[PORTRAIT] Xavi, Spain’s 30-year-old midfield maestro, has played with just one club, Barcelona, since age 11. His memory of one youth coach helps explain the smooth passing style of Spain's World Cup team, which is stocked with products of Barca's youth program.
Coach Carles Rexach stood with his back to the field and applauded the young Barca boys. They yelled back, “Sir, you can’t even see us!”
“But I hear the ball, and that’s why I know that it’s moving well,” Rexach responded.
Xavi leads Spain’s group of highly skillful midfield passers who came out of the Barcelona youth academy: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Pedro. (Central defenders Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique also came out of la cantera.)
Their swift combination play kept the Germans chasing shadows in Spain’s 1-0 semifinal win. Xavi, despite being on the ball more than any other player, is so quick and clever, he can’t even be stopped by foul play. Only 10 times has an opponent taken him down in six games at the World Cup.
“I don’t get fouled much,” said the 5-foot-7 Xavi, who despite doing a fair amount of defensive work has committed only one foul in this World Cup.
“I’m always thinking about how we can play, which teammate is open, and if I should play a ball to his feet or send it into his path.”
In six games at this World Cup, Xavi has passed the ball 570 times – a tournament high -- and has completed 81 percent of those passes. Some of his passes are first-touch deliveries. But he often spins away from or dodges opponents when the pressure’s on, and uses every part of his foot to strike accurately.
His corner kick set up Puyol’s game-winning goal against Germany.
Xavi still lives in his hometown of Terrassa, a city of 200,000 that lies 15 miles from Barcelona, with a his dog, named “Tiro,” which means “shot.” He reportedly owns no computer nor has an e-mail address. His focus is always on soccer.
At age 18, he debuted for Barcelona’s first team. He subbed in for injured Pep Guardiola during the 1999-2000 season, and he proved himself a worthy successor for the stylish playmaker, who is Barcelona’s current coach. Xavi also succeeded Guardiola as Barcelona and Spain captain.
Xavi has played more than 500 games for Barcelona and has celebrated five La Liga titles and two UEFA Champion League crowns. In 2009, Barcelona won a record six titles: La Liga, Spanish Cup, Spanish Super Cup, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.
In 2008, Xavi was the Golden Ball MVP of Euro 2008, Spain’s only major title since winning the 1964 European Championship.
On Sunday, he aims to lead Spain to its first World Cup title.