Xavi: “This group of players is remarkable”

Xavi: “This group of players is remarkable”

FC Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez talked to Diario Sport in an extensive interview published last week, where he analysed Barça’s performance this season, his team-mates, and discussed his dream of retiring playing for the blaugrana team. Selections of the interview can be found here. The full interview, from Sport’s paper edition, is translated in full below.

Are you happy?

Yes, I am, very much, both in my professional and personal life. I am happy for how things are going for us this season. My role in this team is still important. I am also happy about the contract renewal talks.

(Note: Xavi’s contract expires in 2014 but has an automatic renewal clauses depending on the amount of games played in 2015 and 2016.)

You’ll be 36 in 2016…

I know, but I can’t make plans. I had that injury on my tendons two years ago, it was really hard to take, it seemed I wasn’t going to get out of it, but now I feel perfectly fine.

Are you fine now, injury free?

Yes, I am, I’m fine.

As if you never had any problem?

I think I am at my best, physically. Let’s remember that I have been playing injured for a long time.

Were you in pain?

[I was] injured, or at risk of being. I had micro-tears everywhere. I was playing with pain, or just plain injured. It was hard to overcome. But now I am enjoying myself again. It seems like nothing can hurt me! I have to knock on wood then (for good luck). But I am feeling good at training and that automatically reflects on having a good mentality, and being focused.

This has been an almost perfect start of the season, hasn’t it?

Well, yes. It’s true we lost the Supercup, but that was due to our own mistakes. All in all, we were better than Madrid, we lost the title over details. Of course it was hard, it’s a title, maybe not the most important one, but a title nonetheless. But I feel we kind of lost it rather than they won it. But now we’ve started La Liga in a good way, 5 wins out of 5 games. Every time it gets harder, as teams are even more defensive this season. When we don’t score early, games get more complicated and it takes us more effort as they get even [more] closed in defense as the minutes go by. We are playing good football, but we can do better, but keeping winning is a good symptom. We need to keep in mind that we have Iniesta, Puyol and Piqué out, Thiago as well, Alexis with some problems. But we will have these players back, and we will get stronger.

Last season you received criticism for scoring early but not being able to close up games.

That is true, and we keep having that problem. We score, we go 1-0, but the rival doesn’t change a bit, they play the same, all defense. Against Spartak, for example, we were winning 3-2, there were 5 minutes left and they were still playing the same, waiting for us to make a mistake and lose the ball, so they can counter-attack. Rivals come to our stadium only to play that game, to wait for a mistake, or a free kick… it is getting harder every time, because we don’t have spaces to play.

It can get a bit dispiriting, can’t it?

Even Madrid has played that way against us, many times. But that’s the respect we have earned. The rivals see you as a superior team; and if they go forward like we do, they know we are a bit better, a bit superior in technical terms than them. So in that sense, we feel proud because we have made this happen, we have earned this respect due to our game.

The 8 point lead, is it anecdotal?

No, it’s not.

I say it because La Liga is just starting.

It’s an important lead, we need to take advantage of it. We have had a good start to the season, but we can’t waste it, even if there’s only 5 games played. Now we will play Madrid at home. But before that, we have a very difficult game at Sevilla. They are playing good football too, and they will give us work, as their manager is quite brave. So the 8 point lead is a good advantage. Too bad we’re not in game 30! Pressure is on them now.

For the clásico, the pressure will be higher for Madrid?

I’d say it’ll be high for both. But they have run out of margin, they can’t lose more points. We like the 8 point lead. Last season, in January, they had a 10 point lead on us and it seemed we had lost La Liga. So it’s too soon to say anything on who’s going to win, but still, the 8 points are there. I like them.

Are you surprised by the fuss created about Messi and Villa [having an on-field argument]?

I get angry sometimes at them too. It happens in football, it happens every time, people that have played football before know that. It’s okay. They get along very well, they have a fantastic relationship. Whether some people like it or not, our group of players is amazing, it’s just fantastic. I have been in groups that weren’t this good. If some players can have this kind of argument, it’s because they trust each other, you can get angry at someone to compete, to get the best out of a team-mate. Could you imagine if every time Messi makes a mistake, or gets angry, he just lowered his head and said nothing? People would think he doesn’t care. When Leo get angry it’s because he wants to win, and so does Villa. That happens in training a lot too. I got really angry once at Van Bronckhorst, so much that I apologized afterwards when we were in the dressing room. The worst thing is to keep it to yourself. If you’re angry, you have to express it, that’s normal in our team. Messi gets angry with me too when I don’t pass the ball to him!

The Madrid press has talked about this for hours…

We haven’t considered this [issue] in the slightest, we haven’t even lost any time discussing this. We have to accept this kind of behavior from the Madrid press, it won’t go away.

Are you surprised by Tito?

We have seen more personality, more character in him, now that he has to make the decisions. I see him well prepared, he talks to us, he motivates us, criticizes us… the first day he gave a talk that showed us his ideas. Training sessions have not even changed. We have things clear: 4-3-3. When Pep was with us, everybody would talk about him being the leader, but there a lot of people working with him. Tito is very prepared, very close to us, positive, lively, mad about football. And also very brave, with all he has been through.

And his talks?

He doesn’t go around talking nonsense. He’s mad about football but also goes straight to the point. He has a lot of character. I have been surprised by that. I knew he had it but maybe it was a bit hidden, as Pep used to be the leader before. But Tito is also a leader. He has very clear ideas.

The Ballon d’Or should go to Messi?

If we are picking the best player, yes, of course, it’s him. But if we’re picking someone from the Spanish national team,  there are a lot of candidates.

You too?

Maybe it’s too late for me! I’ve been there for five years. If I haven’t got it, then I won’t. But if justice is done, I’m sorry for other mates, but Messi is the best, without any doubt. We have to get real. Leo is the best football player. In the history of this sport. And he shows that everyday, in trainings and games. It’s in his blood. He’s extraordinary. Iniesta is very good, Puyol, Piqué too, but Messi is different. In Spain we don’t have a star like him, our football is more collective, full of good players as well.

Do you see yourself playing in the new Camp Nou?

It will take years. I don’t think I can play in it, I’ll have to see it from the stands.

Or the bench…

Don’t put pressure on me! Of course I would like to be related to Barça when I finish my career, who wouldn’t? I want to keep enjoying football.

How was your goal, your “xavinazo” against Granada?

I was lucky to control the ball with my left foot, in that position I usually give the pass, but I saw a space where the ball could get in, so I shot… I was lucky. We need to make more shots from distance.

Why does it seem Barça is not playing as well as in previous seasons?

I think it’s because of the game itself. None of our rivals here has come to our stadium to actually play football with us, just to defend.

Some argue that the team is missing a bit of intensity this season.

It’s very hard to play against a team that parks the bus. We go from one side to the other, trying to find some spaces, passing, giving the ball high, taking off marks, we try every possible way. What team plays well against a rival that parks the bus? It’s hard, they won’t come out, not even if they’re losing. During the first two or three years under Pep, teams would attack a bit more, but now all play at the back, waiting for a mistake. And they would have a dry pitch to stop the ball. And all 11 players at the back when they visit us.

And a little note of hope at the end. Xavi wanted to highlight Eric Abidal’s attitude and professionalism, by saying that “he’s impressive, an example for all of us. He’s training, getting stronger in the gym every morning, and every afternoon. I won’t say he’ll be ready in November, but he should be for December. He is the one who cheers us up, he is in charge of the music. He seems to be so happy, even after all he has been through. He is a guy who should stay at Barça as an example for the younger players. It is not necessary to be from La Masia to do so. Mascherano is another one who is an inspiration, in training, in his adaptation to the club, he is a leader on the field and in the dressing room. Pinto, another one too. This group of players is remarkable. Unique.”