Midfield maestro

Published : Jun 16, 2011 00:00 IST

The summer of 2008 saw Xavi in the best form of his life as Spain ended 44 years of hurt by winning the European Championships. His goal in the semi-final against Russia and an assist for Fernando Torres to score the only goal of the final against Germany was again rewarded with individual honours as he was voted player of the tournament. Since then there has been no looking back. Over to Kieran Canning.

From a distance he doesn't appear like a footballer. Short and stocky, he isn't blessed with great pace or strength, yet he might just be the most important player in two of the greatest teams of all time.

Xavi Hernandez, or just Xavi as he is more commonly known, has been at the heart of Barcelona and Spain's meteoric rise in the past five years. His importance wasn't always recognised. Back in 2004 with Frank Rijkaard's revolution at the Nou Camp in full swing, many questioned whether the man from Terrassa still had a future at the club he had been at since the age of 11.

Playmaking duties had been handed over to the more glamorous names of Ronaldinho and Deco, whilst there were high hopes for another prospect from the La Masia academy in the same position, Andres Iniesta.

However, like he has done throughout his entire career, Xavi defied the odds. He won over Rijkaard and any doubters, providing the perfect anchor between defence and attack as Barca reclaimed the La Liga title.

His influence was so great that despite the big names and even an emerging Leo Messi, it was Xavi who was chosen as La Liga's player of the year in 2005.

A cruciate ligament injury rocked his progress slightly, forcing him to miss the majority of the second half of the 2005-06 season, but he did return to make the bench as Barca won the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 1992.

Another slight trough followed. As Rijkaard's team descended into an aged side of over-inflated egos, the man who is so emotionally attached to Barca that he cried when as a 12-year-old his parents wouldn't let him go to Wembley for that 1992 final, often cut a frustrated figure. The summer of 2008, however, was to change all that. Xavi was again in the starring role as Spain ended 44 years of hurt by winning the European Championships. His goal in the semi-final against Russia and an assist for Fernando Torres to score the only goal of the final against Germany was again rewarded with individual honours as he was voted player of the tournament.

Yet, for all that his metronomic passing ability has seen him being hailed as the ideologue on the pitch for club and country, his role off it has been equally important for the national team.

For many years the Spanish side was a reflection of Spain as a nation, riddled with political and cultural differences. All that changed when the footballing rivalry that normally divides Spain was united by two leaders, one from each side.

Xavi has been very close friends with Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas since the pair won the youth World Cup together back in 1999. In uniting the Real and Barca cliques in the Spanish camp, harmony and unprecedented success followed.

That European Championship triumph was just the beginning for Xavi. With Pep Guardiola replacing Rijkaard, the era of complacency and ego-boosting at the Camp Nou was over. Barcelona were back to being the powerhouse they had been, arguably even better than before.

A historic treble of La Liga, Copa Del Rey and Champions League was completed in 2009 when the midfield maestro guided Barca past Manchester United in the European Cup final in Rome. It was a performance that won him the man-of-the-match award and lead Sir Alex Ferguson to describe Barcelona's passing in midfield as a carousel that leaves you dizzy.

More trophies and acclaim have followed. Barca have now won three back-to-back titles, whilst Xavi was an integral part of the Spanish side that won the World Cup in South Africa last summer.

For many he would have been the rightful winner of the Balon d'Or won by his teammate Messi in January. The man himself, in his own inimitable humble fashion, wasn't so convinced,

“He (Messi) is one step above us all,” said Xavi. “He's the best player and there can be no argument. This is also a prize for the Barca youth team set-up and I am proud to be a part of that.”

This year he has broken Barcelona's all-time appearance record of 549 and won his 100th cap for Spain. For a man who has won everything only one thing remains; a Wembley final. The Spanish star is not married but has been seeing girlfriend Elsa Egea for a number of years. A Range Rover is one of Xavi's fleet of cars.

FACTFILEName: XaviPosition: MidfieldClub: BarcelonaD.O.B: 25/01/1980Spain caps: 101Spain goals: 10Spain debut: versus Holland, 2000

Moment to remember: Guiding Spain to its first World Cup triumph in 2010.

Moment to forget: Xavi was sent off as Real Madrid celebrated winning the title in style in 2008 with a 4-1 victory over Barca. Before the game Barcelona players had to honour a tradition in Spain by applauding Real onto the pitch.

© PA Sport, 2011, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.

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