x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Xavi senses a sixth trophy for Barcelona

The playmaker says the Spanish giants are keen to add the Club World Cup to their already impressive trophy collection.

Xavi is the heartbeat of the team, often dictating the tempo of the game.
Xavi is the heartbeat of the team, often dictating the tempo of the game.

"We have a great dream to win this trophy," says Xavi Hernandez, Barcelona's mercurial midfielder - arguably the best in the world. He is talking about the Club World Cup. "Barca have never won it, we lost in the final the last time we played [against Internacional in Yokohama in 2006]. That was a long way to go and come back with nothing and we're determined to win this year. It's a trophy which is becoming more and more important. Our Mister, Pep Guardiola, he's serious about winning it too - it will be our sixth trophy in 2009.

"We're looking forward to visiting Abu Dhabi. I watched the Formula One race there. The stadiums, they are all refurbished and I will enjoy playing in them," says the man who is well on his way to breaking the club's appearance record "I've had offers but I'm here for as long as possible," Xavi adds. "Milan, they wanted me when I was younger. And Manchester United, they didn't make a direct approach but Alex Ferguson's brother spoke to my agent. But I'd never leave. Money isn't the most important thing and I've been a Barca fan all my life. I've watched the team from being a small child.

"I remember Bernd Schuster and being fascinated by him. He was so big, with long blond hair, the opposite of me now. I was from a small town and had never seen anyone like that before. My next idol was Diego Maradona. I've never seen Pele, Alfredo Di Stefano or Laszlo Kubala play, so Maradona became my greatest. And then Guardiola, not an idol as such, but a reference point for my whole life." Xavi sits on a sofa inside Barca's smart new Ciutat Esportiva training complex on the city's southern outskirts. It is two days before the El Clasico against Real Madrid that his side will win 1-0 and many of the 600 journalists accredited for the game are swarming around outside. One has already handed him a copy of Marca, the Madrid cheerleading newspaper, which has a back page column by respected writer Santiago Segurola where he opines that Xavi is the greatest Spanish player in the last 40 years. Xavi brushes the conjecture away smiling.

He is used to accolades: Champions Leagues in 2006 and 2009 and four Primera Liga titles with Barca. Player of the tournament in Spain's victorious 2008 European Championship and, he has just found out, France Football's Bronze Ball for 2009. The diminutive midfielder seems embarrassed by the fuss. "I don't play to get these awards, if I wanted individual awards I'd play tennis or golf," he says. "OK, there are individual moments, but I want the team to win.

"I've never thought about getting a Bronze Ball or to be in the list for the Fifa World Player, but if it comes, then it's all for the better. Now all of a sudden I'm a celebrity and [Andres] Iniesta and I are fashionable. He should be getting the award too, he's a phenomenon." It has been an unprecedented year for Barca, having won the Spanish league, cup and Super Cup as well as the European Super Cup, to add to the Champions League .

"Incredible, really, we have a system which works really well for us, but that hasn't happened overnight," says Xavi. "The basics were laid down in all those years some of us spent in the cantera. We work hard, are disciplined and play attacking football. We've got exactly the right type of players to play how Guardiola likes. We've won everything and we can win a lot more, but while we have a fantastic squad, we are very level headed."

Seny is a Catalan word and trait. "It means common sense, integrity and awareness," explains Xavi. "That you should think about things, evaluate, be calm and focused. I have lots of seny. So does Pep, even more than me. We're just normal people. We play football, so what? People do more important jobs than us. In the dressing room, Pep doesn't tolerate big egos. Why should he, where will that get us?"

Xavi is a model pupil of Barca's hugely successful youth system. "FC Barcelona is a school and I've been privileged to be a student. It doesn't just educate you to be a good footballer, but a good person too, teaching respect, a working mentality and discretion. It's different here to Madrid," he says. "They have great players, but I know which system I prefer, which is better for football." Barca's Champions League win over Manchester United which gave them their treble was the most one-sided final since Milan destroyed Barca 4-0 in 1994.

"United missed [Darren] Fletcher, he's very defensive and strong," says Xavi.

"He's important to Manchester, but they were fine without him in the first 10 minutes. We couldn't get the ball, but once [Samuel] Eto'o scored, we improved dramatically. For 80 minutes it was just pam, pam, pam [he indicates with his hands to show a rapid passing movement]. We dominated in midfield and that was very important.

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"It became the perfect game for us, the end result for years of work from many people at FC Barcelona. "Maybe we made it look easier than it was, but we worked hard to reach that level. We had order and discipline. We put the hours in the gymnasium which nobody sees. We study tactics and videos. Analyse, analyse, analyse. Talent isn't enough and there have been improvements since Pep arrived." Barca hope to finish this year with success in Abu Dhabi, before becoming the first team since Milan to retain the Champions League.

And Xavi wants Spain's first World Cup title. "That's the dream. For Spain, we have a great generation of players," he says. "We've never won the World Cup and while that would be a dream, we're not favourites. We now have a clear philosophy which is not dissimilar to Barca. We kill teams by passing quickly and searching for the openings. Pam, pam, pam." Xavi remembers his first tentative journey to La Masia, where Barca school their youngsters, as a 10 year old in 1990. "I remember my coach saying, 'Watch how Pep plays. He is perfect in his position - your position'. And he was right. I learned from watching Pep, watching the way he knew where he was going to pass before he received the ball. I looked up to him, the way he carried himself on and off the field."

Xavi's progress meant he was soon playing alongside Guardiola. "For three years I played with Pep and I kept on learning," he adds. "In the game and after the game. He's an obsessive - like me. Our relationship is strong as we think the same. We talk about teams, players and tactics every day." They both hope their obsessions bring them that sixth trophy of 2009 in the Emirates. @Email:amitten@thenational.ae