"Lo que no se entrena se olvida". Pep Guardiola
Few thought that the baby faced player with the shy look that Louis van Gaal debuted on December 20, 1998, would become a living legend. Xavi scored a header that changed his story and the history of Barcelona, so much so that he saved Van Gaal’s bacon and led his club on to win the league. What was to follow is well known.
European soccer’s farewell to a legend. Winner, among other titles, of 3 Champions leagues, eight Spanish league titles, two World Cup of Clubs, a World Cup and two European Championships. Can anyone else on the continent flaunt such a resume?
It seems clear that a quality footballer like Xavi Hernandez would shine with almost any coach, but nobody knows what would have happened if the then president of Barça had dismissed Van Gaal and had opted for a technician who would have eschewed the promise of youth and trusted players with more experience or muscle in Barça’s midfield. People always tend to idealize towards the end of a career but in this case, any idealization falls far short.
I have had the immense good fortune of meeting Xavi. My first memory of him was as a cadet. He in the pure ‘4’ position in the Barça academy and me in the position of playmaker. He seemed a normal, very technical player but not a physical one, so I thought I would press him every time he got the ball to steal it and come out on top. I tried time and time again without success. He dodged me using only oriented ball control and body position. “Do you have eyes in the back of your head?” I asked him. He just smiled more. At the end of the match it was he who turned to me and said: “A pleasure. We like playing. You can tell that you like football!”
A few days ago I ran into him. He rose from his chair and came across to me to say hello. I did not even have the time to engage the prudent behaviour such occasions call for.
Two little, perhaps insignificant incidents, that speak volumes about him both on and off the pitch.
But let’s focus on his football and his contribution to the game of FC Barcelona. I’ve structured this with a brief overview of his career, his most revealing data and a deep tactical analysis dissecting 6 basic points:
He has always spoken wonders of Luis Aragones and, for this reason, people believe that it was he who first placed Xavi in the position but it was Rijkaard who placed him there in the second half of his 1st season as coach who did. And his scoring average begins to reflect it (the table above shows very revealing data!). Especially from 2006/07 and 2005/2006 in the cross breaks.
But what really Luis Aragones really gives him, is confidence, gallons of it and above all leadership. From here a “new Xavi ‘ begins, winning Euro 2008 and appearing every year among the top 5 players.
Xavi just has shown us all that in football everything is physical. That is football first and then physically. It was the flag of an idea strongly convinced that talent is stronger than the defense. And best of all, it has shown that building, although much harder, is more comforting than destroy. The perfect definition for Xavi is very easy. Just fútbol!
Without it, nothing would have been the same, impossible! I always thought that if Xavi Hernandez was a serious image ball, that if a serious word football and if we put him face to shield the club, that would be his. Europe not only dismisses a legendary player, but an idea.
* Álex Delmàs es exfutbolista y analista.
– Foto: Reuters
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