He can be regularly dismissed, Xavi Hernández has been consistently brilliant for Barcelona and Spain, is it time we considered him the best?
I am sitting down to write this article on the day of the Euro 2012 semi-final between Portugal and Spain, Spain are going into the game at 19/20 on to win, with only a slight cautious gaze at Cristiano Ronaldo’s form. Spain have been made clear favourites because, as French manager Laurent Blanc said in a press conference the other day, you cannot get the ball off them. One of the key reasons for this is the technical and relaxed midfield of the current Spanish side. The centre of this being Xavi Hernández.
Xavi has reached success at club level and on the international stage. Winning five La Liga’s, three Champion’s Leagues’, a World Cup and a European Championship, just to name a few. He is idolised by his teammates and marvelled at by his opponents, being the first name on every team sheet since his real breakthrough in 1999. Xavi has collected a massive 629 caps for Barcelona and 114 caps for Spain making him the third most capped Spanish player and most capped Barcelona player ever. During Xavi’s career both Barcelona and Spain have produced a style of football that will go down in history as one of the most dazzling and attractive ways of playing the beautiful game, Xaxi Hernández being at the heart of this. Xavi has achieved as much success and as much praise as the great players who once strolled around football pitches with such class and panache as Xavi does now. So with such an influence and impressive résumé, is he the greatest football player ever?
It is often pointed out that throughout his career Xavi has been surrounded by other great players, which give him the options and space to control games as he does. Andrés Iniesta has played alongside Xavi since his early days, and they not only share a great understanding on the field but a great friendship off it. There are plenty of other world class players that have been ever present in Xavi’s career such as Puyol, Villa (only more recently at Barcelona), Piqué and of course the unforgettable Messi. It is definitely true that most people playing alongside such a great crop of talent would find themselves shining. However, Xavi doesn’t just shine; he brings all this talent together and makes it into a team of great players, not great players in a team. Very similar to when all the Power Rangers combine and make a super robot, that super robot is Xavi’s Barcelona and Xavi’s Spain.
Critics can maybe point at Xavi’s goal stats as not competing with the likes of Pele, Maradona and even his Catalan colleague Messi. Xavi may not set the world on fire like Messi has done recently, scoring an astonishing 78 goals in the last year, but still has just over 1 goal in 10 appearances for Barcelona, which for a controlled, deep play maker is not a terrible return at all. But with Xavi, it is not the goal stats that bring out his true ability, it is his passing statistics. Just recently Xavi has broken another passing record with his performance against Ireland in Euro 2012, completing a whopping 127 passes. Between 2009 and 2011 Xavi almost reached 6000 successful passes and will almost always have a passing accuracy well above 90% for club and country, and despite the recent shock that Swansea’s Leon Britton had a slight better passing accuracy, Xavi remains the best passer of the ball in the world and maybe even the best passer ever.
Perhaps when Xavi retires in a few years we will appreciate how important he is for Barcalona and Spain, how well he creates space for Iniesta to run into, how he will always come and save Busquets from getting trapped with the ball in the centre circle and even how much the supreme Lionel Messi plays off Xavi’s imagination and vision. This will hopefully lead to the absolute respect Xavi deserves and ignorant journalists won’t run with headlines like ‘The best players of the world (and Xavi).’ Pep Guardiola said that at the start of his career Xavi was a player who ‘had the Barcelona DNA’, I think now he is the Barcelona DNA and all midfielders in the future will say ‘I want to be just like Xavi Hernández.’