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Xavi more important than Messi

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Lionel Messi’s level of superstardom has reached another strata in the last few weeks following his hat-trick against Arsenal and the opening goal of El Clasico; all of it on the back of another exceptional, free-scoring season. This is not however, another paean to the wonderful Argentine – enough has been written of the diminutive dervish, some of it condign, some of it a premature coronation – rather, I wish to shine the spotlight on someone who at the top level of club and international football, has a more tangible overall influence than his Barcelona teammate; that man is Xavi Hernandez.

Xavi is the paragon of modern football. The stylish way he plays, the at times astonishing way he keeps possession of the football, and the speed, intelligence and intensity of his pressing when shorn of the ball have come to embody everything that is at the top of the world game. And given Barcelona and the Spanish national teams pre-eminence, the impact of this style of football will be felt in future years, offering as it does an effective and attractive blueprint for success.

Every team would love to be able to manipulate the possession of the football the way Barca and Spain can. It’s an unimaginably potent weapon. Against Arsenal recently, Barcelona actually looked quite vulnerable to rare forays forward by the Gunners when they escaped the stifling pressure of the Barcelona midfield. Had Barcelona not had the majority of the ball, they would have struggled to stop Arsenal scoring and could have lost the tie. But they didn’t.

Which is where Xavi comes in – his ability to turn instantly, shield the ball, and in a split second assess where an opponent or challenge is coming from, is nigh on supernatural. His pass completion rate is consistently around the 90% mark, which if you think about it, is staggering. Playing in the position he does makes him at the heart of Barcelona’s passing game and consequently the arch pace setter; passing the ball backwards and forwards with consummate ease and effecting devastating tempo changes.

Some attacking midfielders have an awareness and ability to pierce the lines between the opponents defence and midfield with passing or movement, and some defensive midfielders marry excellent short passing and retention of the football in close quarters with a physicality and a knack for interception; yet they rarely excel in both, which is what makes Xavi stand out.

There was an interesting parallel in the El Clasico between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Ronaldo was the essence of individuality – a one man show roaming the pitch on a mission to win it for his team, without the assistance of his team, and yet there was Messi latching onto a sublime through ball from Xavi to add the finishing touch to another supreme passing move. The contrast is instructive – Messi’s team gives him the platform to perform, much in the way Manchester United did for Ronaldo In his record breaking season.

This concept of the team is something that Real have struggled in their modern history, to firstly identify, then acquire in amidst of the whirlwind of desperation that represent their deep-seated need for instant gratification. But most managers acknowledge that for a team to be really successful, you need to fuse grafters and players included for a specific purpose with a smattering of stardust. Madrid themselves were a the perfect example of this when they had a team including Ronaldo, Zidane, Raul and Figo underpinned by Claude Makelele, a player without Xavi’s elan going forward, but instead a brilliant mix of physicality, awareness and technique needed for a position eventually immortalised in his name.

Again with the Juventus and French sides that housed Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps was disparaged as a ‘water carrier’ but formed a crucial component of their success. In the AC Milan team which won the Champions League recently, Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso were two halves of the role that Xavi performs in the current day. In fact, if you look at every successful passing side in the last 20 years, you will find a player at the heart of it that made them ‘tick’.

Xavi is a conduit, a siphon for nearly all of Barca’s play and through his inimitable style, personifies the club. And if anyone is going to stop them – Jose Mourinho in the next round of the Champions League for example – and similarly if anyone is going to stop Spain in this summers World Cup, they would do well to man-mark the Spaniard. If you reduce his influence you can stop Barcelona retaining possession, and more importantly, you stop the ball getting to Lionel Messi. The clearest indication that it might work lies in the contrast in Messi’s performances for Argentina and Barcelona. Of course there are other factors, but without the unique support Xavi Hernandez and players like Iniesta offer at Barcelona, players seeped in their philosophy, Messi is not the same force.

Trouble is stopping Xavi is easier said than done.

Comments (12)

  1. wat a lovely n nice write up

  2. Xavi certainly desrves all the praise he is getting and he is definately the best midfielder in the world right now.

    But I don’t like it when people suggest that he makes Messi the player he is.

    1st of all, Messi has performed fantastically well for Argentina on many occasions. It is only since Maradona, the worlds worst manager, took charge that Messi has failed to shine.

    Messi has scored 40 goals this seson – only 5 of which Xavi have provided the assist. And not many of Messi’s goals are tap-ins.

    Messi is not just goals either. He often drops deep in midfield to help keep possesion, his dribbling ability helps open up teams, and is actual level with Xavi at the top of the assists table with 9.

    There are games for Barcelona where Xavi hasn’t played and Messi has played great. Like when he scored a htrick against Zaragoza and then won a penalty for Ibrahimovic to score.

    Messi is the greatest individual talent in the world, therfore he depends on the players around him less so than anyone else.

  3. just the way it is. those who vote for the awards turn their faces away from talents like xavi. we like the guys that score goals and as long as messi scores he gets all the awards. shame

  4. Best article i read in a long time by somebody who actually knows the ins and outs of football… thoroughly enjoyed this

  5. I agree with the writer completely. Real Madrid is not a TEAM, Barca is and therein lies the difference between the two. The latest El Classico exemplified the fact. Real should hire a Manager who knows how to control stars and their stardom and gel the team. And the most important measure they need to take is bring in quality defenders. They should have bought a defender instead of Karim Benzema who mostly spends his time on the bench.

  6. good attempt, but a bit far from the truth.
    I dont want to take anything from xavi nor do i want to sing anymore songs for messi.
    Xavi deserves all the praise as the best midfielder in the world, but take it from a soccer good player: messi scored some of the fantastic goals by ititiating and creating them.
    Even the 1st goal against RM in the classico; observe how messi pass the ball to xavi and run through the defense “inviting” xavi to pass it back (une-deuz passing). the pass is sublime, but the construction of the pass (messi), and dribling a defender with his chest is more sublime.

    see all the une-deux passes between mesi and xavi, you will undertand how messi is one of the best reader of the game /
    messi cerates lot of holes/spaces (sans-ballon play) in the defense allowing xavi and iniesta to perform well.
    messi assists are at leat equal to xavi assists.
    so pls dont say xavi makes messi shine.ts messsi who makes the footbal as a game extremly enkoyable in these days of the parking-the-bus tactics

  7. Ravi Lagu, that is probably the most intelligent thing I’ve heard all week. I’ve been preaching that ever since they bought up all those players last summer. Buying all those players gives you plenty of talent, something they already had, but no matter how many Euros you spend, you can only make a team through hard work, good management, and time together.

    But, I hope Madrid never achieve that. I hope Barcelona never changes their ways, and keep kicking Real’s ass black and blue.

  8. barca is well organise n madrid is nt a team,bt kaka was in dat match it would been a different story

  9. This is a very good analysis of the important role of the Czar of the midfield, Xavi. He is the engine room of the barcelona team and the day he does not come to the party, you should not be surprised to see an average Barca team

  10. u ryt ma bradda man dis man xavi is out of this world..if any team is to stop barca n spain they shud have a plan of outsting xavi which @ the moment aint possible…barca without xavi can be beaten its this problamatic xavi who z his own version of zizou………..

  11. xavi can pass the best in the world and im a manchester united fan and i know 4 my self that he is the finest playmakers in the world lol :d

  12. agree fully with the article…….almost all limelite everyday goes to the guys who finish with the goal………relatively little is said of the guys in the background who work hard to make the whole team win. Everyone is important but you have to say Xavi is the heartbeat or Barca