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Revisiting the 2009 Ballon d'Or: When Xavi Hernandez made a solid case for the award

Messi won the first of four consecutive Ballon d
Messi won the first of four consecutive Ballon d'Or's in 2009
Elvis Ume O
ANALYST
Modified 23 Sep 2019
Feature
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The year 2009 was a special one in the history of Barcelona and concordantly that of football; it marked the first time the Spanish giants won a treble, and later in the year, they became the first side in footballing history to win all six major trophies that season.

Expectedly, Lionel Messi had a clean sweep of the individual wards, being named the FIFA Best Player of the Year, as well as winning the final Ballon d'Or in its previous format of being handed out by France Football, with the award merged to become the FIFA Ballon d'Or the following year (though it has since been returned to its previous format).

The Ballon d'Or is the highest individual honour that a player can attain, as it signals being called the premier professional footballer in the world, placing said player above millions of colleagues around the world.

It is a privilege attained by just a handful, with only 44 players having won the award since its conception.

While some legends of the game got their hands on the prestigious award, there are many others who did not achieve this.

Former Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez is one such legend, and 2009 was the year where he made the strongest case to be named a Ballon d'Or winner.

Here, in continuation of our series highlighting players who should have won the Ballon d'Or between 2008 and 2018, we shall be making a case for why Xavi deserved to have been named the Ballon d'Or winner in 2009.

Also read: Revisiting the 2008 Ballon d'Or: When Fernando Torres made a solid case for the award

2009 Ballon d'Or winner - Lionel Messi

After finishing second the previous year, Argentine legend Lionel Messi won the first of four consecutive - and at last count five total Ballon d'Ors in 2009.

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Aged 22, the Rosario native won the award by a then-record margin of 240 points, polling 473 points, while Cristiano Ronaldo totalled 233, with Xavi Hernandez completing the podium with 170 points.

Messi starred in the 6-2 demolition of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in May 2009
Messi starred in the 6-2 demolition of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in May 2009

Messi winning the award was not in the least bit surprising, as he had played a starring role in propelling Barcelona to the treble that season, scoring 38 goals from 51 matches in all competitions to help the Blaugrana achieve the extraordinary feat. There were also multiple landmark moments over the course of the season for the Argentine international.

A phone call a few hours to kickoff of a key El Clasico in May 2009 saw Messi deployed in the 'false nine' position for the first time ever, and he starred with two goals and one assist to demolish the in-form Real Madrid 6-2 at the Bernabeu to effectively decide the title race, while he also weighed in with a goal and assist as Barcelona defeated Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final to win the first of six trophies that year.

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In the Champions League, Messi was also decisive, scoring nine goals to finish as the competition's highest goalscorer (the youngest till date to achieve this distinction), with the 4-0 demolition of Bayern Munich in the quarterfinal (where he scored a brace and assisted the other two goals) as well as his headed goal to take Barcelona 2-0 up in the final against Manchester United standing out.

In light of his immense contribution to Barcelona's rousing success that year, Messi was a deserving recipient of the Ballon d'or, but equally deserving of the accolade was his fellow La Masia graduate Xavi Hernandez.

The case for Xavi to have been named the 2009 Ballon d'Or winner

Xavi Hernandez
Xavi Hernandez

While Xavi might today be regarded as one of the greatest midfielders to ever grace the game, the ex-Spanish international did not always enjoy such status.

Prior to Pep Guardiola's arrival at Barcelona, Xavi was just another of many talented Spanish midfielders, and you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who placed him in the bracket of the world's best midfielders.

Proof of this lies in the fact that despite having played professional football for almost a decade and being 28 years old when Guardiola arrived as Barcelona coach in July 2008, Xavi had never received a single vote in the Ballon d'Or ranking, and had just one nomination to his name in 2005.

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However, less than six months after the current Manchester City manager taking the mantle in the Barcelona dugout, Xavi finished 5th in the total tally for the 2008 Ballon d'Or.

Although he had starred to help Spain end their international trophy drought during the summer of 2008, it must also be remembered that half of the year in question was spent under Guardiola's tutelage in what was to become the greatest season in Barcelona's history.

While Messi might have been the poster boy of Barcelona under Pep, Xavi was the fulcrum through which tiki-taka operated, and it is undebatable that the club would not have achieved such success had Xavi not been present.

Few months into his tenure as Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola had this to say on Xavi:

'Xavi is a player who has the Barcelona DNA: someone who has the taste for good football, someone who is humble and someone who has loyalty to this club. From the first moment I saw him play, I knew he would become the brain behind Barcelona for many years to come.'

That final sentence proved to be true down to the last game Xavi played for Barcelona.

Xavi was the on-field representation of Guardiola
Xavi was the on-field representation of Guardiola's tactical demands
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Lionel Messi's talent has always been obvious right from his La Masia days, and Guardiola only helped unleash it to its full potential.

However, while Xavi might have been great in his own right, the exponential growth in his fame and status under one year of Guardiola's management serves as proof of the fact that he was the most important player to the successful implementation of the tiki-taka system.

Still doubt Xavi's importance to Barcelona? The 39-year-old departed Camp Nou in 2015 and won the Champions League in his last game for the club. However, since then, despite having the presence of the revered Lionel Messi, the Blaugrana have not been able to get their hands on the prestigious trophy

Though not famed for his goalscoring, Xavi was rather more concerned with the more intricate aspects of the game; having an obsession with retention of the ball and creating spaces to play his teammates into.

These are fundamental tenets upon which Barcelona's possession play is built, and Xavi had the footballing brain and requisite technique to make it happen.

The 2008/2009 season marked the beginning of an unprecedented era of success for the Catalan club and their record appearance maker was there through it all to make it happen.

Xavi made the joint-highest appearances that season (alongside Dani Alves), playing in 54 of 62 matches in all competitions.

In total, the Terrassa native weighed in with 10 goals in all competitions, but it was his passing and vision that played key roles in Barcelona's success.

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He topped the assists charts in LaLiga with 20 assists, with four of those coming in a single game - the aforementioned 6-2 rout of Real Madrid on their own turf to swing the title race in Barcelona's favour.

He was also instrumental in the Champions League triumph, assisting a further seven times (including for Messi's goal in the final) to help Barcelona to their third European triumph.

The summer of 2008 marked the turning point in Xavi's career, as from then on he started receiving the plaudits that his immense talent deserves, with the culmination being when he played a starring role to help Barcelona to a treble in 2009.

Without him, it is unarguable that Guardiola would not have been a resounding success at Barcelona, while Lionel Messi might also not have gotten to the level he currently operates at.

There are scores of iconic players who never got to win the Ballon d'Or, and Xavier Hernández Creus ranks high up there with the best of them; however, 2009 should have been the year he cemented his legacy by being named the best player in the world.

Published 23 Sep 2019, 20:36 IST
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