Xavi to leave Barcelona after 17 trophy-filled seasons

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SANT JOAN DESPI, Spain (AP) — Xavi Hernandez is leaving Barcelona after 17 trophy-laden seasons in which he set club records for appearances and titles won.

The 35-year-old Xavi, who has played 764 matches for Barcelona, said Thursday he will cut his contract short by one year and leave after this season to play for Qatari club Al-Sadd, following in the footsteps of Real Madrid great Raul Gonzalez.

Xavi will lift his eighth Spanish league trophy at Camp Nou on Saturday. He has the chance to add another two trophies to the 23 he has already won, with Barcelona set to play the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals.

"I feel that I need to leave," Xavi said at Barcelona's training ground. "I am 35 and I have spent 17 seasons here. I think it is the moment to leave."

Barcelona hosts Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final on May 30 before facing Juventus in the Champions League final on June 6 in Berlin.

"The only thing left is to win the last two finals," Xavi said. "This finale is special for me, spectacular. The script couldn't be better."

Xavi said he made the decision to leave a "few months ago" — despite the club offering to extend his contact — because he had lost his place in Barcelona's starting lineup.

"Now I am not playing as many minutes as I would like, I am not a starter like before. It is time," Xavi said. "I still feel like I can play."

He said he will join Al-Sadd on a two-year contract with an option for a third year, as well as start a coaching job along with his two brothers and sister at Qatar's Aspire Academy. But he linked his future to a return to the Catalan club he joined as a child.

"My first goal is to return to this house," Xavi said. "My principle goal is to return as coach, a sporting director, we will see."

As great as Lionel Messi is, Barcelona would never have become the team that has risen and stayed at the top of the sport for the past decade without Xavi.

Known for his vision, pinpoint passing and uncanny ability to retain possession under pressure, Xavi has been the midfield pillar for Barcelona since enrolling in its youth academy at 11 and debuting under coach Louis van Gaal in 1998.

Xavi helped Barcelona win its second European Cup under coach Frank Rijkaard in 2006 before fully flourishing under Pep Guardiola.

He and midfield partner Andres Iniesta became the keys to Barcelona's intricate passing attack spearheaded by Messi and forged one of the best teams to have played the game, winning 14 of a possible 19 titles from 2008-12, including two more Champions League titles with Guardiola in charge.

Xavi retired from international competition last year following the 2014 World Cup, after he had been a key component for Spain in winning the 2010 World Cup and 2008 and 2012 European Championships.

He also finished third in the voting for the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Ballon d'Or voting.

Last year, Xavi contemplated leaving Barcelona after a disappointing 2013-14 campaign under Gerard Martino. New coach Luis Enrique persuaded him to stay, and even though he lost his starting job to Ivan Rakitic, Xavi often came off the bench to give Barcelona the extra control it needed.

"I could not have had a better career," Xavi said. "I am very happy with how it went, with how I performed. I don't regret anything."

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