By Lewis Steele
To find answers you have to ask a question, obviously. So, I pose two questions: one – who is the best club team of the 21st century? Two – who is the best international team of the 21st century? There is a bit of debate to be had and there are teams that could pose a serious case for being the answer, but there are only really two logical answers – Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side, and the treble winning Spain side of 2008-2012.
Now, let’s ask another question: who was the heartbeat of both of those sides? Answer this, and you surely have the answer to the question of who is the best midfielder of the generation.
With all due respect to the great timeless hero of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez is the greatest midfielder of the last generation.
Xavi was the sort of player who caused commentators and defenders nightmares. For the former, no matter how hard a commentator tries, there is a finite amount of adjectives, and sometimes, Xavi deserves much more than the descriptive words available in the dictionary. A few of the best, however, consist of: the brain, the artist, the metronome, the heartbeat, the maestro. Yep, Xavi had it all, but his best quality was that when he had the ball, Barça dominated and played football to his tempo, and boy did they play it well.
Xavi was born in the Catalonian city of Terrassa, which counts itself as one of the most historic areas of Spain, having been established in 69-79 AD by the sprawling Roman Empire. Emperors conquered Terrassa in past centuries, but in recent history, a boy from Terrassa has done the conquering. Xavi redefined midfield play, conquering European and world football with Barcelona and Spain.
From his debut alongside the man who would go on to manage him, Pep Guardiola, in 1998, right through to his last game in 2015, Xavi had the hearts of Barcelona fans.
His last moment at the club may well be his favourite: Juventus 1-3 Barcelona, in the Olympiastadion in Berlin – Barça win the treble for the second time, and Xavi completes his fourth ever Champions League win, in his last ever game for the club before his move to Qatar and semi-retirement.
After dressing room celebrations were over, Xavi strolled to the team bus with his best friend, Sergio Busquets. The traditional image of footballers leaving grounds may be the classic Louis Vuitton wash bag in one hand, texting a friend with their phone in the other. Not Xavi. He had one arm around Sergio, and one carrying the Champions League iconic trophy, like it were a wash bag.
He left the stadium having completed exactly 900 appearances for club and country, and winning 25 club honours.
From tearing apart Real Madrid multiple times, to conquering Europe with top performances against world class teams such as Ferguson’s United, to putting in faultless performances in finals for the red of Spain, Xavi Hernandez did it all.
The infamous photo of Xavi with all the trophies he won at the Blaugrana is almost comedic for there are so many. The ‘rule of thirds’ photographers are taught to use to direct attention to the key element of the photo is redundant, as there is so much to look at: well over 20 trophies, the best midfielder of the era, and the slogan ‘Mes Que Un Club’.
Barça are indeed ‘more than a club’, and on the same token, Xavi was more than a good midfielder.
Mucho gracias, numero seis y el maestro.