With the recent shortlist for the B’allon Dor being published, the eternal pub question of who is the best player in the world has come to the fore yet again? Like most things in football, the answer to this question is a personal opinion which is often informed by a range of things including team allegiance, nationality, view on the game, a (or a number of) superb performance(s) or even just a review of the back pages. Answers to the question are evidenced by any number of comparisons, figures, facts, examples and within my circle of friends, downright lies. However there seems to have been a multiple choice format applied to this question, two answer options – Messi or Ronaldo. My response is neither, im spoiling my answer booklet, with a rather large X, followed by a rather large AVI. Thats right, Xavi is the best footballer in the world. This of course is my personal opinion, which has been forged over a period of 8 or so years and rubber stamped over the last 24 months, and below I will provide facts figures and examples of why I think this is the case.
Xavi is the heart beat of both the Barcelona and Spain teams. He is key to the ethos of both sides, retention of the ball. Both teams thrive on being dominant in possession, wearing down opponents in what once was described as a ‘carousel’ by Sir Alex Ferguson. Xavi is hub for this theory, essential for its successful implementation. His implementation of the La Masia ‘Pass, Move, Receive’ theory is 98% perfection, like his pass completion in most matches.
To know how important Xavi is to both teams, i think one only has to imagine how both would play without him. For a moment picture Barca playing in a Champions League Quarter Final without Xavi, or Spain lining up against the Germans minus their number 8. Yes there are excellent replacements in Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas, but despite what the media may say, neither is a carbon copy. Iniesta is inclined to take more touches, dribble and try to beat a man before passing, and Fabregas due to his time in England has become more direct and will usually look for an incisive pass into some one in a more advanced position. Xavi however, unless he is around the edge of the D, will always look to send a short 10-15 yard pass, into feet and move into space to receive a return. Given this approach the number of passes he completes per game are significantly higher than many other players.
In 2009/10 season Xavi, despite a few periods of injury had 14 La liga assists and scored 7 goals. This is a solid return, but not exceptional. In 2008/09, Xavi had twice as many assists, 28, scored 10 goals and completed 15 key passes (i.e. assist for assists). These figures are exceptional. They are even more exceptional given that Xavi plays in a team with so many creative outlets. And not only does he do it on a regular basis, he does it in the biggest games, in the 6-2 demolition of Madrid at the Bernabeau in 2009, Xavi’s passes made 4 of the goals, and in the 2009 Champions League final it Xavi’s cross that landed on the head of Leo Messi.
Looking now at the international stage, an impressive figure highlighting the little Catalan’s importance to the Spanish side is his 2010 World Cup total of 669 passes, 104 more than the second placed Bastian Schwiensteiger. 544 of these passes were completed, a percentage of 81%, second only to his Spanish midfield partner Sergio Busquets. In Euro 2008, despite the form of Fernado Torres, David Villa and David Silva, Xavi was voted player of the tournament.
There is no doubt that Xavi has always had the ability to be the play maker for both club and county, but in 2008 the Barca number 6 experienced a change in role, playing a 10 yards further up the pitch, with less defensive responsibilities, leading to his enhanced role in games.
His understanding with Ineista has assisted his game, with Xavi’s best years coinciding with the development of the pasty Andalucía native. So much so they are often talked about as a pair, and while it is as a pair that both play their best football, Xavi was no chump before Ineista’s emergence.
When quizzed in 2006 whether it was a risk to include Xavi, who had been injured for 6 months prior to the completion, in the Spanish Squard Luis Aragones simply replied “it would be a bigger risk to leave him at home”.
Xavi’s status as one of the games top players has been recognised by pundits, journalists, La Liga Officials and UEFA but it is now time, in a World Cup year when no one player dominated the tournament, to recognised the talents of Xavi Hernandez with the ultimate individual prize in the game, the B’allon D’or.