Great players can be measured in a variety of ways. Whether it’s a brimming medal cabinet or incomparable statistics you’re looking for, Xavi Hernández has it all.
When this era is eventually consigned to the history books, we will look back and wax lyrical about the all-conquering Barcelona side and the European and World champions, Spain. Xavi has been the heartbeat of both.
We will see he was Man of the Match in the 2009 Champions League Final, Player of the Tournament at Euro 2008 and top of the La Liga assist charts for the past two years.
We will marvel at the awe-inspiring statistics he constantly throws up. Xavi attempted 100 passes more than any other player at the recent World Cup; he also covered more ground than anyone else. He completed more passes than the entire Inter Milan team could muster back in April; he misplaced just 15 of his 244 passes against Arsenal and at the World Cup he touched the ball once every 46 seconds.
It is easy to appreciate greatness, but any Xavi eulogy has also to value the manner in which he conducts himself. He is a beacon of light in an era where football has become more defensive and physical. Teams now install two or three defensive midfielders, impressive physical specimens with the duty of destroying and dismantling.
Yet Xavi belongs on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, charged with the task of conjuring and creating. Rarely do you see him hurried on the ball. Picking holes and perfectly weighting passes, he sits in the centre of the pitch conducting proceedings. His positional play is exceptional, his movement and vision first rate. He plays the game with football’s pass-and-move fundamentals at the forefront of his mind.
Then there are the other elements to Xavi’s game which make him even more likeable. A one-club man, he embodies the aesthetically pleasing football Barcelona has become synonymous with. Although he may play in central midfield he isn’t frequently pulled up for fouls and, despite the reputations of his fellow Iberians, he is rarely seen indulging in the theatrical art of diving. He suffered 14 fouls during the World Cup, committing only one in return.
Xavi isn’t underrated as such, but his role is often understated. Not once did I hear Xavi’s name mentioned in conjunction with Spain’s excellent defensive work at the World Cup where they conceded only twice. It all comes back to the simple old adage, “if you have the ball, the other team can’t score”.
Then there is the fact that he is often overshadowed by Lionel Messi. Yes, it is too simplistic to attribute Messi’s World Cup goal drought down to Xavi, but the absence of his club teammate was certainly a contributing factor. It is not just Xavi’s own body of work, but his importance to other components in his team’s make up which is so vital.
In 10 to 20 years time, players will point to Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney as their idols and the players they modelled their games on. But Xavi should be held in the same esteem. Quiet and unassuming, Xavi continues to orchestrate world football in a way nobody else can.