It was the most essential assist of his career.
The setting: June 29, 2008, Vienna, 33 minutes into a European Championship final that Spain just had to win. Xavi looked up, threaded a through-ball, and watched as Fernando Torres bustled it home. Who knew how huge it would prove?
Spain’s opponents that day, Germany, were past masters at grinding out tournament wins. Spain most definitely weren’t. Their last trophy was Euro 64 – held in Spain - and accumulative clouds of failure dogged subsequent national sides.
La Roja’s success in Austria and Switzerland was based on a blatant adoption of Barcelona’s possession-based ethos, and why not? Glueing it all together was Xavi, a player who treated the ball as if it was an invaluable heirloom.
Xavi – voted Euro 2008’s player of the tournament, by the way – was arguably the most influential midfielder ever, as his string-pulling changed the pace of world football.
Admittedly, that pass-them-ragged style isn’t always thrilling to watch, and the dogged pursuit of La Pausa – waiting for the perfect pass – can be hugely frustrating in inferior hands. But Xavi made it an art form, like the most stirring classical music.
Four years on from Vienna, club and World Cup medals safely pocketed, Xavi bettered himself in the Euro 2012 Final: two assists this time, making him the first player to set up goals in separate European Championship finals, as Spain battered Italy 4-0. He broke records like he passed: left, right and centre. There’s just one problem
with having such a virtuoso orchestrating your midfield: what on Earth do you do when they move on? Spain and Barcelona are still wrestling with that conundrum. The little maestro is coach of Al-Sadd in Qatar, and there’s reportedly a ‘Barcelona clause’ in his contract. The way things are going, a new Xavi era could be on the horizon.
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