Mr. Barca

While footballers are rarely associated with intelligence, Xavi’s composure and understanding of the game makes him the engine room of Barcelona and Spain, able to split the toughest of defences with his deadly distribution, writes Tim Clement.

Despite being the heart of two of the greatest teams, Xavier Hernandez Creus ‘Xavi’ has not always been given the deserved credit for his importance.

But when Spain finally brushed aside its status as under-achiever and lifted the 2008 European Championship trophy it was the understated Xavi who was named the Player of the Tournament.

At club level Xavi is an ever-present figure in Barcelona’s midfield, providing the basis for the likes of Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o to shine with his creativity and accurate passing.

By stepping out in the 2-2 draw at Real Betis, Xavi, still only 29, moved level with legend Carles Rexach with the second most appearances for Barca. His 452nd game in the famous blue and red saw the Catalan team extend its remarkable unbeaten run in the Spanish Primera Liga, which spans back to the opening day of the season.

Barcelona’s sensational form this season accounts for its status as favourite to win the UEFA Champions League despite failing to pick up a single trophy last season while commanding a 10-point lead over arch-rival Real Madrid in the league.

It is often Messi who takes the headlines but Xavi has been as vital as anyone in making the Nou Camp the home of beautiful football again as he lays on the chances for Messi, Thierry Henry and the leader in the the Golden Boot race Eto’o.

Xavi’s exquisite passing and awareness of those around him make him the kind of player every striker dreams of playing alongside.

While footballers are rarely associated with intelligence, Xavi’s composure and understanding of the game makes him the engine room of Barcelona and Spain, able to split the toughest of defences with his deadly distribution.

The fact that he is one of the few world-class footballers not to be constantly surrounded by transfer speculation is a compliment to his commitment rather than a question of his ability.

Having spent his entire career at the Nou Camp after coming through its academy, the locally-born playmaker is Mr. Barca.

Xavi made the perfect start to his career by scoring on his debut against Valladolid and while goalscoring has not always been his most notable attribute, his composure with the ball and distribution of it quickly established him as a key first-team player.

Upon the departure of now-manager Pep Guardiola, Xavi inherited the famous ‘number four’ role as the playmaker and has shown no signs of letting go off it, playing in more than 35 games every season since the turn of the decade with exception of an injury-devastated 2005/06 campaign.

With age, his proficiency in front of goal has also increased, scoring a personal best of nine goals last season — a record he looks likely to beat this year having found the net seven times already this term in a free-scoring Barca side.

Despite having well and truly taken over Guardiola’s place at the heart of La Blaugrana’s midfield, Xavi insists he still has plenty to learn from the Barca boss.

“He is a very intelligent person and I think that is his secret. It is how he convinces and motivates you and treats the best players in the team,” he said.

“I am passionate about him, he has always been my reference. He always says that ‘if you think about the club first then you will not make any mistakes’. He is very meticulous, a perfectionist and he sees the game like nobody else. He can tell you two things, a couple of details and he need not say anything more all week.”

The leadership of Guardiola looks to be the perfect environment for Xavi to flourish as one of the most decorated footballers in the world having already claimed three leagues, two Spanish Super Cups, one Champions League and the Euro 2008 crown.

Xavi is one of the few players in the world who can genuinely be classed an invaluable to his team and having recently extended his stay until 2014, Migueli can expect to see his record of 548 appearances for Barca eclipsed before Xavi hangs up his boots.

Factfile Name: Xavier Hernandez Creus ‘Xavi’ Position: Midfielder Club: Barcelona D.O.B.: 25/01/80 Spain caps: 69 Spain goals: 8 Spain debut: November 15, 2000 v Holland Moment to remember

Xavi was the Player of the Tournament as Spain won the 2008 European Championships. The midfielder epitomised everything brilliant about his nation with his elegant passing and superb vision, helping the team produce consistently delightful and effective performances.

Moment to forget

The low points of Xavi’s career came during training in April 29, 2006 when he suffered a bad injury to his left knee as he ruptured his ligaments. But within five months he returned and insisted “I feel like a football player again.”

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