Xavi Hernández experienced the biggest disappointment of his sporting career last Wednesday. In the Maracaná, La Roja – his Roja, the team he brought style to, and guided conceptually for six years – found itself knocked out of the World Cup after a 2-0 defeat to Chile. What’s more, he didn’t play a single minute of the match, relegated to the bench by coach Vicente del Bosque after the debacle of the 5-1 loss to the Netherlands in the opening game. Nor did he play a part in Monday’s 3-0 victory over Australia in Spain’s third and final match of the tournament.
Xavi would never have imagined an end like this to his time in the national squad, for which he played 134 times after debuting in a friendly against none other than the Netherlands in 2000. It was a journey he began as a boy, starting with winning the under-20 World Cup in Nigeria in 1999, followed by silver at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. He had known for some time that Brazil would be his swansong with Spain, but he never thought that saying goodbye would be so bitter.
Last Thursday, from the Spanish team’s base in Curitiba, he sent a WhatsApp message to a handful of friends. “I want you to know that I have decided to leave the club,” they say it said. It was confirmation of an expected goodbye that marks a turning point in the history of Barcelona soccer club. New team coach Luis Enrique had been counting on him for at least one more year of the three still left on his contract. But Xavi sensed that he wouldn’t get many minutes on the pitch, at least not enough to allow him to feel useful and enjoy himself. So he has decided to pack his bags. With one stroke, he has split with his two sporting loves.
After the loss to the Netherlands, Xavi did not play against Chile or in the 3-0 victory over Australia
With Carles Puyol or Víctor Valdés also leaving the club, Xavi understood that it didn’t make much sense to carry on, that a new cycle is starting at Barcelona and now is the time for Messi, Iniesta and Sergio Busquets to lead. His love story with the club he joined when he was 12 has ended after 784 matches, seven Liga titles, two Champions Leagues and two Club World Cups.
“He hasn’t said to us that he is leaving Barcelona or the national team,” said Atlético Madrid’s Koke, who has often been identified as the new Xavi. “There is only one Xavi and there will never be anyone as great or with the same speed of thinking on the pitch,” he has always said in response.
“Xavi flies the flag of our soccer on the pitch,” said Del Bosque.
It remains to be seen where Xavi will now go. He has an extraordinary offer from Qatar, where he would play for six months in exchange for €10 million, which is he open to accepting, though Al-Arabi has denied it has signed a pre-contract. There are also offers from European clubs and New York City, where he would be another franchise player, like his friend David Villa, who also said farewell to the Spanish national team in Brazil.
Xavi knew Brazil would be his swansong with Spain, but he never thought it would be so bitter
Playing his first minutes at this World Cup against Australia on Monday, Villa scored the team’s opening goal before, amid tears, he was taken off by Del Bosque after 55 minutes. “I have been playing in the Spanish national side for as long as I can remember and if it was up to me, I would go on doing so until I was 55,” Spain’s top-scoring player of all time – 59 goals – said afterwards. “But I am conscious that it is impossible to go on, you can’t. What’s more I have taken the decision to go to New York City and I am not going to play for a few months. In these circumstances it is normal that it ends here. I will go on working as ever, but you have to be realistic.”
There is a changing of the guard in the Spanish national side. But Del Bosque is confident there is a good basis for the future. “Today we close the door on six years during which, month after month, we were top of the Fifa rankings,” he said after the Australia match. “It was a group of kids who blazed a trail and our time has now come to lose, with our heads held high to give way to another champion. The future is safe whoever the coach may be at the head of this team because there is a solid base of players who are so experienced.”
Del Bosque insisted that he had not yet taken a decision about his own future with Spain. “There is no deadline. We will seek a decision without any drama and with good judgment; we will do what’s best.”