By far the most interesting answer Xavi gave in the press conference after Barcelona’s La Liga win on Sunday had to do with how he feels now compared to 1999 when he won his first LaLiga title as a 19-year-old and still emerging midfielder. Faced with Stone, not a hint of emotion, not even close to a smile, he replied that what linked the two experiences was dealing with self-doubt.
This nickname, almost a quarter of a century later, gave him “credibility”. But not in the eyes of others – that was not the point at all.
Barcelona manager – arguably Spain’s greatest midfielder, two-time world champion for his country (U-20 in 1999; senior team in 2010) and club, serial championship winner, certainly in BlogranaThe all-time 11th player, young, talented, handsome, fun, still fits into the same size clothes as he did in 1999 – he suffers from self-doubt, just like everyone else. He is brave enough to admit it.
“It costs me to believe in myself,” he said, still with a very serious expression on his face.
It wasn’t until I began interviewing Xavi in-depth that he became a staple of his team – already a leader, a winner, settled into his favored position and succeeded hugely. It would have been the summer of 2008 when we first had a long and interesting conversation.
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After that, it took him a while to reach a stage of confidence as he vented his feelings about the times Barcelona made it clear he could leave if he wanted to, the times he caught the club trying to move him behind his back, the times the Camp Nou fans jeered at him coming on as a substitute. To the pitch because they felt he was knocking Pep Guardiola out in midfield and it wasn’t good. Over time, he could have left for Manchester United, Milan or Bayern Munich (among others) but he chose not to go.
The most surprising thing I heard him admit was that when then-manager Frank Rijkaard asked him, a few years after his first LaLiga title in 1999, to play in the right attacking midfield position that became his own, becoming the best in the world, he was Frightened. He considered the central midfield position, and AxisAs a safe and happy space for him.
“I’m not sure I can do that… I’d rather not,” Xavi told the Dutchman. Rijkaard, like all good coaches, stuck to his gun, pushed for the vision he had to get activated, and the rest really is history – two titles before that moment, 29 after.
The problem, then, was that Xavi seemed to be the master and leader of all he scouted. Not an iota of self-doubt was evident – then or now.
Regardless of the pressure of the moment, regardless of his form, good or bad, regardless of the crowd’s mood, regardless of the tightness of the situation on the pitch and the risks, Xavi wanted the ball. He wanted to accept the pressure of running things, and take risks in order to win.
Axis He was focused, just like Sergio Busquets now, Xavi could influence the pace and tempo of play. But when he moved to attacking midfield, he played like A.J Axis but with exponentially more creative and menacing responsibilities. He played as if he were occupying two positions at once, and the result was Spanish, European and global dominance for club and country.
My point in emphasizing this is to remind you how strange it is to understand that he was and is a person of self-doubt. Most professional footballers who perform with Xavi’s authority, clarity of goal, match intelligence, and hunger are, off the pitch, completely self-assured, not to say arrogant, and rarely show or acknowledge any kind of need for other people to give them. legitimacy or credibility.
So, off Sunday night at Espanyol’s press conference, it was Xavi’s admission that this was his first real big win as a coach (no one should denigrate the seven titles he has won as coach of Al Sadd in Qatar, but equally, that environment was nowhere close to testing and demanding like this) would boost his self-esteem.
There were notable moments during his tenure as Barcelona manager when he felt like admitting self-doubt, but couldn’t: hammer Bayern Munich; Europa League elimination against Eintracht Frankfurt last season; a 4-0 win at the hands of Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey semi-final this season; That subdued performance in a 1-0 loss to Inter Milan at the San Siro in the middle of winter; And some of the 11 LaLiga wins, despite bringing them a valuable 30 points, were often dull, nervous and lacking in power.
If Xavi really did suffer from self-doubt, the feeling that his credibility was on the line, if he worried that his players might have somehow made it seem like they believed in his methods and his credo but really didn’t, then he did. One hell of a job hiding it. In good times and bad since taking over in November 2021, with his club, squad and finances in appalling states, Xavi has been articulate, consistent, defiant, successful and shown an invaluable ability to withstand glaring setbacks at the chin. He returns roaring with explanations of calming nerves in public and energizing his forces in private.
It is his absolute evangelical belief in what he preaches and what he will achieve that convinced his players.
Winger Ousmane Dembele lives better, is fitter more often, contributes better and, frankly, hasn’t left the club because Xavi has gotten under his skin. Defender Ronald Araujo has become more consistent, a better match reader, much better at distributing the ball from behind, an expert in marking Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr., and the team’s new captain off the pitch because Xavi was a source of inspiration and conviction. for him. Frenkie de Jong stayed, mainly because he never wanted to leave, but the Dutch midfielder had long ago begun to play with more authority, accepting more responsibility, pushing himself to become completely jaded and displaying mature stubbornness so that Barcelona would win games opposing him. To them because Xavi imparted his evangelical spirit to him.
The list goes on.
There is the maturity of 19-year-old left-back Alex Balde and 18-year-old midfielder Jaffe. The former is now harnessing his natural speed better and more productively because he uses his vision and brains – not just his F1 gearbox. The latter has had to adjust his position and play like a half striker, half midfielder so he can press harder, and he’s done so with fewer runs in which he was detained or found himself in direct confrontation. with a competitor or ref.
Both young men are inspired by their teacher, Xavi.
There are more examples: Raphinha’s defensive work rate, Pedri’s finishing around the opposition penalty area, the quality of his passing delivery, Andreas Christensen’s re-learning of the central defensive role, the requirement to play risky and creative passes out of defence. All of these things and more, are the hallmarks of Xavi’s first LaLiga win as a coach despite the fact that, as he admitted on Sunday, he was dealing with the same inner monologue, “Am I right? Can I do it?” that blighted his playing career. premature.
There is an analytical argument, his agent should skip, that he won two trophies in his first full season as Barcelona coach (his team’s victory in the Spanish Super Cup final against Madrid was by far his team’s best performance of the season). A good moment to step away and leave the crowd wanting more.
This kind of actuarial calculation includes the fact that there is still a behind-the-scenes turmoil: investigations into whether Barcelona have been influencing referees over the past two decades. A huge financial gymnastics is needed simply to stay stable; Departure of the main transfer market expert Matteo Alemany; the lack of clarity over whether Jordi Cruyff will stay or move to a less turbulent club; at least two seasons spent playing at the unpopular Montjuïc Olympic Stadium instead of the Camp Nou while the latter is redeveloped; Possible return of Lionel Messi, who, genius aside, will be 36 in a month. The list does not stop there.
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Faced with all those hurdles to “what happens next,” some clever coaches would walk away, knowing absence would only make the heart grow fonder. There will always be a chance for Xavi to return to Barcelona the way Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane did at Madrid; Back with the arrangement of financial matters, as the team plays at Camp Nou and with its generation approaching Araujo, Badri, Javi, and Baldi.
Remember, this is the man who said, this season, that being manager of the club he loves has brought him some of the worst days of his footballing life. That’s a big statement.
Imagine sorting through their line-up, with an average crowd of 83,000, outrunning Real Madrid and winning Barcelona’s first title without Messi since 1999, and then, with a refreshment, walking off the stage? One of the most enduring laws of business is that decreasing the supply of a common thing leads to an increase in demand and price.
The proof, most likely, is what Xavi did after that title-winning player in 1999. He suffered but did not give up. He and his team mates entered a cup-winning drought between 1999 and 2005. The club tried to kick him out, and other big groups tried to lure him away.
Xavi once told me: “I stayed because this is my team and I am stubborn as a mule”.
The possibility is that despite the self-doubt, this is his mentality now. If so, Barcelona really don’t know how lucky they are.