France and Bayern Munich star Franck Ribery joined Barcelona and Spain great Xavi Hernandez on the stage as the Dubai International Sports Conference came to a glittering end at Madinat Jumeirah on Sunday December 29.
What’s On was there to hear the two champions discuss leadership skills in sport, reflecting on their own achievements throughout their brilliant questions.
The pair were quizzed by Mustaf Al Agha. Here’s what they had to say…
What has been the secret of your success?
Xavi Hernandez: “You have to have talent, of course, but winning mentality and to be lucky to have good people at your side. At Barcelona we have a good team, a group of people who are well connected to achieve our goals. There are many ingredients to success but you really must have a collective, winning spirit.
Franck Ribery: “For me and for Munich, it is that we live surrounded by a big history in this club, and as result it has lots of points of strength from that. There is enjoyment in what we do. It was a magnificent year for everyone and I think that the club right now is the strongest in the world because we are a family.
What do see in yourself of Barcelona as more than a club?
Xavi: “I have always said of Barcelona school that they teach you values, to respect people. I have had that since I was a boy. I was lucky to be there since aged 11. I have been able to realise that to live these values is important. Even today, I am 33 years old and I still live by them. I was taught that at Barcelona, more than football. It is a very important education, nowadays more important than winning, so people respect the values you transmit as a person.
“In the whole group, we have had respect and values always. We have also been lucky to have a very talented generation made at home. The people of Barcelona club work more than 30 years to create this and now we see the results not only with our club but with the Spanish national team, as we make history at club and national level.”
German football as well as Bayern Munich is on the rise. How do you feel about this?
Ribery: “I think you are right, we are having a great season, a great time and there is a nice image of German football. We won all the titles that could be won and we are enjoying it. It is because we are family, a family with history and it is something we are proud of. We have kept this at the club through the history and we are now living in a magnificent time and enjoying ourselves. At Bayern, even if a player is not a star he is happy. We play with a high level of professionalism, are rewarded and people get happy for that.
“I think this period is the best for me and the club in general. I have achieved a lot and I feel like I am with my family always. The people who I work with and for, they do it wholeheartedly.”
What are the most beautiful years in your career?
Xavi: “Whenever there are years when I will be wining titles. I am very lucky that I can have hope of keeping to win titles. For the last four to five years I have enjoyed so much success, it has been enjoyable with both Barcelona and Spain. Today we cannot value what we have achieved but in the future we will realised we have made history.”
Are you worried by the rise of German football?
Xavi: “German football and of course Bayern Munich are making it very competitive. Last year they won all and we lost – unfortunately we met a fantastic team and I hope we meet them this year and are more competitive. It is February when we get back to the Champions League and we will fight to win our titles back.”
How do you reflect on the times you had let year when you manager fell ill?
Xavi: “We grouped together, worked even harder together, and we are proud of our response. We had an extraordinary season despite the difficulties that we had. We won the Spanish league title, did well in Europe and we have to give value to the work everyone did. We won more than 100 points in our home division and we have to value that.”
How have you adapted to your new managers?
Ribery: “Bayern is the club that gave me back the enjoyment of playing and now still that is the same with Pep Guardiola. He has been very close to the players since he arrived and in the six months he has been here, we are enjoying our time working for him. We have done everything with Jupp Heynckes and already have won two titles with Pep, which for him was important to help us develop and move on.”
Xavi: “We are very happy with Tata Martino. He is a good leader, clear in his duties, positive in his thinking, and wants to continue the philosophy that we have, to play in an attractive way and be positive. Whether it is successful, we will make a judgement in the summer. we are very happy with him. We are enjoying our time with him.”
What is you opinion on Algeria being the only Arabic nation to qualify for the World Cup?
Ribery: “I am happy for Algeria and I think the development the country has shown is impressive. They have a strong team and I am happy for that as my wife is Algerian and her family, too. I am sure we will see more success from them in the future. We will see players from the country playing their football in Europe, as well, and I would welcome that.”
What is your motivation for the future?
Xavi: “My motivation is not only the playing of football but to feel passion for it. I am lucky enough to be a professional in what I love the most. I never get tired of winning, you always want to win, but the passion is important. We have the World Cup coming up, which is a goal, and to have the chance to compete in that and to keep enjoying this sport is a privilege.”
What is your view on technology in football?
Xavi: “It is complicated for the referee to be right all of the time, like the players, and there are circumstance when to use video would be helpful, especially with goals. We could use video feedback to help somehow. But it is complicated to use for the whole game because we would be forced to stop every two to three minutes.”
Ribery: “I think it is not easy for players and the referees all the time, as we all have important decisions to make. The referees are excellent and make magnificent decisions, but sometimes it is not easy to be right all the time, like players. We like to see a game that flows easily but if we have developments that will help all of us, then perhaps. We see that TV might help, so why not, but this is still a game and it is an entertainment for people.”
Do you feel Barcelona’s dominance has come to an end?
Xavi: “I am always optimistic. I think there is fantastic generation of football players at the club and we have lots of winning left. We can’t assume success as it is difficult, but we see that the players through the club will keep on fighting – it really is a fantastic generation. We have the skills to keep on fighting and making challenges for the next three to four years, I am convinced.”
How do you cope with being famous, a world star?
Ribery: “The principle I live by to help with this, is to have respect for all people, regardless of who we become. I would be happy to be all the time with fans and the people who love me, and to take photos with them. It may take a few minutes but I observe from it an object of happiness.”
Xavi: “I am totally in agreement. It is not easy to have a life where everybody loves you, but family and friends are important. You must stay grounded and modest. Everything has been positive for me but my family keep me humble.”
Where do you see you future? Perhaps in Dubai or the UAE?
Ribery: “My contact ends at the age of 34 and Bayern will be my last team in Europe. I would like an experience in the USA or an Arab country – I would be happy for that experience.”
Xavi: “I have seen Dubai, my wife likes Dubai and my friends have enjoyed their time here. We have been coming for three or four years and you can never close doors to a place where people treat you so well. So you never know.”
Who is the best best player in the world?
Xavi: “If you have to chose a player not just right now in the world, but the best in history, it is Lionel Messi, no doubt for me. I also know there are other players, like the man I am with here, and also Cristiano Ronaldo who are right and excited to be nominated for the Balon d’Or.
Do you have any advice for children growing up at your clubs?
Ribery: “I tell the younger players who are fond of buying new cars, and of enjoying the benefits of this life, I tell them to enjoy football first, enjoy your success properly with your team and respect your coaches. The rest follows that.
How do you feel about the way you provide for you families as successful, professional footballers?
Ribery: “We are not with our families a lot because we travel with our clubs and the national team; that can be difficult. I would like to spend time with my parents and children more but I know football is played for a short time in our lives and I choose to focus on career because it has massive importance and means that I can the rest of life with them.”
Xavi: “It is why we work, for our family so we can have a good future and so they can be as happy as we are when we play football. We are workers like in any enterprise and we have the salaries we do because this profession generates that money. In my case, I try and give back to society in some ways, give back to it what it gave me. I have been lucky to make this money and I give back for that.
Ribery: “We always hope to reach professional success, money comes later. I am happy to have a family and I enjoy sharing everything with them that I get. Yesterday I was in the hospital for one and a half hours and I was happy to share that time. Money is not everything, especially with family; when I see my children happy I am happy. I didn’t get all that I wanted as a child but I can provide that for my children.”