Standing across from FIFA World Cup™ winner and FC Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez was something that took Justin Santiago a few moments to take in.
The Blaugrana fan, from Chennai, India, was surprised to discover the former Spain midfielder in the recreation room at his Labour City accommodation, with the ambassador for the Generation Amazing programme of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) stopping by for an hour-long chat and to present them with tickets to see Barcelona v Al Ahli in Doha on Tuesday.
“I love football, and I’m a huge fan of Barcelona because they have the best players, like Lionel Messi. I’ve seen so many matches of Xavi on TV, winning the World Cup, the Spanish league and the Champions League, so it was an incredible surprise to see him in person,” Santiago said after the Al Sadd captain stopped by for an unannounced visit.
“Everybody in the room was extremely excited, and it was very impressive to meet a player who is also such a nice person. He was very cool and easy to speak to, and had a smile for everyone. On top of that, we were all personally invited by him to watch the match, which is a fantastic opportunity. I expect a 5-0 win for Barcelona.”
Santiago, and 570 fellow workers, have been benefitting from weekly coaching sessions organised by the Generation Amazing programme, with the gift of tickets – and chance to meet such a prestigious figure from the game – the latest footballing perk.
“I remember the first time I was given tickets to go to a match, I was five or six years old and it was to attend a Barcelona game,” Xavi told www.sc.qa. “We all love football in our family, and we went to a Gamper trophy with my father and grandfather, it was a great excitement that I felt before the game.
“So it was a pleasure to give tickets to the workers involved in the Generation Amazing Qatar programme for the Barcelona v Al Ahli game. It was an honour for me to give them these tickets and surprise them in this way.”
One of the greatest midfielders to have ever played the game, Xavi explained the importance of the project in giving back to those who are helping to build the country which will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar.
“The Generation Amazing project here is about reaching out to people in Qatar who are helping to build this country,” he explained. “Through the power of football, we are helping to take care of them and make them happy here. We have been to their accommodations to surprise them, it is about giving them our affection and care. I’m really enjoying my work on this fantastic project. It’s even more exciting for them because it is Barcelona coming here, which for me is the best team in the world.”
According to Isabel Gultresa, CSR Senior Manager at the SC, the visit was another important step on the journey the Generation Amazing programme has embarked on in Qatar. She said: “It is very important for us to show to the participants of our projects how much we are encompassing football in their development, and taking them to a live football match is something we thought would be very special and relevant. We are taking the important moment of our ambassador’s former team visiting Qatar to celebrate what the power of football can do.”
After being welcomed by a rapturous round of applause from all those present, Xavi spoke about his involvement with Generation Amazing, and congratulated the participants for their work so far.
“The Generation Amazing programme is very good, it has helped me a lot,” Santiago continued. “Through football games and drills, it is helping teach the values of teamwork, and we have good coaches who train us every weekend. We’ve been playing football a long time, but this programme has really helped us to improve through teamwork, listening and passing.”
Xavi was quick to get the workers involved in the session at Labour City, opening the floor to a whole host of questions which ranged from ‘who is the best, Messi or Ronaldo?’ to ‘will you also be playing on Tuesday?’. Having answered them all, the four-time UEFA Champions League winner posed for a picture with everyone present, and then handed out the match tickets to another round of applause.
“It was a very intense and a fantastic experience,” Xavi said afterwards. “I saw them enjoying the visit, and I enjoyed it a lot as well. We have agreed to meet again at the Barcelona v Al Ahli game on Tuesday. I didn’t expect so much euphoria, such a warm reception, I thought that some people wouldn’t recognise me, but everyone did. I was proud to be with them.”
After a memorable evening of selfies and handshakes, Xavi finished off the visit with a game of table football against Generation Amazing Qatar participant Tony Munene.
“The game ended in a 2-2 draw,” Xavi concluded with a smile. “They asked me if Messi will be coming, if all the Barcelona players will be there. I told them they would, because I know that all of the Barcelona players will be coming to enjoy the experience here.
“I hope all the workers have a great time at the match, I will be in the stadium with them on Tuesday as well. We’ll take a selfie to remember the game.”