Having now racked up over 700 appearances for Barcelona, more than any other player in the history of the Catalan giants, Xavi Hernandez has certainly come a long way from the days he had to endure unfavourable comparisons with his midfield predecessor Pep Guardiola.
The heartbeat of a Barça side whose football wowed lovers of the beautiful game the world over, the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ winner spoke to FIFA.com about his future, club coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino, his partnership with Andres Iniesta and, of course, Lionel Messi: "The greatest player of all time".
FIFA.com: Despite starting the season with a 20-game unbeaten run in all competitions, there has still been criticism of Barcelona’s performances under new coach Gerardo Martino. Has taking the Barça helm become more difficult since Pep Guardiola’s reign?
Xavi: Over and above Guardiola, who did an excellent job as coach - while we also did excellently in terms of results and the football we played, the issue is more down to the legacy we left. We scaled the heights in pretty much every way: footballistically, tactically, technically and physically. The standard of play was excellent and, since then, you have to expect comparisons to be made. And often, as the saying goes, ‘comparisons are odious’. So, in that sense we’re left open to criticism, as we know how difficult life can be within Can Barça, but Tata has both experience and character. The players really respect him and he’s proving he’s got what it takes to coach Barcelona. And not just results-wise: the team’s play is also improving. We’re doing well and are in good form.
We’d be remiss not to ask you about Guardiola’s current club, Bayern Munich. Can they hit the heights that Barcelona did?
Well, that’s where it comes down to other teams to try and stop them. One of them being Barcelona, for example, right? I think that we’re still capable of big things in La Liga and in Europe, though clearly Bayern are very strong. Last year they won practically everything and this year they’re still on course [to do so again]. They have to be considered among the real favourites to win the Champions League again.
Being at Barcelona has given you the chance to line up alongside the likes of Ronaldinho, Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Iniesta and Neymar. Is there anyone else you would have liked to play with?
When it comes to striking up an understanding and enjoying your football, you always want to play alongside the very best, right? But in my view, Messi is the greatest player of all time. He’s the best there is.
After a recent interview with Panenka magazine, there has been media speculation surrounding whether or not you will end your career at Barcelona. Can you clear up the issue?
(Laughs) Yes, of course! What I said was more about how demanding it is [at Barça], rather than not wanting to [retire in the club’s colours]. On the contrary, I’d love to hang up my boots at Barcelona and stay involved with the club, which I think is the best in the world, for many years. I’ve felt that way since I was a boy and still feel the same today. I’d like to still be at Barcelona when I retire, but I know how demanding it is. That’s why I said it’s not my decision: to retire here I’ll have to keep performing at the highest level. Let’s hope I can do it, it’s my biggest dream.
Do you usually read the press and does it bother you when you words are twisted?
No, no. I understand what journalism is about and I get that there's a need to generate controversy. With everything that surrounds the game, I know how all this works.
It’s quite eye-catching how you and Iniesta are so often grouped together, how “Xavi and Iniesta” make Barcelona tick, how “Xavi and Iniesta” make Spain so strong…
We are often referred to in the same sentence and that’s good, right? Years ago there were people that said we couldn’t play together. So, it’s more than welcome as praise always goes down well, particularly when you look at what we’ve been through. We didn’t used to win anything and now we’re being successful at both team and individual level, enjoying a wonderful era that I hope will last a few years longer.
You come across as very laid-back. Is that how you are generally?
Me? No, I’m quite restless. I wouldn’t say nervous, but when it comes to football I’ve got a curious mind. I like to analyse the game, like we’ve talked about before. I really like watching football and dissecting the play, taking in a bit of everything.
Is there anything that gets on your nerves?
Nothing! I’m happy and I feel very privileged. I feel good, I’m happy and I’m where I want to be. I’ve earned individual recognition and had success as part of a team too. It’s fantastic and I hope it continues! I’d like it to last many more years and be able to keep enjoying it.
Finally, given that footballing intelligence is your main strength, do you see yourself being able to carry on a good while yet?
I think so, though we’ll have to see how my legs hold up and the games go. But I’m really excited about competing for La Liga, the Champions League, the World Cup… I’m genuinely enjoying myself, both with Barcelona and the national team. Playing football is what I’m passionate about, what I enjoy doing most. All I can do is put in the effort, keep looking at myself and listening to my body, and see how long I can keep going.