We’re down to the final two in our Top 50, and in second spot is one of the most decorated and reliable players in world football. BPF editor Neil Sherwin looks at Xavi Hernandez who in 2010 added the World Cup and another La Liga medal to his impressive array of honours.
Five Spanish League titles, four Spanish Super Cups, two Uefa Champions Leagues, one World Cup, one European Championship, one Spanish Cup, one Uefa Super Cup, one Under 20 World Cup.
The above list of team honours certainly makes for impressive reading, and that’s before touching the personal achievements of Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi Hernandez who has had a stunning career with both club and country.
Having debuted for Barca in 1998, Xavi really came to the fore back in 1999 as he started to make a breakthrough to the Barcelona side as the natural successor to his current manager Josep Guardiola. Even at the tender age of 19 he had all the hallmarks of a great player, including vision and passing ability.
As the man himself admits though, there were always doubts about whether he would succeed at the highest level (Xavi is just 5ft 7ins and weighs 68kgs) in a game that has leaned towards taller, more physical athletes in recent times. However his ability to dictate the game as a central playmaker has meant that for over a decade he has been the lynchpin of a Barca midfield that prides itself on short, sharp football.
“Xavi is a player who has the Barcelona DNA: someone who has the taste for good football, someone who is humble and someone who has loyalty to this club,” said Guardiola in 2008.
“From the first moment I saw him play, I knew he would become the brain behind Barcelona for many years to come. He plays very, very well and much better than I ever played even when I was at my best.”
For a long time he was overlooked for mainstream praise, something summed up well by the Daily Mail’s embarrassingly dismissive headline following the Ballon d’Or awards in 2009. The Mail has recently attempted to back track on that remark by claiming that Xavi was only an emerging talent at the time. ‘Emerging’ is apparently now defined as a 29 year old with, at that time, three league titles, a Champions League and a European Championship to his name. Hmmm…
With such a long list of honours, it would be very easy to get lost amongst all the great stories of his past glories, including being voted the Player of the Tournament at the 2008 European Championships. However we’re here to talk about the best players of 2010, and Xavi has provided more than enough discussion material.
The 2009/2010 season saw Barcelona claim yet another La Liga title, this time with a record 99 points from a possible 114, losing just once. Xavi contributed a superb 7 goals and 20 assists from the middle of the park, and has notched a further 3 goals and 5 assists this season. During 2010 he broke the record for the most competitive appearances for the club and currently sits on 558 (as of 14 February 2011).
In the much lauded interview with Sid Lowe of The Guardian from the beginning of February this year, Xavi spoke with great excitement about Barca’s scintillating 5-0 demolition of arch rivals Real Madrid in November’s instalment of El Classico.
“That game was wonderful, the best I’ve played,” he said.
“The feeling of superiority was incredible – and against Real Madrid! They didn’t touch the ball. Madre mía, what a match! In the dressing room, we gave ourselves a standing ovation.”
Unsurprisingly, Xavi was one of the biggest factors in Spain’s World Cup triumph in South Africa last summer. He attempted 669 passes in total (the only player to attempt over 600) and completed 599 of those, giving him a pass completion rate of 89%. He also picked up the Man of the Match awards in the two 1-0 wins over Portugal and Germany in the quarter finals and semi finals respectively.
Xavi was considered by many to have been unlucky to finish behind team mates Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta in the 2010 Ballon d’Or, but did manage to pick up the 2010 ESPN Deportes Player of the Year award and was named the World’s Best Playmaker for the third consecutive time by an IFFHS (International Federation of Football History & Statistics) poll which is made up of the votes of an 85-strong panel of football experts based worldwide.
He was also named in the FIFA Team of the Year as well as the FIFPro World XI, both for the third time, and of course made the FIFA World Cup Best XI.
Xavi recently turned 31 but with his contract at the Nou Camp not due to expire until 2014, he will no doubt continue to be the heartbeat of possibly the best club side ever seen.