In the eyes of many football fans, the sight of Netherlands humbling Spain 5-1 at the World Cup finals in Brazil marked the end of Spanish dominance on the international football stage, and the recent announcement by midfield maestro Xavi Hernandez that he was retiring from representing Spain only confirms that impression. Xavi epitomised all that was great about the ball retention and incisive passing which graced not only his performances for the national team but also for Barcelona.
At 34 years of age, Xavi had been struggling to retain his position as automatic choice in midfield for Barcelona especially during the previous campaign, and this was a role in which he had been a pivotal figure for as long as many people can remember.
He forged a unique midfield bond with team-mate Andres Iniesta and was a fixture in the Barcelona team from the turn of the century. Soon he became an integral member of the Spanish team and won 133 caps for his country scoring 13 goals during that time.
For Xavi, football was his passion and he rarely featured in any other headlines apart from the back pages and he did not court publicity in the same manner as other illustrious colleagues. He won one World Cup winners medal and two European Championships with Spain plus helping Barcelona to numerous other honours besides collecting several personal trophies including the World Soccer player of the year in 2010 and Euro 2008 player of the tournament.
He will also be remembered for perfecting the tika-taka style of football involving short passing play designed for ball retention with the eventual intention of penetrating the opposing rearguard. Xavi also appeared to find space and was always available to help a colleague in difficulty while rarely misplacing a pass.
Xavi’s mere presence on the pitch seemed to scare the opposition as he assumed control of the midfield with opponents often failing to launch a tackle as he swiftly found a team-mate with another precise but simple pass. He didn’t resort to crude tackles to win the ball as both Barcelona and Spain normally monopolised possession and as such it was a rare occasion in which he spoken to by the referee.
As a loyal one club man for Barcelona he will probably announce his retirement from the team as a player in the not too distant future but it is at a national level where he will be greatly missed. His club won trophies before his emergence and will continue to do so afterwards but the golden era of Spanish football coincided with his midfield presence alongside Iniesta and the recently retired Carles Puyol.
Will Spain ever dominate the international stage again now that Xavi will no longer be dictating play in his customary midfield anchor role?