Inside Spanish Football’s Barcelona correspondent Alexandra Jonson describes how Xavi has come to encompass everything FC Barcelona stands for on the pitch, and what will become of the club as he ends his 24-year career in blaugrana.
One moment his eyes are tear-filled as he declares “I never wanted this day to arrive, I always dared it”. The next moment his face is just one big smile. “But I couldn’t be happier than I am right now, I have had the best possible career at Barça.”
It’s a press conference filled of mixed feeling. After 24 years wearing the Barça shirt, 17 seasons with the first team, 23 major titles and a record of 764 official games (more than anyone else in the club’s history), Xavi today announced that he will leave his childhood club at the end of the season.
“My body and head says it’s time to leave,” he declared. “But not my heart, because it will always belong to Barcelona”.
He says what everyone already knows. ”This club is my life, I am always dedicated to Barça”. It’s a well known fact, because we have been able to see that all of those 764 times that he has ran out to the pitch in the blaugrana shirt. More than anything else, we have seen it in his eyes.
Xavi is special in that way. In today’s football world, it’s rare to see players who love their club the way Xavi loves Barça. When he was a kid he collected stickers of the Barça players, his room was full of scarves, flags and Barça posters. His family was a Barça-mad family and still to this day, Xavi is clear about one thing: he is not the biggest culé in the family… his mum is.
She was the one that prevented him from leaving the club in 1999. She told him to listen to his heart and said she would divorce his father, who was in favour of the move, if he went. Now she is on board Xavi says, although “I never told her about the renewal offer from Barça, if she would have known it all would have become very difficult.”
“We are all big Barça fans at home,” he says. “But she is the worst and she is the one who has suffered the most during my career.” Just like in 1999, he reveals his mother was one of the reasons he ended up staying last season.
“Last year, she had a big role in my decision to stay”. But he is clear that now the decision is “definitive” and this time not even him mum could change that. “I have tried to ignore her and everyone else and taken the decision I believe is the right one.”
Xavi is a family man, he lived at home until he was about 24 and when he finally moved to his own apartment, he would still spend most of his time at his parents’ house. Now he is moving to Qatar and he is bringing his family with him. More than his wife – his mum, dad and siblings are coming as well.
But he is clear that he is not done with Barça. “I will return, as coach, sport director or in any other form. But my goal is to return here,” he says convincingly, and no one doubts him for a second. Xavi’s entire life has been FC Barcelona and even if he leaves now, we all know it will continue to be Barça forever.
Although, before he leaves, he as captain has one duty left, to lift three trophies.
“It’s like the script was written for me,” he says. On Saturday, the Camp Nou will pay their tributes to him and he’ll lift his eighth and last ever La Liga trophy. After that, two games and two trophies remain. A Copa Del Rey final against Athletic Club and a Champions League final against Juventus. For Xavi, only one of those titles are enough to make him the most decorated player in Spanish football history. Today he is level with former Real Madrid player Paco Gento on 23 titles.
He already holds the club record when it come to most games played for Barça. Has the all time record of most played Champions League games and La Liga games. In the club’s history, no one has ever won as many titles as him. Asked if there is anything he hasn’t done in the Barça shirt, Xavi smiles. “Scored a hat-trick or a overhead kick goal,” he answers and the pressroom and Xavi himself bursts out in a laugh. “But I still have three games to play” he adds now with an even bigger laugh.
Since his debut against Real Mallorca seventeen years ago, Xavi has in some ways become Barça and even if he says “Barça will continue without me,” we all know that it just won’t be the same.
It’s been 24 years since he told his best friend not to tell anyone that he was going to play for Barça. Then Xavi was 11 years old and afraid his friends would treat him differently if they knew. Today the entire world knows and generations to come will know, because Xavi is one of the greatest legends FC Barcelona has ever had. And probably will ever have.
This content originally appeared here.