Over the past several weeks, the footballing world has had storylines all over – from Barcelona’s loss to Liverpool, Tottenham’s epic comeback against the upstart Ajax team, and Manchester City clinching one of the closest Premier League title races in recent history. Lost in these storylines was the official announcement from a player who revolutionized the way modern football is played – Xavi.
Let’s take a look back at Xavi’s influence throughout Barcelona, especially in the club’s glory days, and how his official retirement marks an end to a career that ranks him in the upper echelon of all-time players.
To watch Barcelona in the 2000s and early 2010s was to watch a style of play that almost no other team in the world was (and is) capable of replicating. We’ve seen it this year with Ajax who possess the will and technical ability to play in a similar style, as well as Manchester City who have Pep Guardiola at the helm, but those are the outlier.
With the pairing of Xavi and Andres Iniesta in midfield, all Blaugranes might not have been 100% confident in winning each competition but were 100% confident in knowing that the midfield would not be bossed around. The Tiki-Taka style that Johan Cruyff invented and was then inherited by Pep became Xavi’s defining quality. It seemed that whenever he touched the ball, his mind was not thinking of the immediate pass, but how that seemingly simple ball could lead to an easy goal. As we know, the opposition cannot score if you possess the ball, and Xavi encapsulated that mentality. Calm and poised in midfield, he ensured that Pep’s vision came to realization on the pitch.
With countless trophies for the Catalans, Xavi’s influence wasn’t limited to club, but also stretched to country. With a predominantly Barcelona midfield consisting Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and a mixture of Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas at times, the Spanish national team won the European Cup, World Cup, and European cup again in 2008, 2010, and 2012 respectively.
Vincente del Bosque rightfully realized that playing to the strengths of Xavi was in his best interest and that led to the best interests of the entire squad. It is no large surprise that upon the beginning of Xavi’s decline, both club and country began to feel the brunt of it. Spain’s last trophy came in 2012 and Barcelona’s last Champions League success in Xavi’s last season for the Blaugranes. He didn’t play 90 minutes each match, but Enrique knew he could count on the midfield maestro for quality minutes in the middle of pitch, regardless of his age.
What the diminutive Spaniard lacked in physical aspects such as height and weight, he made up for in mental capacity. While most players look to play the easy ball, Xavi looked for the best ball, whether that was easy or hard. Pair his poise on the ball with an unrivaled level of technical skill, Xavi was the pure definition of the Barcelona system and his presence in international football will forever be missed, but also cherished. To Xavi, the leader of an era that can be surmised as Barcelona’s best. Visca Barca.