In the context of a society suffering a severe economic and social crisis, La Vanguardia, in a recent interview, showed how Xavi has been involved in some huge initiatives to help people in need improve their lives. La Vanguardia rightly states that Xavi is now the indisputable leader of a fantastic generation of players at Barça, a generation that has already made history, despite the fact that they are still playing. But the most accurate definition of Xavi’s profile, the paper says, was mentioned by the player himself: “I am a generous football player,” he once said. On the football field, Xavi enjoys giving brilliant passes to his team mates, solving difficult situations on a small terrain, thanks to a special gift that allows him to think really quickly. It was hard for him to win respect from the fans and the press, but he did it, thanks to his humility and intelligence, on and off the field, and his ability to watch, listen and be quiet, like his father told him, when things at Barça were not good.
Xavi knows how to say things directly but respectfully, as hard as the words may seem. He hypnotizes with the ball and convinces with his words. He has won everything, the Eurocup and World Cup included. He has a silver and a bronze Ballon d’Or (having been named 2nd and 3rd best player in the world in recent years). But the best of Xavi is in his heart, as he is always ready to help those in need. He has been recently named “Ambassador of La Caixa’s charity branch” (the biggest bank in Catalunya), and he is starting to collaborate with activities for kids and people with severe economic needs. Here you can find the full interview in Spanish.
How do you feel in this world in crisis?
We live in a complicated world, from both economical and social perspectives. Football has given everything to me, so I feel privileged.
Apart from this reality you live in, which might seem ideal, what do you think of society as it is now?
I look around me and I see people, friends, that have problems getting a job, or have problems with money. And they tell me about it, and then I know about children that even have problems eating properly, so I feel bad for them. I have things they don’t. So I was thinking about that, and talked about it with my family and my manager Ivan Corretja. I wanted to do something, like founding an NGO or something like that. And then this chance came up, the chance of becoming Ambassador for La Caixa, not only for helping children but also adults, orphans, immigrants, etc. I know people that help others in need in Africa, but poverty is here too, right around the corner. I would like to be closer to people who need help. I think football is a good way to set an example, as you are visible, and I want to help children from there. I like them, I feel good around them. I would like to teach them a little of what I have learned. About family, about Barça, and also transmit the importance of continuing studies, teach them about values like working hard, being respectful.
Is there any situation that has caught your attention, that motivated you to take this step?
Well, I wanted to be involved with this social work when I learned about things that some kids have been suffering. When I talked to the Can Palet’s Center director, in Terrasa, where I first heard about La Caixa’s charity work, I asked him about the kids they are helping. And he told me that sometimes they receive kids that haven’t eaten in days. I was shocked, how can this happen? He was saying that the kid might have been abandoned in the street for a weekend, and couldn’t go to his school for food. It breaks your heart that 6 or 7 year olds have no place to go. It is outrageous.
That was impossible in your world, right?
I think people create their own problems. Well, we might have some, like not being appreciated enough at work, but we do have the basic stuff, like a caring family, or food on the table. But when that is missing, it’s hard. Like, when I get angry when I haven’t had a good match, or have been subbed, but those are not real problems. When I see the real life that other people, not far from here, are forced to live, I realise that I am not privileged, I live a dream life! The real problems are those that those kids have, when they don’t have food.
Do you admit that there is little consciousness in your profession, about the reality people live in?
I think that society, in general, shows little empathy with people in need, we all look after ourselves and think little about others. That might even happen within a family. You might not care about your brother, who could be having a bad time, don’t even ask him how he is doing, you only think about what you are going through. But that happens because we live our lives too fast, so fast that people don’t even enjoy it, and also don’t have time to help others in need, and that makes you feel remorse.
I do have remorse. I say to myself, “you are living a dream, and there are some people having real problems, having such a hard life, and right next to you”. My need to help people comes from there.
You have always seemed to live as you play football. You are giving on the football field, and now off the field. Is this a recent interest or have you always had it?
I have had it for years. My ex-girlfriend works for a NGO, and she always told me, “Xavi, you must do something, because you are an example for so many kids, so many people. If you help others, people might follow you”. And that is true, I think footballers are a reference to a lot of people and a lot of kids, we have values to transmit, we have to set an example even if we don’t want to, because kids will see us that way, as an example.
What do you cherish the most, of your learning process in football?
I have always said that Barça, La Masia, is somewhat a school of life, a place where you learn things that will be with you for all your life. They teach you to respect each other, respect rivals, coaches, referees, fans. You play for a crowd that is watching you play and that admires you, you are doing something any kid would like to do. Barça has taught me that, being respectful, being generous, kind, because football is a team sport and that makes you think about your team mate. I cannot give a bad pass just because of that simple concept of respecting my team mate, I need to see where to make that pass and do it right, if my team mate is right-footed or left-footed, silly things, but they make you more generous. That is what this sport has.
You are 31 years old. Do you think you are at your best, not only as a football player, but also as a person?
I feel now that I am at my best. I feel good and also, I feel very appreciated. I went through a phase where I had to prove myself in front of everyone. So I felt I did not have people’s support. It was hard. When I was 24 or 25, I had doubts, and it became a difficult situation. I went through a rough time. But now I feel more important for the team, I am one of the captains, I have won some individual awards… I am at my best in my career, I cannot ask for more. But it wasn’t like this before.
What would be the key for this to happen?
For me, the key has been feeling appreciated, having people’s support. I feel appreciation from everyone, even rivals and the press. I am enjoying this.
But this idyllic situation might be risky, as you can get too comfortable or be a bit. . .
I am nothing like that. I think family and friends are the ones who help me keep my feet on the ground. They make me realise I might be living an unreal life, that I will leave football in some years and that recognition will stop then. So that is when the humility that my parents have taught me arises.
Your team mates, do they share the same values?
They do. You have to consider that Puyol, Víctor (Valdés), Andrés (Iniesta), los capitanes, we are all from la cantera, they have suffered too to become who they are today. Puyi had rough times, Vìctor and Andrés too, and Messi, being from Argentina, he also grew up at Barça, so he shares the same values. I think Barça is lucky in that, not only in the quality of its players but also the values we share, that we know where we stand. There is also Pedro, Busi (Busquets), Piqué, Cesc, almost the entire team is from La Masia.
And the new guys?
They all adapt very quickly, Alexis for example, he is Chilean, but he quickly understood that he has to make some sacrifices, that he has to give his best, that our training sessions are very intense, Barça is indeed something else. We help them understand Barça’s philosophy: hard work, humility, respect, all those are qualities that Barça players have to share today.
That kind of school of life, as you call Barça, has had Pep as a fantastic teacher. Will the Barça school miss him?
Well, Pep has made a revolution. He has left a deep mark, hard to forget. The first of his phrases in the dressing room was: “Guys, you have to run, to give it all, until you can’t take it anymore”. That was very primary: we don’t go anywhere if we don’t sacrifice. There are teams with talented players, but if they don’t run, they’re in trouble. Pep used to say: “Guys, I guarantee we will have the ball for a long time, but when we don’t have it, we have to fight, to fight to win it back”. He made a perfect system from that, the training sessions were really intense. Pep has a gift. He is a natural leader, he captivates people just with his presence.
And he has had every single role at Barça, as ball boy first, then player, captain, then coach. He is so intense and passionate, that he transmits concepts in a special way. So you have to believe him, as you see him and say to yourself: “this guy is right, it has to be the way he says”. He has made a revolution in football, and the proof is that there are many teams that want to play like Barça. So it is very important to us that Tito will take his place. Tito has grown with Pep, so I think he won’t make too many changes in the way we play football. The Barça philosophy cannot be changed, it is unthinkable that another coach would take over the team and impose a defensive style. So I think our methods will change little, from the way we work to our tactics and technique. This is a very good decision, it is good for everyone, for us, as we respect Tito very much, since he is usually quiet, but everyone listens when he has something to say. He is also a very demanding guy, he works hard, and if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have worked with Pep for so much time. Tito is extremely a perfectionist.
Are those concepts also valid for life outside of the football field?
Of course they are. That is why I say Barça is a school of/for life. Sometimes we make jokes about Luis Aragonés, who is really something special, as he used to get very loud starting in the early morning, yelling, “the harder I work, the luckier I get”, he used to repeat that so many times! That is also Pep’s teaching: hard work, fight, and then, of course, you have to have talent. If you fight hard but with no talent, you’ll hardly win any titles. I have been blessed with the coaches I have had, I have learned a lot from them. These four years under Pep’s command have been the best of my career, not only for winning so many titles, but for the every day life: I would go to the training sessions full of energy, I got up and thought about the new things we would do that day. Pep knew how to keep our interest high, using all kinds of games, always playing with the ball. When I go to the national team, something similar happens: we all wait to hear what Del Bosque has to say. Del Bosque, Luis Aragonés, Pep… they are fascinating.
You always say that being humble is the base to being successful. Is it, or is only talent needed?
Football needs humility because it’s a team sport. If you play tennis, and you are very talented, you can win, but if you are not humble, you can still lose. Golf, the same: if you’re not humble, you lose. In a team, you cannot disrespect a team mate, you have to realise that the team does not only depend on your work, but on everyone. You have to do your job right, having in mind the collective effort for achieving goals. If you lose, the whole team does, not just you.
So, it seems that not everyone can join Barça’s dressing room…
We do accept everyone, but we have to explain our culture, our philosophy to the new ones, so they can adapt. Like Afellay, who came in with a different background, but all who have joined have adapted to us really well, they are great guys. The four captains have been here many years, so we know that we can achieve anything if we stick together.
Do you also have to teach the younger players about those values?
We already have young team mates that are assuming important roles in the team, like Busi, or Piqué, who are playing for Spain too. People from la cantera know our core values, so they know what we are all about from there.
How should the ideal footballer be?
He would need to be passionate about his job, and dedicated to it by resting, feeding well, taking care of himself, being generous, to be thoughtful and always think about the team. It’s difficult to achieve that sometimes as the ego can be dominate, but it has to be controlled. And he has to think he is privileged.
What advice would you give to a kid that wants to be a footballer?
Have a great time, play a lot, enjoy it, play as many hours as you can. Listen, learn from wiser people; listen to your coaches. Be passionate. I have been chasing a ball since I can remember!
Is there a need to be a rebel?
At some point, yes, there is.
To be angry?
Many times, yes. When we won 5-0 against Madrid, the team was angry, and also the day of the 2-6, because people were talking about ‘canguelo’, ‘chorreo’, all from the press. And I get very angry when I see injustice. I rebel against that.
So, if you weren’t a footballer, you would be in some square, attending a demonstration.
If I felt it was right, of course I would.
Image credit: Diver & Aguilar, La Vanguardia