Xavi Hernández may be FC Barcelona’s midfield maestro but is there anything more to the man we all revere? He’s a football fanatic, this we all know. Not just a player, but an aficionado of the history and the minute techniques of the sport. All he does when he isn’t playing or training for Spain or Barça is sit on his couch and watch football. Or so you may think. I’m here to introduce you to Xavi’s other passion, the one that may be lesser known to the public, but is no less of a fire in his heart: mushroom hunting.
Now, before you all start thinking Xavi is some weird hobbit-like creature (hold the short jokes, please) who likes to hang out in the mountains scavenging for fungus on the damp forest floor, in Cataluña this is actually a quite popular hobby. In fact, it is taken very seriously by mushroom hunters, also known as boletaires. There are strategies behind finding the best spots and keeping them secret from fellow hunters. If you are invited to go mushroom hunting with someone, he or she probably really trust you, as the activity can become extremely competitive during the peak fall season. And, of course, there is that whole having-to-be-smart-enough-not-to-pick-a-poisonous-mushroom-that-will-kill-you-once-you-eat-it thing as well.
Xavi and his love of picking wild mushrooms make perfect sense. Why, you ask? Think of the characteristics I stated above. A good boletaire has to be strategic, quick, trusting, and smart. Does not a good footballer have to be those same things? When he plays, Xavi is the playmaker, the brain who sets up every attack. He makes passes before any of us or even his teammates can tell who it is for. He’s the maestro, plain and simple.
There is a connection between Xavi’s seemingly innocent hobby and his prowess on the pitch. Whether he plays well because he picks mushrooms or he picks mushrooms because he plays well may never be known. And it doesn’t really matter, because he is a phenomenon either way. Other players won’t have this connection. Strikers are too impatient to think through a winning tactic with a football or a mushroom. Defenders wouldn’t take the risk necessary for the big pay-off.
For Xavi though, he has “the same passion for it [mushroom hunting] as I do for a goal.” Even head coach Pep Guardiola acknowledges the Xavi-mushroom connection. “When he has a day off, he goes and picks setas [mushrooms] in the countryside, and someone who picks mushrooms can’t be a bad bloke.”
If you are looking for some proof as to if Xavi really is the amazing mushroom hunter he is cracked up to be, look no further than this video from the Hat Trick television program in Barcelona. In it Xavi takes a “mushroom quiz.” He also mentions his other pastime of sailing on his boat Pelopina, named after his rather crude nickname. But that is an entirely separate post.
So, now you know the secret behind Xavi’s remarkable skill. Mushrooms (hold the drug references, please). It is one of his “strange passions” that makes up who he is. While one day after he retires he may disappoint us all by not seceding Pep as the coach of FC Barcelona, at least we know we can always find him up in the mountains of Cataluña, hunting for mushrooms.
Translations courtesy of Maria Ines. Please click “CC” on the video to view subtitles. Image by Alexandra for totalBarça.