Josep Maria Bartomeu, president of FC Barcelona, discusses his soccer team, Thursday, July 20, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan),
By Ronald Blum, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — After winning 15 major titles at Barcelona, Xavi Hernandez is expected to return to the club and win some more — as its coach.
Speaking Thursday during an interview at The Associated Press’ headquarters, Barcelona President Josep Bartomeu said Hernandez is using his time at the Qatari club Al Sadd to prepare for a future role in Spain.
“He’s right now not only playing, he’s also learning as a coach. So of course one day Xavi will be one of the coaches of the club,” Bartomeu said. “I don’t know which team of ours, but of course with the objective of one day coaching our first team.”
Hernandez joined Barcelona’s youth academy La Masia when he was 11 and was the playmaking midfielder for the first team from 1998-2015, winning eight titles in the Spanish league, four in the Champions League and three in the Copa del Rey. He joined Al Sadd for the 2015-16 season and turns 38 in January.
Messi, who turned 30 last month and agreed to a contract through 2020-21, is the best-selling jersey among Barcelona players’ merchandise. He has scored a club-record 507 goals, including a La Liga-record 349.
“We don’t know where is his end, his limits,” Bartomeu said. “Because 2014, we had a bad season that year. … Lio Messi came after that summer, reinvented himself with (a) new coach, with new players, and, well, you see, Lio Messi, he’s playing much better now than he was playing before.”
Bartomeu anticipates Messi will be attached to Barcelona for life.
“When he will give up playing football, he will continue with Barca,” Bartomeu said. “It will be very difficult to find in the future a player that is going to be like him. … He will be for years and year the best player of the world.”
Bartomeu likes the beard Messi has grown over the past year.
“It’s working,” he said. “The aesthetics of a player, well, sometimes it’s changing on his age.”
Threats by La Liga to drop Barcelona if Catalan independence is approved likely are empty.
“Nobody will accept it to (not) have two clasicos a year,” he said.
Barcelona and other big clubs are happy with changes in the Champions League that start in 2018-19. The top four leagues will have four direct berths in the group stage. Instead of one time slot each Tuesday and Wednesday during the group stage, there will be two per day.
“We have to do the road together, UEFA and the clubs, but with this evolution,” Bartomeu said.
The renovation of Camp Nou has been given initial planning approval by the city government, will start after next season and he completed ahead of the 2022-23 season. Luxury suites will be added, capacity will be increased to about 105,000 and 150-180 luxury suites will be constructed. The facilities will allow the club to increase revenue, which was a record 708 million euros (currently $814 million) last season.
Bartomeu said La Liga is at a disadvantage in U.S. television. Its games are broadcast by beIN, which has a far more limited distribution than the Premier League on NBC and the Bundesliga on Fox.
“Not so many people are looking at the matches, but BeIN is doing a good job, is trying to increase the audience. I know they are doing a big effort. Of course we are competing with the Premier League. The Premier League is probably the league that sells the TV rights worldwide.”
PLAYING LEAGUE GAMES ABROAD
Unlike U.S. leagues, he opposes moving regular-season games abroad.
“I don’t see it in the short-term or medium-term,” he said. “Me, as a member of the club, I would not like to see my team playing in another country.”
Barcelona hopes its planned team in the National Women’s Soccer League will be located in California.
The increasing importance of the Asian market will lead to fewer night games and more day games.
“When we play earlier in the afternoon, it’s good for everybody,” he said, “of course for our fans, because they can come to see a match after lunch, but also for the U.S., for the American continent because it’s in the morning, and in the evening in Asia. … We need the world to see more football from La Liga. … By this way, we are going to have more followers, we are going to have more fans and, well, we will be able to increase our incomes.”
Barcelona is operating close to 40 youth academies around the world, including one opening Monday on Long Island in Smithtown.
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