going to Atletico. It wouldn't be a tragedy [if we didn't replace him] but it is better if we strengthen ourselves."

Xavi has told his players he does not want anyone to leave Barcelona, amid rumours linking Raphinha and Memphis Depay with moves away from Camp Nou.

The Brazilian only arrived from Leeds United at the end of last season but is a rumoured target of Premier League leaders Arsenal after they missed out on Mykhaylo Mudryk to Chelsea.

Depay – who has only made four appearances this season – is reportedly of interest to Inter and Atletico Madrid.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of their Copa del Rey round-of-16 game at Cueta, Barca head coach Xavi was asked about Raphinha's future. 

"I try to be clear with the players and, for me, nobody should leave," he said. "I am delighted with the squad. I don't want anyone to leave, it is another thing if they ask to leave."

On Depay, he replied: "Deciding if he wants to leave, it's not an easy situation for him. From here to whether he wants to leave or not, I don't know. I'll discuss it with him," later adding: "I'm very happy with the squad. If nobody wants to leave, I'm delighted."

One player who was persistently linked with a move away prior to the season was former Manchester United target Frenkie de Jong, but the Dutch midfielder has become an integral part of Xavi's team since, playing in all but one of their 16 LaLiga games so far.

"He feels comfortable and we give him a little more freedom," the Blaugrana boss said of De Jong. "He is a footballer that I really like and he has extraordinary conditions to be one of the best midfielders in the world. He is at an excellent level."

Fresh off beating Real Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana final, Barca face third-tier side Cueta in the Copa del Rey on Thursday, having struggled to get past another third-tier opponent, Intercity, in the previous round, eventually winning 4-3 after extra time.

"It's good for us to have the experience of Intercity so we don't fail," Xavi said. "The most important thing is to get through the tie.

"We arrive at the best moment of the season, but we can't get lost. We have to show our superiority and continue the success of the Super Cup.

"We are in a good moment of performances and results. We had an excellent game [against Real Madrid]. We have three trophies left and we can compete. It seems that we are turning around, but we have to have consistency."

Xavi is confident Barcelona's talented new generation can enjoy a trophy-laden period after landing their first silverware in the post-Lionel Messi era.

The Catalan giants defeated fierce rivals Real Madrid 3-1 at King Fahd International Stadium in a one-sided Supercopa de Espana final in Riyadh on Sunday.

Barcelona, who required penalties to defeat Real Betis in the semi-finals, have now won the domestic cup competition a record-extending 14 times, twice more than Madrid.

However, it arguably marked the start of a new dawn as it was the first trophy Xavi has lifted in his 14 months as head coach, and a first for Barca since Messi left in August 2021.

With the likes of Gavi and Pedri shining in Saudi Arabia, Xavi is hopeful it is the first of many major honours heading to Camp Nou in the coming years.

"We have a really good generation of players and you can see the hunger they have for trophies," Xavi said at his post-match press conference. 

"I hope this will be a point of inflection, but this doesn't stop. On Thursday we have the Copa del Rey, next weekend LaLiga.

"I'm happy for the players. They've received a lot of criticism, unfair in many cases, and they were liberated today. 

"It's a massive morale boost and we can work with more peace of mind. It's also important for the fans. 

"This club has seen everything in recent years: financial problems, the departure of Leo [Messi] was big. I hope this will be the first trophy of many."

 

Teenage attacking midfielder Gavi opened the scoring for Barca before setting up Robert Lewandowski for the second late in the first half.

The Spain international also laid one on a plate for Pedri in the second half against the reigning European and LaLiga champions, who pulled one back through Karim Benzema.

Not only did Gavi impress in a creative and attacking sense, he also won a game-high 10 duels and was fouled more times (four) than any other player on the field.

"He is a kid that excites everyone," Xavi said of Pedri, who is the youngest player to score in El Clasico (18 years 163 days) since Ansu Fati in October 2020 (17y 359d).

"When you see him compete like that...the heart, soul and character that he plays with are contagious for the rest of the team.

"He's a born leader – it all comes naturally to him, and all at the age of 18. He is spectacular. I don't get tired of praising him. He has no ceiling, so don't slow him down."

Barca also lead Madrid by three points at the top of LaLiga, are through to the last 16 of the Copa del Rey and remain in Europa League contention.

Xavi added: "This performance makes the players believe in what we are doing. But we cannot stop here."

Xavi insists Barcelona must prove their trophy "hunger" ahead of the Supercopa de Espana final showdown with Real Madrid.

The Blaugrana are aiming to end a 21-month wait for silverware, having lacked such success since their Copa del Rey victory over Athletic Bilbao under Ronald Koeman in April 2021.

Barca required a penalty shoot-out to defeat Real Betis in the Supercopa semi-finals on Thursday, but they are now on the brink of lifting a first trophy under Xavi.

All the same, head coach Xavi believes his side enter the latest Clasico as underdogs, with Madrid having won four trophies in 2022, including the Champions League and LaLiga.

"Madrid are very strong and, psychologically, they have a slight advantage because they have played more finals in recent years, and they have more experience," Xavi said, ahead of the game in Riyadh.

"We have a lot of young players that have not won trophies with Barca. When you start playing football as a child, this is what it's for: to play finals against Madrid.

"We are not afraid, we are not anxious. We are facing a golden opportunity to win a title that would mean a lot in the middle of the season.

"It's been a long time since we won a title, and we have to be hungry, as I told the players against Betis. I see it as an advantage to show this hunger to win trophies.

"In Barca, it is non-negotiable to win, and the objective is trophies. It would be the same if it was another rival. We will go after them with enthusiasm and motivation.

"We are 90 or 120 minutes from winning a title, and we're going to give our all to do that.

"The first objective was to reach the final, and it was not easy. Now, the objective is to take the trophy back to Barcelona. It's the pressure that comes with being at a big club, but the pressure is welcome."

Xavi is looking forward to a "desired final" as Barcelona set up a Supercopa de Espana decider against Real Madrid.

The Blaugrana had to win a penalty shoot-out against Real Betis on Thursday to seal their place in Sunday's final after a 2-2 draw in Riyadh.

Robert Lewandowski and Nabil Fekir both scored to take the game to extra time, before a stunning volley from Ansu Fati and a backheel effort from Loren Moron sent it to penalties.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen was the hero for the Blaugrana as he saved from both Juanmi and William Carvalho to win the game, and his head coach noted the morale beating their El Clasico rivals in the final could have.

"It is a desired final and now we are going for the title," Xavi said. "I always want to play against the best and beat them.

"It's a trophy and therefore important, but it's not going to change the season either, although it would give us more morale and peace of mind for the rest of the season. We will try to fight for the three remaining titles no matter what happens."

Xavi also complimented Ter Stegen's role in the victory against an impressive Betis, adding: "Since I've been here I've been delighted with him, he's the icing on the cake." 

It was not a classic performance from the LaLiga leaders in Saudi Arabia, with Betis having more shots (15-12) across 120 minutes.

Xavi noted his team had failed to go on to win in normal time or extra time despite taking the lead in both, and wants his players to evaluate how they have managed games since the World Cup.

Barca drew 1-1 with Espanyol after taking the lead in their first game after Qatar 2022, lost a goal advantage three times in their Copa del Rey game at Intercity before eventually winning 4-3, and were hanging on by the end of their 1-0 win at Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

"Other days we have done very well but since the World Cup break, we have struggled to seal matches when we have been dominant and have played with personality," he said. 

"We have to critique ourselves... we have to improve to achieve success this year."

Xavi is not anticipating any transfer activity at Barcelona this window, despite ongoing speculation surrounding Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Memphis Depay.

The LaLiga leaders have been busy in the past two transfer windows in particular as they attempt to reshape their squad under legendary former player Xavi.

Reports on Wednesday suggested Barca were looking to re-sign Aubameyang on a free transfer, just four months after selling him to Chelsea for a reported €12million (£10.6m) fee.

That would then reportedly pave the way for Depay – used just four times this season – to find a new club, with top-flight rivals Atletico Madrid supposedly interested in the forward.

However, asked about those rumours at a press conference ahead of Barca's Supercopa de Espana semi-final with Real Betis, Xavi said: "We are happy with the squad.

"We don't know anything. We will have to see what happens. I've told the board I'll be happy if the squad remains as it is."

Barca are three points clear of reigning champions Real Madrid after winning 13, drawing two and losing just one of their 16 league matches this season.

The Catalan giants are in Saudi Arabia ahead of Thursday's showdown with Betis, while Madrid or Valencia await in next weekend's final should they advance.

Xavi is said to have held talks with director Mateu Alemany regarding possible transfer targets during their time in Riyadh, but the Barca boss denied that is the case.

"We haven't had a meeting," he told reporters. "We don't know anything [about the transfer speculation]. I have told Mateu if he does not add to the squad, I'm still happy.

"There is no news that I know of and I have not seen Mateu nor the president [Joan Laporta], at least not to speak about this. If there is any news they will let me know."

Barcelona will go all out to win the Supercopa de Espana, with Xavi saying the media will "kill" him if he does not secure a trophy this season.

Xavi's side lead LaLiga with 41 points from their 16 matches, three ahead of last season's champions Real Madrid.

While the Blaugrana were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage, they have a shot at glory in this month's Supercopa.

Barca, who qualified for the four-team tournament as LaLiga runners-up, will face Copa del Rey holders Real Betis in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, with Madrid taking on Valencia in the other semi-final.

Asked how important the Supercopa is to Barca, Xavi told reporters: "We care about it, of course, and we are motivated. 

"We want to be there until Sunday and win the final. It makes us excited. It would give us peace of mind. It wouldn't change much whether we win it or not, but of course, it's a title.

"We keep in mind not to make mistakes because Betis is the Cup champion. Betis is a difficult opponent.

"I am here to win titles and if there are no titles this season you are going to kill me. So go for it. 

"It would strengthen us a lot. It would reinforce us and if not, it would be a disappointment. We are going to compete at the highest level."

On whether topping LaLiga heading into the tournament made his team favourites, Xavi added: "I feel that we arrived at a good moment.

"That does not mean anything. You have to show things on the field. Betis is a tough rival and I don't see us as favourites."

Xavi's sentiment was echoed by Sergi Roberto, who said: "It is one more title. We have spent a few years where we have not been able to win the titles to which we were accustomed. 

"It has also helped us to realise what it costs to win. We have a lot of young players who haven't won titles and it would be important.

"Xavi laid the foundations since he arrived and we are clear about the foundations of the game and what he wants, but it is true that winning titles helps. It would be nice to win the first title with Xavi."

Xavi expects taking "three golden points" off Atletico Madrid to give Barcelona "tremendous morale and confidence" in the LaLiga title race.

Ousmane Dembele scored the only goal of the game at the Civitas Metropolitano on Sunday to put Barca three points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the table.

The Blaugrana defended resolutely to take full advantage of Madrid's 2-1 defeat at Villarreal on Saturday, Ronald Araujo clearing off the line to deny Antoine Griezmann a stoppage-time equaliser against his former club.

Stefan Savic and Ferran Torres were sent off for a late off-the-ball clash, but that did not take the gloss off a big win for Barca in the absence of suspended striker Roberto Lewandowski.

Barca had been held to a frustrating draw by Espanyol in their first LaLiga game after the World Cup, so Xavi knew the importance of beating Diego Simeone's side in the capital.

He said: "It's a victory, but it's not just three points, it gives us tremendous morale and confidence for the remainder of the league.

"We are capable of winning in a field as difficult as this, suffering, being a family. Without playing as excellently as we did against Espanyol, today we have known how to suffer and we took three golden points. We hit the table to be candidates for this league [title]."

Xavi added: "Three golden points. We have taken advantage of our chance. They have pressed, and we have known how to suffer.

"And how important it is to keep a clean sheet. Just as I said on the Espanyol game that we deserved more, today perhaps without playing so well we got three points."

Captain Sergio Busquets felt the manner in which Barca dug deep to see out the win bodes well.

He said: "We started well, and we went ahead, but from then on they have pressed very well, it was difficult for us to have the ball and create chances.

"In the second half, although they came out very strongly, we managed to control the game. In the end, we suffered, but three very good points."

Barcelona head coach Xavi angered his counterpart at upcoming Copa del Rey opponents Ceuta after suggesting the Blaugrana were "lucky" to get a favourable tie.

Saturday's draw for the last 16 saw Barca paired with the lowest-ranked side left in the competition, as Ceuta prop up Group 1 of the Primera Division RFEF, Spain's third tier.

Xavi subsequently said he thought Barca had "been lucky in a draw for the first time since I've been a coach here", referencing the club's tricky previous assignments in the Copa, Champions League and Europa League under the former Spain international.

Nevertheless, Xavi also pointed to the fact another third-tier side in Intercity caused them problems in the round of 32, taking Barca to extra time before Ansu Fati secured a 4-3 victory.

But the use of the word "lucky" irritated Ceuta boss Jose Juan Romero, who surmised Xavi was out of touch because he had not needed to build his way up from the bottom of the football pyramid in his coaching career.

"We don't go into the game to ask for their shirts, we are going to go all out," Romero told Cadena SER.

"When the game is over, we will see if there has been more luck or less luck.

"Maybe he doesn't know what it takes for [smaller] teams to get to these situations, because he has had a much easier path in the coaching world.

"I can't be two-faced, I don't have another [face]. I always try to respect a lot, and I give so much value to the lower leagues because I come from the bottom. [Xavi's comment] didn't sit well with me or the club.

"I am an admirer of Xavi. As a footballer, for me, he has been one of the greatest for Spain, but he has surprised me. I didn't like it.

"We are going to go into the game with great enthusiasm. For sure, they will not have it easy.

"Then, maybe they'll put five past us, but we are going to play the game."

Barcelona head coach Xavi was keen to remind his players that Sunday's trip to Atletico Madrid "won't decide anything" as he looked to ease the pressure on the league leaders.

Barca headed into matchday 16 at LaLiga's summit thanks to having a better goal difference than Real Madrid.

But with Los Blancos in action on Saturday, Barca could begin the game trailing Carlo Ancelotti's men in the table.

It promises to be one of Barca's toughest fixtures of the season and comes amid an underwhelming return to action following the World Cup, with the Blaugrana held to a 1-1 draw at home to Espanyol last Saturday before needing extra time to beat third-tier opponents Intercity 4-3 in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, Xavi did not want to overstate the importance of Sunday's game, even if he tempered his tranquillity by highlighting Barca's habit of shooting themselves in the foot with individual errors.

"Every week is like this: the next game is the most important. It won't decide anything, but [dropping points] would be a blow on the table," he told reporters.

"It's a complicated place to go and they are a rock defensively. It will be difficult for us to generate things and we have to be more effective than in the last few two games, [but] it's not a transcendental game for the future of LaLiga."

Regarding their mistakes, he added: "It's more of a mental issue than a game issue.

"We've dominated and created chances, but we have to kill the matches. We have to be more forceful in certain areas. We're far superior to our rivals but we make occasional mistakes.

"In the end we all fail. We try to give the players confidence so they don't make mistakes, but football is a game of mistakes.

"We have to minimise those mistakes to win. Against Intercity we made life difficult for ourselves."

Although Barca are doing well in LaLiga this season, they have already been knocked out of the Champions League and have the difficult challenge of Manchester United in their Europa League play-off.

It is in such competitions – and the Copa del Rey – where Xavi feels Barcelona's lack of decisiveness is proving problematic, rather than LaLiga.

"Against Espanyol we lacked aggressiveness in the opposition's area and we lacked effectiveness. Against Intercity it was different. We conceded three goals and this can't happen. We have to be more aggressive.

"In LaLiga we are very plugged in, but in other competitions it is costing us more. In the knockout competitions, one detail can knock you out."

It was put to Xavi that Barca lack obvious leaders, particularly following the retirement of Gerard Pique.

But this was not a suggestion he agreed with.

"We have [leaders]," he continued. "Sometimes it's not necessary to raise your voice.

"[Andres] Iniesta did not raise his voice… There is always someone who expresses things with their voice, and others express with personality. We have several profiles.

"There is no problem of personality or leadership. Everyone knows their role in the squad and that's not the problem."

Barcelona cannot leave their Copa del Rey clash against Intercity happy, according to head coach Xavi, after a historic round-of-32 tie.

The Blaugrana required an Ansu Fati winner in extra time to decide the seven-goal thriller against the third-tier opposition, which saw Oriol Soldevila net a remarkable hat-trick.

While the 31-time winners were able to respond in the right way, retaking the lead on three occasions after seeing the hosts equalise, Xavi is aware that there is plenty to improve ahead of a crunch LaLiga tie against Atletico Madrid this weekend.

"We conceded a lot in a game that we had very much under control," he told a post-match press conference. "We haven't blocked centres, we haven't defended the area well.

"We can't leave happy. The game has been pretty good, but we have to be more forceful. In defence it can happen, but the game had to be finished and there has been a lack of forcefulness.

"But we had to dominate the game, and we were good in the rhythm. We have interesting things, but we have suffered a lot. We've gotten too complicated.

"Today I'm happy with the game. We are lacking forcefulness. But we are in a good moment of play. I have to think about what we can improve."

Barcelona will discover their last-16 opponents in Friday's draw, with the tie to be played following the LaLiga clashes against Atletico and the Supercopa tie against Real Betis in Saudi Arabia.

Xavi refused to blame referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz after Barcelona's 1-1 draw with Espanyol but acknowledged the feisty Catalan derby "totally got out of control."

The Blaugrana were forced to settle for a point on their return to action following the World Cup despite a dominant display at Camp Nou, where Joselu's penalty cancelled out a header from Marcos Alonso.

The contest descended into chaos as Lahoz, who was in charge of Argentina's fiery World Cup quarter-final clash with the Netherlands this month, prolifically handed out cards during the bruising final exchanges.

Jordi Alba was dismissed for two bookable offences on his 300th LaLiga appearance for the Barca, while Vinicius Souza  after, and Leandro Cabrera was fortunate to stay on the field having appeared to stamp on Robert Lewandowski.

But while Xavi, who was booked by Lahoz, was disappointed by the official's performance, the head coach insisted Barca only had themselves to blame for failing to convert their superiority into three points.

"Mateu is a referee who controls the matches, and today escaped him," he is quoted as saying by Marca. "Today, the match has totally got out of control.

"He is a referee who gives you the feeling that he dominates and controls the game. But today, it was not like that. I don't blame him for anything. The tie is our fault. I have to look for my own, for what I can control.

"I can't control the referee. I have said it many times. The referee would have to come out and speak and say what he has seen and what the players have told him. Jordi has told me that he has not said anything to him.

"We have created chances. From the 30th minute, we have slowed down, the intensity. We haven't attacked so well, perhaps. My feeling is that we should have won well. The penalty is an unfortunate move for us.

"We are angry with ourselves. In football, there are times when you are better, and you don't win. The team has generated a lot of danger in corners. It's a pity and we're upset."

Barca are level on points with Real Madrid at the top of the table but have a better goal difference.

As well as bringing an end to a long-running transfer saga, Cristiano Ronaldo's move to Al Nassr likely brings the curtain down on one of the greatest careers in elite European football history.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner will unquestionably become the highest-profile player to feature in the Saudi Pro League when he makes his debut, but he is by no means the first to make a move of that nature.

A tradition of elite players spending the twilight of their careers in an unfamiliar league – whether for one last payday or to raise the profile of the competition – is long-running.

Here, Stats Perform looks at how a series of other superstars fared after making comparable moves, including all-time greats Pele and Johan Cruyff, and a legendary Spanish midfield duo.
 

Pele (New York Cosmos)

When Pele joined the North American Soccer League (NASL)'s New York Cosmos in 1975, the Brazilian had already cemented his place among the very greatest to play the game by winning three World Cups – the first as a teenager and the last as part of one of the all-time great Selecao teams.

Despite his advancing years, Pele's class remained on display in the United States, where he scored 37 goals and registered 30 assists in three years with the Cosmos, who won the NASL's Soccer Bowl in 1977. 

 

Franz Beckenbauer (New York Cosmos)

Having signed one World Cup legend in Pele, the Cosmos repeated the trick in 1977 with the acquisition of Beckenbauer, who played four seasons for the club either side of a brief return to Germany with Hamburg.

The Bayern Munich great can certainly count his time in the NASL as a success, winning three Soccer Bowls – the latter two without Pele.

Johan Cruyff (Los Angeles Aztecs and Washington Diplomats)

As another highly decorated player moving to the NASL in the late 1970s, Cruyff represented both the Los Angeles Aztecs and the Washington Diplomats following his brief retirement in 1978.

The Dutch innovator complained of playing on artificial surfaces in the United States before bucking the trend of most players on this list – Cruyff returned to Europe in the twilight of his career, leading Ajax to two further Eredivisie titles as well as winning the division with their rivals Feyenoord. 

Samuel Eto'o (Anzhi Makhachkala)

While every transfer on this list was left-field, few created as much shock as Samuel Eto'o's 2011 move from Inter to big-spending Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala. 

Eto'o reportedly became the world's best-paid player with his move to Anzhi, for whom he scored 25 league goals before billionaire owner Suleyman Kerimov scaled back ambitions at the now-defunct club, leading the striker to head to Chelsea.

 

David Beckham (LA Galaxy)

The NASL established the tradition of footballing luminaries arriving in the United States, but Beckham's 2007 move to LA Galaxy helped Major League Soccer break new ground.

Beckham won two MLS Cups and two Supporters' Shields with the Galaxy, but the wider impact of his move – which inspired several other big names to head stateside and led the former England captain to found Inter Miami – was huge. 

Xavi (Al Sadd)

Xavi called time on his playing career with Barcelona as a Champions League winner in 2015, opting to spend four years representing Qatar Stars League side Al Sadd before cutting his managerial teeth at the same club.

The 2010 World Cup winner won the Qatari top-flight once as a player and once as a coach before returning to Camp Nou last year, having both played and managed over 100 games with Al Sadd. 

Andres Iniesta (Vissel Kobe)

The second of Barca's pass masters left the European game in 2018, when Iniesta joined J1 league side Vissel Kobe in a shock move.

Considering he still captains the side at the age of 38, Iniesta must have enjoyed his time in Japan, where he has since been joined by compatriots Bojan Krkic and Sergi Samper.

James Rodriguez (Al Rayyan)

Whenever the World Cup rolls around, the idea of breakout stars is discussed. Few players have been more deserving of that tag than Colombia's Rodriguez, who top-scored at the 2014 edition.

Having enjoyed title successes with European heavyweights Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and enjoyed a – rather less successful – spell at Everton, Rodriguez is now plying his trade with Al Rayyan, who are languishing in eighth place in the Qatar Stars League.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)

Most of the players named on this list enjoyed some form of success – whether it be on or off the pitch – after making their surprise moves, but few can match the feats of Ibrahimovic.

Ibrahimovic was – like Ronaldo – 37 when he left Manchester United in 2018, scoring 53 MLS goals for the Galaxy in two hugely successful seasons before returning to Europe to help Milan win the Scudetto earlier this year.

While Ronaldo now looks unlikely to return to the pinnacle of European football, if Ibrahimovic can do it, few would bet against the Portugal great doing likewise. 

 

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