Part 1 can be found here.
In 1998 when Xavi was only 18 years old, then first team coach Louis Van Gaal gave him his debut against Real Mallorca in the Spanish Super Cup. But that wasn’t the first time he got to share a dressing room with some of his heroes. Already as age 17 Xavi had the chance to train with the first team which had a big impact on him as he described in the documentary Kings Clubs: FC Barcelona: “It had a huge impact on me, because I was only 17, a youth team player, Guardiola, Amor, Stoickov, Xavi Ferre, Sergi, Luis Enriqué – they treated me very well, they took me under their wings. It was a strange feeling because one day I was watching them play on television and the next I was sharing their dressing room, training with them, passing the ball to them. To begin with I admit I was pretty scared, but they helped me through it.”
And this is how he explains his childhood dream of playing at Camp Nou coming true: “When Van Gaal told me I was going to be playing in the stadium, in the starting eleven, my legs stopped responding and started to shake. I had lived this moment in my dreams and then when I was told it was happening … It had a huge impact on me, I had goose bumps over my body and all my nerves were jangling, but it went okay I think, it was against Salamanca and I had a good game although we didn’t win. Still despite the result, the feeling was special, it was unique.”
That was a long time ago, and I’m pretty sure Xavi doesn’t get that nervous while playing for the club in his heart anymore. On Wednesday, he became the player with the most games in the history of the club, 550 games. So if anyone could get used to playing at Camp Nou, it’s Xavi.
But it hasn’t been an easy ride for the midfielder from Terrassa and the option to stay at Barça for his entire career was not always so clear. After Xavi had presented himself at Camp Nou, fans and media started to talk about him as the new Guardiola. Everyone was so sure that he was going to be like Guardiola that they became disappointed when Xavi proved to be not exactly like Pep. It would take years before people could understand that Xavi was Xavi and not Guardiola. These were years in which Xavi, who never really had strong self-confidence, had a hard time. He felt that he would never be able to win-over the supporters who wanted him to be like Guardiola. He started to feel that everyone was against him and that he never would succeed. The talk continued to develop and eventually blew up after Pep had left the club and gone to Italy. Xavi admits that he was really close to following his role model’s move to Italy with the chance to join AC Milan. Both his dad and brother thought he should go because it would be better for his career and it would be the safe choice. His mother’s advice proved the most influential as she told him to listen to what his heart wanted. So he did and stayed at Barça.
With his decision to stay, Frank Rijkaard arrived and everything changed for Xavi. Rijkaard gave him a new position and insisted that he needed to shoot more often. These changes were in the beginning hard on Xavi, who just wanted to play like he had always done before. After a while he understood what Rijkaard meant, and started to enjoy the game even more.
Soon the titles also came, although he had won his first league title already during his initial year in the first team. He was now one of the most important players in the squad, helping them win two league titles and one Champions League trophy.
Even if he was one of the most important players for the squad, Xavi did not play in that Champions League final due to an ACL knee injury he had picked up. He was left outside of the game he loved more than anything else for around six months, almost missing the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals in Germany. Luis Aragones, the Spanish national coach at the time, emphasized to the press Xavi’s importance for the squad: “People say it is a gamble to take Xavi with us, but I say it would be a crazy gamble to leave him at home.”
Since that injury in 2006, not much has gone wrong for Xavi Hérnandez. He is one of very few football players to have won everything possible on both the club and international level. He beats new records every week (at least it feels that way) when it comes to passes and movement over the pitch. To put it simply, let’s put it like this: Spain and FC Barcelona are two teams that today dominate the world of football and their most important player is Xavi Hérnandez.
Last week he played his 550th game for FC Barcelona and he still has six years left on his contract. Simply a football legend!