Farewell to Barcelona legend Xavi: The 'windscreen wiper' that became a passing 'machine'

Comments()
Getty
The midfielder, 39, has announced that he will retire at the end of the season and he will do so as one of the finest players the game has ever seen

"We live in the present, Xavi lives in the future,” the midfielder's former Barcelona team-mate Dani Alves once said, and it still rings true.

While the football world salutes his playing career, after he announced his plan to retire at the end of the season, the Catalan has been focused on his next mission – coaching.

As soon as next August, Xavi could be back on Spanish soil leading a Liga side.

The Al Sadd midfielder has been coaching at youth level in Qatar as the final step towards obtaining his UEFA Pro license.

That Xavi will become a manager is a surprise to nobody. He has been obsessed with the game from the start.

Watched by Barcelona at the age of six and signed by the Catalans at 11, he was still in diapers the last time football wasn’t on his mind.

"There wasn't a single day went by when I didn't see him enjoy it," said his former team-mate and then coach Pep Guardiola.

"He is the most amateur player I know, and at the same time the most professional player too, such is his love for football."

That professionalism came from his father Joaquim, who used to play for Sabadell and ensured Xavi stayed on the right path in his teenage years.

Making his debut in the Copa Catalunya in 1998, under then-coach Louis van Gaal’s assistant, Jose Mourinho, Xavi’s Barcelona career started early but moved slowly.

It took a while for the masses to see his worth.

Xavi Dani Alves Barcelona PS

“They said I was obsolete, that Edgar Davids made me look good, that I only moved the ball from side to side. They called me the ‘windscreen wiper’!” explained Xavi.

It was only when he was moved forward, from pivot to one of the two central midfield positions in Frank Rijkaard’s 4-3-3, that he began to soar.

Spain coach Luis Aragones installed him in midfield at Euro 2008 and Xavi was crucial as La Roja won their first major trophy since 1964.

The midfielder set up Fernando Torres for the only goal of the win over Germany in the final and was decreed UEFA’s player of the tournament.

Trophies began to flow at club level too, with Guardiola installed as manager, ready to oversee Barcelona’s transformation from exciting to essential, from stylish to defining a style which marks the game to this day.

Xavi was at the heart of what became known as ‘tiki-taka’, along with his favourite playmate Andres Iniesta, and Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson hailed them both as Barcelona sealed their historic treble win with a 2-0 triumph over the Red Devils in the 2009 Rome Champions League final.

“I don’t think Xavi and Iniesta have ever given the ball away in their lives,” lamented Ferguson. “They get you on that carousel and they can leave you dizzy.”

Xavi was named man of the match and it was his inch-perfect cross that Messi headed home for Barcelona’s second.

The Catalans’ 6-2 win at the Santiago Bernabeu earlier in May that year is fondly remembered as one of Barcelona’s best ever performances – and Xavi provided four assists that night.

Xavi was an emblem of Guardiola’s team and was again vital as Barcelona beat United once more in the 2011 Champions League final, setting up Pedro for the opening goal of a 3-1 win.

Ferguson was wowed once more, with this one of the best team performances in the history of the sport.

Pass and move, pass and move, Xavi and Barcelona’s style dizzied teams and proved technique and tactical nous were more than a match for physicality, which had been favoured for years.

Xavi, at 5ft 7in (1.7 metres), and neither hugely strong or quick, was making fools out of all-comers.

Xavi Ferguson Barcelona PS

In 2013, Xavi completed 100 percent of his 96 passes as Barcelona beat PSG to reach the Champions League semi-finals.

While that level of accuracy had achieved before, it was almost always by defenders making low numbers of safe passes, not midfielders looking to create.

Despite his undoubted brilliance he was never rewarded with a Ballon d’Or. It may seem unfair but, given Xavi’s key value was controlling the game as a whole, not receiving individual awards never worried him.

“I have only ever seen one player, and that’s him, who can move the 22 men on the pitch as he wishes, to his rhythm,” said former Spain winger Joseba Etxeberria.

Instead his trophy cabinet, boasting eight league titles and four Champions Leagues amid a compendium of other silverware, must suffice as proof of his greatness.

One of the most cherished is the 2010 World Cup triumph with Spain, in which Xavi and Barca’s brand of football conquered the planet.

Luis Enrique helped convince Xavi to stay on for his final campaign at the club, the 2014-15 season which ended in the club’s second treble.

Xavi was made captain after Carles Puyol’s departure and even though Ivan Rakitic forced him out of the side in key matches, the then 35-year-old was still vital, helping Barcelona control games which started to spin out of control.

‘The Machine’, as he became known, for his remarkable consistency, made a total of 900 appearances for club and country before leaving Barcelona.

Xavi Barcelona

Xavi Barcelona

Xavi Barcelona

His final game at Camp Nou was a 2-2 draw with Deportivo La Coruna, in which a huge banner was unveiled, thanking him for 17 years of service.

At full-time, Xavi applauded each side of the stadium with tears in his eyes and they gave him a standing ovation. But nobody doubts it was a hasta luego rather than an adios.

For some, Xavi’s image has been tarnished by his decision to see out his playing days in Qatar. In a way he was just following in Guardiola’s footsteps – Pep moved to Al-Ahli in 2003 after a sojourn in Italy.

That era is almost at an end and he will likely soon be back in Europe, on the touchline.

Article continues below

“During the next four weeks, I will tie my boots to play the last matches of an unforgettable race that has lasted for 21 years and has taken me all over the world," Xavi said.

"It has been a privilege to play football until I was 39 years old.”

Most fans will argue that the privilege was all theirs.

Close