Xavi Hernandez: A tribute to one of football's greatest pass masters
Vision. Control. Precision. Success. Xavi Hernandez had it all.
At his peak, the Barcelona midfield maestro possessed so much class, energy and poise you felt he was always on the cusp of producing something magical – so it’s no wonder his admirers are still, hopelessly, pining for more. And yet, a reflection on his tenure, though wistful in some regards, feels complete. At the end of the day, the mini master leaves the club with so much more to show than trophies, fame and money.
He has the unending love of a club rich in history and brimming with pride. And it’s easy to understand why.
Drinking in the atmosphere at his final home game, it was plain to see just how much he meant to the throngs of thankful fans. Providing equilibrium to an über-offensive team for so many years, 35-year-old Xavi was the swinging pendulum of harmony that helped Barcelona maintain much of its prestige, coolness under pressure and style for so long. A captain and a pace-setter of the highest order, he lead with a unique style that was good enough to see them become the toast of Europe, with him dictating as the fulcrum.
With his final La Liga clash now behind him, and with the floods of tears now dried up, the cacophonous cauldron of the Camp Nou will never play host to his considerable talents again – save for one last time n the Copa del Rey final. And there is still the small matter of the Champions League final to come between in June, two events which Xavi will be able to stake a deserved claim to.
In the meantime, however, we can all bask in the story and past successes of a truly wonderful player as he will soon depart to Qatar for what ought to be the final chapter in a glittering career.
Xavi was the right man at the right club
Embodying their urge to play stylish football with substance, he might not have been the flashiest of players at first glance, but it was his willingness to do the necessary tasks extremely well that held the unit together. A pillar of the team, it was always imperative that the many great managers which came and went had someone of his ilk to utilise. However, it was only Xavi, you feel, who could ever have done so with the same degree of success.
In short, he was the glove that fit that team in that era, but it’s no coincidence he did so with such expertise and it’s easy to believe he would have dazzled in any Barca team, past or future.
A product of the Catalan outfit’s famed La Masia youth academy, his relationship with the club lasted a quarter of a century – an incredible length of time that fans of any La Liga outfit will possibly never see happen again. Inextricably linked with their history and incredibly strong sense of self, the diminutive Spaniard quickly became a club icon as he rose through the ranks to eventually become a regular first-team starter.
Making a total of 505 league appearances for the Blaugrana, his ability to maintain such a high level of performance ensured he never lost sight of the side’s key principles.
Moving the ball swiftly and with purpose, they were often unplayable. Working hard for the betterment of everyone, Xavi might have seen his role diminished greatly over the course of the last number of months (with Squawka reporting he played just nine full league games this campaign), but he was never put out by it, never irked by it and always eager to show support for the team as a whole.
Reflecting back on his numerous accomplishments, sometimes it can be difficult to fully comprehend the gravity of what it was he achieved at the highest level of club football, and yet it’s almost more difficult to wrap one’s head around the fact he never once won the Ballon d’Or – a footballing travesty if ever there was one.
The orchestrator during Barcelona’s golden era
Still, he kept focused and proved key to the golden era in Barcelona’s history, which arguably arrived on the cusp of 2008. Indeed, the player who normally sports the no.6 jersey pulled the strings and orchestrated the movements of his team-mates with increasing fluidity, having gotten an unquenchable thirst for the role since being afforded the opportunity to jump into the first team in 1998 after then coach Pep Guardiola paved the way for him.
Threading passes through the eye of a needle time and again, he had the alluring knack of creating space when there was none. Without intending to sound too mawkish, it really was as if the Barca legend had the ability to slow down time, weigh up his options with optimum effect before conjuring up inch-perfect passes for a variety of ever-changing forward lines.
Often acting as the pivot through which Barcelona’s attacks could develop, it was a joy to watch him in full flow. Perpetually magnetising the ball to his feet, his penchant for drifting seamlessly away from tackle after tackle before unleashing killer passes was second to none, and it’s going to take some time before anyone ever matches him in that regard again.
Alongside Andres Iniesta, he formed a formidable partnership – indeed, with Lionel Messi to aim for, he had more pressure, rather than less, to give the Argentine’s superpowers a platform to shine from. That said, he rarely looked like the weight of that role would ever get to him as he persisted with his ability to fluctuate the tempo and rhythm of games on cue.
And it was his heartbeat, that kept the successful outfit in tune with the speed, skill and growing power of others. In fact, he claimed an amazing total of eight domestic league titles throughout his time in the north-east of Spain. Perhaps their best spell arrived between 2008 and 2011 where they captured three consecutive league trophies a well as two UEFA Champions League crowns.
Undoubtedly, then, their best year arrived in 2009 which saw them clinch an amazing tally of six titles which included the FIFA Club World Cup as well as the Supercopa de Espana. A crowning personal feat for the central midfielder in all of this was his man-of-the-match performance as the Catalan giants triumphed 2-0 over Manchester United in the Champions League final.
Ultimately, it was his desire to replicate his best, whether it was with the national side or at club level, which saw the miniature magician reach beyond the ordinary to become not just a club hero who learned how to pass his way to fame, but had the ability to surpass normal levels of success season after season.
From football fans everywhere – thank you, Xavi.