Full name: Xavier Hernandez Creus Nickname: Xavi
Date of birth: 25 January 1980 in Terrassa, Spain
Club: Since 1997: Barcelona. Honours: 1999: Spanish league championship and FIFA U-20 World Cup winner. 2000: silver medal in the Olympic Football Tournament. 2002: FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finalist. 2005: Spanish league championship and super cup winner. 2006: Spanish championship, super cup and UEFA Champions League winner, reached round of 16 of the FIFA World Cup™. 2008: European Championship winner and player of the tournament. 65 caps and eight goals for Spain.
Top of the class
Xavi Hernandez may be small in stature but in footballing terms he is a giant. The 28-year-old Spaniard is one of the world’s best midfielders and like all players of his class, he makes difficult things look simple.
Since Barcelona were founded more than a hundred years ago, the club has been home to players of the calibre of Samitier, Kubala, Ramailets, Segarra, Luis Suarez, Asensi, Cruyff, Neeskens, Rexach, Maradona, Schuster, Lineker, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, Zubizarreta, Stoitchkov, Guardiola, Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Eco’o, Henry and Messi, a list that would be incomplete without the inclusion of Xavi Hernandez, who was born and bred in the neighbouring town of Tertassa.
Voted player of the tournament at this year’s EURO for his decisive contribution to Spain’s victory and ranked third in Barcelona’s list of all-time appearances (with 430), surpassed only by “Tarzan” Migueli (548) and Carles Rexach (452), whom he now has in his sights, the 28-year-old is a player that any manager would give his eye teeth to sign.
Although Xavi joined Barcelona in 1991 at the age of 11, he did not make his first-team debut until 18 August 1998, under Louis van Gaal. The Dutchman, who was the architect of the last great Ajax side (containing the likes of Van der Sar, the De Boer brothers, Davids, Seedorf, Finidi, Litmanen, Kluivert, Overmars, Kanu etc.), strongly backed Xavi to succeed and did not hesitate to select him for the Spanish super cup match against Mallorca. “Go out there, play your game and enjoy it,” were Van Gaal’s words on confirming that he would be making his debut. Ten years later, with a good few years left to continue enjoying himself and playing his game, Xavi has deservedly achieved global recognition.
HIS BIG CHANCE
Ever since he made his debut, on which he even scored a goal, everyone has been keen to compare his playing style with that of Josep Guardiola, now his coach at the Camp Nou. Xavi is the prime example of Barcelona’s fine tradition of producing playmakers. Other examples include Milla, Guardiola, De la Pena, Arteta, Fabregas and Iniesta.
He is the prime example because unlike the majority of those listed above, Xavi is the complete footballer. He plays, he brings other players into the game, he wins balls and he is also a goalscorer. His vision – the directness of his play, which enables him to arrive at the opponents’ penalty area for the second ball even when he is the architect of the original move — is what differentiates him from the rest and enables him to tip the balance of a game. He really is top of the class. As a result, he has been a first-team regular under every single one of the coaches that have passed through the Camp Nou during his time at the club: Van Gaal (twice), Serra Ferrer, Rexach, Antic, Rijkaard and Guardiola.
Not even a serious knee injury, which kept him on the sidelines for six months
Xavi Hernandez read the game brilliantly in the EURO 2008 final against Germany. photos- keystone
during the 2005-2006 season, damaged the confidence the club has always placed in the midfielder from Terrassa. Indeed, it was another serious injury, this time to Guardiola (another coincidence), that gave Xavi his big chance during the 1999-2000 campaign.
NOT A PHYSICAL PLAYER
However, in football, as in life, nothing is that simple and Xavi knows how hard it is to be a product of a club’s youth system. Not being a big-name signing is a cross that every young player who has made it through the ranks has to bear. Thar is the harsh reality. Xavi himself has admitted that he has no right to complain because when he was a boy, he was mote interested in the skills of the Laudrup brothers, Stoitchkov, Rosatio and Koeman than those of homegrown members of Barcelona’s “Dream Team” such as Bakcro, Beguiristain and Goikoetxea.
Possessing a technique that few players in the world today can match, Xavi is clever enough to avoid contact and physical football and instead focuses on directing the ball into the area of the pitch close to the opponents’ penalty box where games are decided, providing killer passes for the strikers to convert. Xavi is one of the privileged few who understand possession football, a simple concept, but most of the time a difficult one to implement on the field. Theory is one thing but practice is another and that is where players such as Xavi
make a difference because they have the edge over other players in terms of intelligence.
PLAY IT AGAIN
“As Johan Cruyff always says, the difficult thing is not making it, but staying there,” points out Xavi, who is not afraid to stand up for his team-mates and coaches. Despite coming across as quiet and withdrawn, he is not one to hide, either on the pitch or off it. He does not
mince his words and was one of former national team coach Luis Aragones’s staunchest supporters. A few months before the EURO 2008 finals, the player came out in defence of his coach on several occasions during the media campaign that had been launched against him. “Everyone wants rid of the coach and I find that very unfair. It’s a privilege to have met him. Luis is the essence of football, he lives for it, he loves it, he transmits it, he understands footballers and he gives it his all. And now they want rid of him. Well I don’t think that’s right. You have to be patient and let him work until the European Championship.”
Subsequent events and results proved that not only Xavi but the board of the Spanish football association (RFEF), who backed Aragones in the face of widespread opposition, were right. After backing his coach before the competition, Xavi’s first thought in the glow of the Spanish triumph was for Aragones: “It’s a victory for Luis. He convinced us that we were the best team in the world. He devised the tactics and opted for an idea, a style, we followed it and it has led us to victory.”
Xavi was Aragones’ brain on the pitch and the ideal player to embody the coach’s mantra of “Play the ball. Play it again and again and again”. Xavi is the king of possession football, as demonstrated by the fact that he was affectionately dubbed “Humphrey Bogart” by the journalist Andres Montes. Why? The answer can be found in one of the most famous films in the history of cinema, Casablanca, starring Bogart, which contains the famously misquoted line “Play it again, Sam”.
Xavi’s list of honours, which includes three Spanish league titles, two Spanish super cups, Champions League tide, FIFA U-20 World Cup title, an Olympic silver medal and European Championship, and is richer in quality than quantity, elevates him to the position of a global superstar. His most recent honour was accompanied by his being named Player of the Tournament by the UEFA Technical Team, who justified their choice as follows: “Dating the whole of the European Championship he was extremely influential in the whole possession, passing, penetrating kind of game played by Spain, who did not attempt to change their image and remained true to their philosophy. If you are not tall, as is the case with Xavi, you have to be quick, clever and technical. And he is.”
What is not mentioned is that Xavi ran 11,5 kilometres in that final against Germany and that he also provided a magnificent ball into space for Fernando Torres’ winning goal.
For more info, pease visit the Xavi website