Xavi, Messi and Iniesta
My screensaver is a picture of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi embracing together after a goal. It is a Champions League game and Messi and Iniesta are both smiling, pleased with what has just taken place. But Xavi's face is a picture, it is bursting with joy and shows just how much Barça means to this player.
Don't get me wrong I know how much Barcelona means to both Messi and Iniesta, but Xavi was born with red and blue blood. In a similar mould of that of Carles Puyol, Xavi has been with Barça through all of the hardship, the testing times and, during the early stages of his career, ignored the opportunity of guaranteed first team football to work for his place at his boyhood club.
Accused of trying to retire his hero Pep Guardiola, Xavi had his critics both in and out of the club. But Xavi's self-confessed stubborn attitude has made him into one of the finest players ever produced by the club.
Xavi is a passer. "That's what I do, look for spaces. All day. I'm always looking." said the great man. He has the vision and accuracy to dictate any play. If there is a pass to be made, he will find it.
Take this clip as example of the skill he possesses. Xavi receives the ball from Dani Alves and as soon as he does Pedro busts his guts to make the ground because he knows Xavi will find him. It is an intelligent run but nothing compared to the pass itself. Standing in the way of Xavi and Pedro is four defenders, three centre backs who are monitoring the run of Pedro and a defensive midfielder who has charged to close Xavi down.
At this point most players would attempt to chip the ball over all four players because the idea of passing it along the ground is simply ridiculous. One of those defenders will intercept. That's not what Xavi is thinking though. He's thinking "if I pass this along the ground, Pedro won't have to control a bouncing ball meaning he will have more time before the goalie reaches him."
Pause the clip at roughly five seconds, just after Xavi has passed the ball. You can see from here, the ball has to be deadly accurate. Too far to the right and the left back will intercept, too far to the left and either the midfielder or the defender will intercept. The margins are ridiculous, an inch to either side and the attack breaks down. But it is perfect. The ball rolls through the exact right spot to not get within the reach of any defenders.
The speed is also vital. Too hard and the ball gets away from Pedro and the keeper gathers. Too soft and the defender has time to reposition himself and intercept. But it's just right. The ball zips past the defenders but slows to allow Pedro to control and score.
Simply passing perfection from an extraordinary player.
Superlatives have been thrown at him in abundance. The Magician, the Puppet Master, the Architect have all been used to describe the Spaniard and he deserves it. Xavi worked hard at his trade, believing, with every bone in his body, that the Barça way was the right way.
To him losing the ball is a sin. "I must have at least 100 touches of the ball every match. If I had to go back to the dressing room with only 50 I'd be ready to kill someone." Xavi told Canal+ and the statistics back him up.
Go back to one of the greatest days in Barcelona history. The 2011 Champions League final at Wembley against Manchester United. United's top four passers (Ferdinand, Rooney, Vidic and Carrick) accumulated a total of 132 passes. Xavi accumulated 141. On his own.
Now before you say, well surely he missed a lot of passes too. Remember what I wrote earlier, losing the ball is a sin. Xavi lost it seven times. Only seven. 95% successful. In a Champions League final. It is truly absurd.
Not only has he got a passing eye, last season he proved he has a goal-scoring eye. Xavi's last season was his most prolific during his Barça career. Scoring ten league goals and assisting seven times, the Spaniard proved his ball control skills are transferable from his passing game to his shooting game.
Proof, if it was needed, coming from this clip. Xavi is involved from the get-go, receiving a pass from Leo Messi before distributing it to Alves. A couple of passes later and Barça's number 6 is back on the ball. A quick 1-2-3-4 with Messi and Xavi makes his way towards the penalty area.
A shimmy of the body and Xavi is in space, perfectly picked out by Messi. The Spanish midfielder now has the task of controlling the ball as the keeper charges to close him down. Control with the left, bounce, chip with the right. The defenders don't get close and the keeper is left with a body gesture that suggests he's thinking "I've just been Xavi'ed."
The future looks bright for Barça's midfield. Thiago looks strong, Iniesta is still young, Fàbregas is back home. But please savour the magic of Xavi. For he is a one in a million.