Xavi has been playing for Barcelona since 1997, finally breaking through into the senior squad in 1998, since then playing 611 matches for the club, but more importantly winning 19 major and minor trophies, not even including his national contribution, winning the Euro and the World Cup with the Spanish national team.
At 32, enjoying the best season of his career in terms of goals (7 in the league, 11 in all competitions), there’s nothing new for one of the greatest midfielders of all time, and arguably the best CM in the world today, to win. I mean he doesn’t have a Europa League trophy in his cabinet, but I’m pretty sure he can live without that one. Or the Cup Winners’ Cup, which no one ever will unless the competition is needlessly revived.
Xavi wasn’t always considered the top midfielder of his generation. When he began his playing days for the club, just at the end of Louis Van Gaal second championship, he was branded as a second Josep Guardiola. A deep lying playmaker with defensive duties, although probably not as good.
As the years progressed and the titles arrived everywhere but Barcelona, Xavi was far from being the perfect playmaker. Too soft, not enough goals, you know the drill. Then came Rijkaard, and along with turning Barcelona into a trendy team, THE team to love (or hate when you’re too sick of all the winning and perfection), helped Xavi turn into the fantastic player he is today.
A more forward role, less defensive responsibilities, and simply rely on his passing skills and decision making ability. That Barca won two consecutive league titles and the Champions League. They were just short of winning a third league title in a row if it wasn’t for Jose Antonio Reyes on a not so impressive Real Madrid team.
Inner struggles between Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o and Rijkaard tore that team apart, but Guardiola, Xavi’s mentor in a way, brought things back on the trophy route rather quickly.
Yes, Messi is amazing. The second coming, bla bla bla. Andres Iniesta? The spark. Always doing something unexpected, a sort of ex-factor if you will, and the one that completes Xavi in a way. But he isn’t as consistent as Xavi, and unlike no.6, is injured too often. You probably know what Barca have done in the past three seasons by heart.
But the day of finding a new general to the midfield is coming, and fast. Although Xavi does look like one of those players that can play well into his 30’s, I’m pretty sure age will show its signs sooner or later. Bring Cesc Fabregas over was a good signing, but he isn’t the same player, and not in the same role in the Barcelona system. Neither is Thiago, who didn’t make the quantum leap many expected him to this season.
And as much as Barcelona rely on Messi and his 40-50 goals every year, Xavi’s presence is just as important. Maybe even more, if you’re a firm believer in the theory that Barcelona makes Messi the player he is, Xavi and Iniesta, and not the skills in his magical little feet. I’m not sure Guardiola will be the person to find a replacement, as his future with the club, each season, is under question due to his persistence of never signing for longer than a season.
Hard to see an exact copy, or something even remotely close. It’s still too soon to get all tragic and paranoid about the matter if you’re a Barcelona fans, but the signs are all around us, and it’s never bad thinking ahead.