Xavi Hernandez has perfected the art of passing – seamlessly bridging the gap between intent and delivery with unparalleled consistency. He is one of the greatest players in the world and boasts a medal haul that’s the envy of all but a select band of players – mainly teammates. Yet there remains a criticism of his masterful ninety minute sessions. There remains one aspect of his game for the few remaining dissenters to fixate on: he’s got no left foot.
Few top-class players’ armouries are limited so obviously. The realisation that Xavi boasts an at best functional use of his left foot is unavoidable, and not simply because of the unusually large amount of time he spends in possession. He shuns even the most straightforward of opportunities to slip a pass into a teammate when the task falls to his wrong-side.
Brilliance though, is more than the product of a set of ideal physical attributes. Modern football prescribes pace, height and a degree of ambidexterity as the recipe for a great player and comes up with players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka. But Xavi was not gifted any of those highly-prized traits, and yet, he – like so many of his Spanish and Blaugrana teammates – has forged what he has into a level of excellence rarely seen.
The lesson not yet learned – by even Barcelona, based on an article published on their website celebrating the number of ambidextrous players in their squad (Adriano, Pedro and David Villa) – is that great players work with what they have and make it great. Pedro’s readiness to shoot with either side, for example, is an asset, but it is not the definitive answer to the questions posed on a football pitch.
By embracing rather than denying his limitations Xavi makes them a part of his game: His lack of height translates into a low centre of gravity and his lack of pace aids in his quest for space – opponents race past, leaving the gaps behind them for the maestro to exploit (see his performance in Barcelona 6, Real Madrid 2, for details). But it is his interpretation of one-footedness that is by far his most innovative exploitation of perceived shortcomings.
Observe his three-hundred and sixty degree turns: a symptom of his left-avoidance scheme that has manifested itself as a device for slowing the pace of a game. Spain’s finest spins to place the ball on his right, but this also creates space and allows him the time to select the most appropriate pass – and this from a range of runs that regularly develop goalscoring credentials only after he has refused the initial movement.
What’s more Xavi’s ‘predilection’ for his right side is exactly that: a decision taken to avoid using his left foot, not an utter inability to use it. The pass-master is sharp enough – self-aware enough – to realise his limits and, bluntly, he doesn’t try passes he can’t make.
Xavi is an affront to established footballing norms and that’s what makes him brilliant. Cristiano Ronaldo is tall, quick and plays the ball well with either foot, but looking at the likes of Messi and Ozil as examples of stars breaking through; it appears Xavi’s legacy will last longer. He is proof that physicality – and any trait for that matter – still falls short when pitched against ingenuity.