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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Xavi Hernandez backs Louis van Gaal, acclaims Jose Mourinho's coaching

DOHA, Qatar -- Xavi Hernandez says Louis van Gaal is much calmer as Manchester United manager than in his time at Barcelona because there is less pressure in the Premier League.

Van Gaal is in his second season at Old Trafford and has recently come under fire for his team's style of play but Xavi, who played under the Dutchman at the Camp Nou, has backed his former boss.

"[He is a] good person, very good trainer," Xavi said in an exclusive interview with ESPN FC's Andy Mitten. "He has a very strong character, but he's calm in the Premier League because there's less pressure. He's much calmer than when he was at Barca or Bayern Munich.

"He's honest, methodical and a real perfectionist. He's very demanding, he's strict and he wants to achieve the highest levels possible."

Xavi added that Van Gaal is "poorly valued in the media" but that he remains a fan of the man who gave him his Barcelona debut as a teenager, even if he was not convinced at first.

"After two days of training under him, I thought, 'Who is this idiot?' After a week, I thought, 'He's right.' He'll always be in my heart, Louis van Gaal."

Louis van Gaal was Xavi's manager at Barcelona from 1997-2000 and again from 2002-03.

Last season, Van Gaal signed former Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes but the pair have since fallen out, with Valdes now out of favour at the Premier League club.

"[Van Gaal and Valdes] are two strong characters, but it's a difficult situation for Victor," said Xavi. "Let's hope he finds a solution soon. I'm sad for him. He's a great professional, a good person. He's training, he's working hard. He'll return to football. It's better for Victor to be playing football."

Van Gaal's assistant at Barcelona was Jose Mourinho. The current Chelsea manager also impressed Xavi, who rejects suggestions he was merely a translator.

"Rubbish," Xavi said. "He was the assistant coach, someone who understood the philosophy of Barca and who shared many of the same characteristics of Van Gaal. He was very respected by the players. He trained us sometimes alone at Barca B and he was excellent. I'm surprised that he became known for another type of football, more defensive, because he wasn't like that with us."

Despite working under managers such as Van Gaal and Mourinho, as well as the likes of Pep Guardiola and Vicente del Bosque, Xavi cites Johan Cruyff as the "profound influence in my life" when asked if he is considering becoming a coach himself.

"[Cruyff] said to me: 'Look Xavi, when you stop playing, you're going to realise that the closest thing you can do to still feel like a footballer is to be a coach. You don't want to be in the office, you want to be by the grass.' Cruyff added, 'When I stopped, I didn't know where I was, I was lost. When I was managed, I realised that was the place I wanted to be.'"

Coming soon: Read more from Andy Mitten's exclusive interview with Xavi.


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