Very rarely does a player get a send-off in his last home game like Xavi did for Barcelona at the Nou Camp. His Barcelona career, spanning 17 years and over 750 games, came to a spectacular end against Deportivo. The tributes were loud, extravagant, ostentatious, and everything that Xavi isn’t as a player or a person. It was the complete antithesis to the diminutive Barcelona midfielder, yet simultaneously nothing less than he deserved. In the long list of greats who have been lucky enough to call the Nou Camp their home during their career (Rivaldo, Guardiola, Laudrup, and Ronaldinho to name just a few), Xavi ranks among the absolute highest for his 17 years of midfield excellence, and Barcelona would have undoubtedly experienced less success in the last two decades had Xavi not played for them. The Barcelona fans know this, too.
Born on 25 January 1980 in Terrassa, Catalonia, Xavi’s journey to stardom at Barcelona began at just 11 years of age, when he joined their famed La Masia academy in 1991. Xavi captained the Barcelona youth sides throughout his adolescence, until he broke through to the first team in 1998.
It was in the first team, though, that Xavi immediately showed how good a player he was and could become. During his official first team debut, at the 1998 Supercopa Final against Mallorca, Xavi scored Barcelona’s only goal.
After his La Liga debut in the 1998-99 season against Valencia, Xavi’s impressive performances helped establish himself as an integral part of van Gaal’s title-winning side that included superstars such as Guardiola, Figo, and Rivaldo. His progression and sustained run in the team between 1998 and 1993, partly down to the absence of captain Pep Guardiola due to frequent injuries, saw him register 13 goals and numerous assists. Xavi’s position at this point was more advanced to where he has found himself in recent years. His knowledge and exploitation of space, combined with exceptional technical ability and understanding of the game meant that he became an invaluable part of Barcelona’s evolution into pure tiki-taka style.
Xavi’s most prolific part of his career started in 2004 though, as he experienced an unparalleled decade of success with both Barcelona and the Spanish national side. Xavi was named vice-captain in 2004 in a Barcelona side that had moved on from the old guard and had recruited and developed new stars like Samuel Eto’o, Ronaldinho and Andrés Iniesta. His development and presence in the heart of midfield paid off straight away, as Barcelona sealed the La Liga and Supercup double in 2005 and the 2006 treble that included the Champions League.
Between 2008 and 2012, Xavi hit unprecedented heights with Barcelona and Spain. In those six years, Xavi performed his mediapunta role to win three La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey’s, two Champions League’s, three Supercopa’s and two Club World Cups, as well as back-to-back European Championships and a World Cup with Spain. His importance was clear to see in 2008 especially, as Xavi scooped the Player of the Tournament award in Spain’s successful European Championships campaign. As the head of UEFA technical committee explained, “We have chosen Xavi because he epitomises the Spanish style of play. He was influential in the whole possession, passing and penetrating kind of game that Spain played”.
As Xavi has progressed in his career and lost his physicality, his role has changed to one that more characterises mediocentro. Particularly thanks to his incredible partnership with the more attacking Iniesta, Xavi’s discipline has evolved into one based on control. Control of the ball, and control of the game. Though he has naturally seen a decrease in his number of goals and assists over the last few years, his penchant for setting the tempo of Barcelona’s attacks has rewarded Barcelona with two more La Liga titles as well as the Copa del Rey and Champions League titles in this treble winning season.
A fitting end to a glorious career, and it is hard to see how Barcelona will be able to maintain their quality of midfield next year without one of the finest of all time. Xavi’s influence is best explained by the former Barcelona President, Sandro Rossell – “Tiki-Taka is Xavi’s registered trademark. The day he is not here, I do not think we will be able to continue with it”. Barcelona will not need to wait too long to find out.