x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Barca's Xavi: 'We're playing a great team in Manchester United'

Anglophile Xavi hails achievements of his English Champions League final opponents.

Xavi, the Barca midfielder, arrives in London.
Xavi, the Barca midfielder, arrives in London.

Xavi smiled when asked to name the Manchester United players who would get into Barcelona's first XI.

"Rooney, Chicharito [Javier Hernandez], Evra, Ferdinand," he said to much surprise. "All I'm saying is that they would be good enough to play in any team in the world. If you are good enough for Manchester United then you are good enough for any team."

Barca's playmaker, 31, has always bordered on the reverential when talking about United. A confirmed Anglophile, the player who is largely viewed as the world's best midfielder made his Barca debut at Old Trafford in 1998 after coming through the youth ranks at Camp Nou and has played against United several times in his career.

"For me, Manchester [United] is a reference point - not just now but over many years," said the Spanish World Cup winner.

"What [Sir Alex] Ferguson has achieved deserves a lot of credit. Ferguson and [Paul] Scholes and [Ryan] Giggs are references for everyone in football throughout the world. They have been at the top for many years playing at an extraordinary level. They have won leagues year after year and they keep reaching Champions League finals and semi-finals."

The Catalan, who grew up in the former textile town of Terrassa 20km west of Barcelona, admits to being a student of football, someone who studies players, tactics, coaches, stadiums and fans.

He is the best talker among the Barca squad and while he has been flattered by direct attention from United and AC Milan in the past, he never has considered leaving Barca. Instead, he remains true to the philosophy instilled by the man in charge when he joined the club as a 12-year-old, Johan Cruyff.

"Cruyff's influences remain very important to this club," he said. "He changed the idiosyncrasy of the club. He introduced the philosophy to keep the ball, to play in triangles, to attack. That philosophy remains true to this day. We're all students of Cruyff and his school of thought."

Guardiola was Cruyff's finest student, but Xavi has long eclipsed the success of his former mentor as a player. Now he plays under him at Barca, seeking their own dynasty to compare with Bayern Munich or Ajax in the 1970s, Liverpool's four European Cups in eight seasons or Milan's back-to-back wins. And, though it is not often said in Catalonia, Real Madrid's five successive triumphs in the 1950s.

"This is our third final in six years," said Xavi, whose parents let his older brother but not him travel to Wembley Stadium for Barca's first European Cup triumph in 1992.

"For us, this is historic. There are 10 or 15 teams who can win the Champions League each season, so for us to reach the final again is fantastic. We intend to carry on and to be like the teams you have said. We see no reason why not.

"We have a great team and coach here. We're playing a great team in Manchester United, so it will be tough, but we're confident."

sports@thenational.ae