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Legends in Review – Xavi

Xavi was a player who epitomised Barcelona and Spain during his career. well-known for his possession-based playing style, Xavi was the heartbeat of both club and country for two decades.

The Spanish World Cup winner also showed outstanding leadership abilities on and off the pitch. Furthermore, he displayed an immense football intelligence, rarely matched at the top-level of the game.

Xavi – The Early Days

Xavier Hernández Creus was born in Barcelona in January 1980. Born into a footballing family, Xavi’s father, Joaquim, played for First Division side Sabadell.

By the age of 11, Xavi’s footballing potential was evident. Barcelona signed him for the prestigious La Masia academy. The midfielder made a good impression and rose through the youth ranks at Barca. Eventually, he broke into the B team in the mid-90s. He was part of the successful side that won promotion to the Spanish second division in the 1997/98 season.

Barcelona – 767 Appearances – 85 Goals

In 1998, Xavi made his first-team debut for Barcelona in the Supercopa against Valencia. It was the beginning of Xavi’s breakthrough season at Barca and he made 26 appearances in all competitions. Furthermore, he lifted La Liga with Barcelona and won the award for Breakthrough Player of the Year in La Liga.

Xavi’s playing time increased in the following seasons. After Pep Guardiola suffered a career-threatening injury in the 1999/00 season, Xavi became the first-choice playmaker. Now a key player at the club, Xavi’s influence grew in the early 2000s. In 2004, he was named vice-captain of the club.

In the 2004/05 season, Xavi lifted his second La Liga. He was influential throughout the season and assisted 12 goals, scored three and he captained the side later in the season. Such impressive performances earned him the Player of the Year award for La Liga.

The following season was another triumph for Barca as they successfully defended their La Liga title and won the Champions League. However, for Xavi, it was a campaign marred by injury and he missed the majority of the season.

But he returned emphatically and he featured heavily in Barcelona’s 2008/09 treble-winning season. Barcelona won the Champions League, la Liga and the Copa Del Re. Xavi played 54 games in the campaign, scored 10 goals and made 31 assists throughout the season.

Xavi went from strength to strength alongside Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. Again, Barca won La Liga in the next two seasons and lifted the Champions League again in 2010/11. Xavi captained the side in fits and starts throughout. Eventually, his final Champions League winners medal came in 2015, the same year as his final La Liga victory.

In his final outing for the Catalan club, Xavi captained the side for their 2015 Champions League final. It was an appearance that brought an appropriate end to his 17 years career at the club.

Al Sadd – 90 Appearances – 24 Goals

Following his departure from Spain, Xavi went to the Qatari league. The midfielder joined Al Sadd on a three-year contract in 2015.

Although the move was a step down in Xavi’s usual high standards, he won two honours in Qatar. Xavi lifted the Qatar Cup in 2018 and the Qatar League in 2019.

Despite continuing to play at a professional level Xavi, started to focus on his off-field career. The playmaker stepped away from the demands of European football so he could earn his coaching qualifications.

Shortly after Xavi played his final game for Al Sadd in 2019, he took over as the club’s manager. It is a role he still has today at the club.

Spain National Team – 133 Appearances – 12 Goals

Alongside his glittering career with Barcelona, Xavi was instrumental in Spain’s success from 2008 to 2012. He represented his country in seven major tournaments between 2002 and 2014 and won three of them.

In Euro 2008, Xavi won Player of the Tournament and helped his side to lift the trophy. Deployed as the team’s primary playmaker, Xavi only missed one game in the tournament. Spain won every match they played, also defeating Germany 1-0 in the final. Xavi assisted Fernando Torres for the tournament winning goal.

Xavi was central again in Spain’s first-ever World Cup victory in 2010. Again, he was critical in the team, playing every single minute of the tournament. In trademark fashion, the midfielder set up the winning goals in crucial knockout games against Portugal and Germany in the semi-finals. Xavi gained noticeable recognition for his partnership with Xabi Alonso. Their ability to retain possession was unrivalled by any team at the competition.

In 2012, Xavi became one of the first football players in history to win three successive major international tournaments. Yet again, Xavi was the main man, only missing four minutes of the tournament. In the final, Xavi proved his quality on football’s biggest state, He set up two of Spain’s four goals in the 4-0 final victory over Italy. As a result, the playmaker became the only player ever to assist in two Euro finals.

Xavi retired from international football in 2014 after Spain were eliminated from the group stages of the 2014 World Cup. When he retired, Xavi was one of the most decorated players in international football.

Style of Play

Xavi could see the game unfold in front of him, unlike any other player. His ability to pick out passes that most watching on television couldn’t even notice was unrivalled. It was this vision that made him a great provider of goals, a serial assister.

But his ability to retain the ball under pressure was his main asset. In an era where Barcelona and Spain achieved so much success in the 2000s and 2010s, Xavi was at the centre of it all. Teams and clubs were built around Xavi. A testament to his supreme ball-playing ability, his leadership and his genius football brain.

Legacy

Xavi was inspired by his mentor at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola. However, it could be seen as the other way round; that Xavi inspired Pep.

Guardiola has built successful teams across Europe by deploying players similar to Xavi in his teams. David Silva at Man City may be the most direct comparison. But others include German legend, Philp Lahm. Guardiola turned Lahm from a defender into a ball-playing midfielder, like Xavi, when he managed Bayern Munich.

Xavi won everything available in world football in his career. He has been an inspiration for players, managers and entire clubs,, who want to emulate how he played and the way he played. He was stylish, gracious and technically supreme. Certainly, he was one of the greatest players ever in football.