Tom Oldfield

Plenty of big names have walked out of the doors at Barcelona in recent years – Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto’o to name just three superstars. The powers that be at the Nou Camp are not shy to shuffle the pack from time to time and no doubt countless others will follow in seasons to come. But the mesmerising football continues and the trophies keep coming.
This summer, manager Josep Guardiola, fresh from orchestrating a sensational Treble last season, sent Eto’o and around €46M to Inter Milan in exchange for the temperamental yet supremely talented Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Considering the success of their 2008/09 campaign, it represented a staggeringly bold move from the champions and a serious signal of their intention to defend their crowns. Having watched Real Madrid dominate the summer headlines with their astronomical swoops for Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, Barcelona were having their say.
But there is one home-grown face who will not be shipped out of the Nou Camp – and that man is Xavi. It is approaching 20 years since the midfielder, now 29, joined the club’s youth system and he has gone from strength to strength. He is an indispensible member of the squad and many now regard the little playmaker as the most complete midfielder in the world.
It has been a rather special 12 months for Xavi. Fresh from taking a leading role in Spain’s outstanding triumph at Euro 2008, he returned to Barcelona even hungrier. And his range of passing and calming presence spearheaded the club’s assault on multiple trophies. By the end of the 2008/09 season, Xavi was piling more silverware into his overflowing trophy cabinet.
At international level, Spain had been dogged for years with the underachievers tag. As each tournament loomed, pundits and spectators alike picked the Spaniards as serious contenders, yet that promise would go unrewarded. But, playing alongside the robust Marcos Senna, Xavi drove Spain over that particular hump and went on to collect the Euro 2008 Player of the Tournament award. Belief grew and a 1-0 win over Germany in the final, courtesy of a Fernando Torres strike, was dubbed a victory for creative, attacking football.
Though he has endured some disappointing times on international duty, Xavi’s club career has been far more successful. With four La Liga titles – the first dates back to 1998/99 – and two Champions League winners medals, he has produced the goods on the biggest stages, taking on the role of vice-captain over the past few campaigns. Last season’s surge to glory in the Copa del Rey completed the midfielder’s set of domestic medals while he has also pocketed the Spanish Super Cup and the European Super Cup.
Many people have questioned what makes the 5”7 Xavi a cut above the rest – and there are several answers. Firstly, he rarely wastes possession. A misplaced pass from the Spaniard is truly a collector’s item and his awareness of both team-mates and opponents is exemplary. The Barcelona man may have a small frame but he is strong enough and alert enough to shield the ball from tough tackling midfielders.
But, perhaps it is the way that Xavi picks the right ball in almost every scenario that sets him apart from some of the other top talents in world football. Admittedly, it helps when you have the pace and movement of Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry, David Villa and Fernando Torres to call upon, but Xavi seemingly knows where he wants to deliver the pass before he even receives possession and he sees gaps in defences that few others can. He finished as the Top Assister in last year’s Champions League and was voted the midfielder of the year by UEFA. A more prolific goal-scoring record is one area for Xavi to improve but to dwell on such statistics would be grossly unfair.
In last season’s Champions League final, Barcelona squared off against Manchester United. United were the defending champions and boasted the likes of Wayne Rooney and Ronaldo – yet it was Xavi who ran the show. Messi and Andres Iniesta were also magnificent but it was the club vice-captain’s serene temperament and flawless passing that swung the match in Barcelona’s favour. All the talk pre-match had been about United needing to halt the Spaniards’ fluent, attacking style but Xavi would not be stopped.
So it is hardly surprising to see Barcelona sitting at the top of the La Liga table already. Real Madrid are sure to provide tough competition and will be pushing to challenge the champions but it is Xavi, Iniesta and company who look the likeliest title winners, especially as Ibrahimovic continues to gel with his new colleagues.
The Barcelona squad is packed with match-winners but it is Xavi who pulls the strings and makes everything tick. With the diminutive midfielder firing on all cylinders again, a repeat of the Treble is a real possibility.

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