squad | 2015-05-25
Xavi interviewed by El País: Football is a ball and some friends
“My heart belongs to Barça and it will stay here.”
After celebrating his last La Liga trophy on Saturday, Xavi sat down with Luis Martín from El País to talk about his career at FC Barcelona. You can read the interview in Spanish.
“The only thing I’m missing is a hat-trick,” he joked.
Seventeen years in Barcelona’s first team. What does that give you?
I’ve enjoyed it as a child. And I’ve also suffered. Because I now feel happy and I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved and of the way I’m leaving. But I’ve passed through bad moments, I’ve suffered a lot, honestly.
What is football?
Football is a ball and some friends. And let’s go! A game, a rondo, passing the ball around, on the beach or in your backyard. While laughing. This is football. Kids passing the ball around in the schoolyard. That’s football.
And if your team wins, ‘eso es la hostia (that’s the best)’, as Luis would say, right?
Luis Aragonés, what a great guy! I remember him often, I miss him a lot.
Why are you leaving?
Because it’s time. My head tells me that and my body is giving me signs. My heart doesn’t, my heart belongs to Barça and it will stay here.
You used to hide the fact that you were playing for Barça when you were in school. Why?
Because I didn’t want to be looked at differently. I knew that I wasn’t going to change, but I was afraid that they would say “Look at this guy, he signed for Barça and now thinks he’s special.” I didn’t wear my Barça tracksuit on the street in order to avoid attention.
What’s the first image you have from Barça’s dressing room?
Sitting down to change between Figo and Guardiola, and Núñez coming in to talk to Pep. And I was right there. Of course, I was aware of everything, I was a youngster and I was right there, I was even embarrassed. The veterans treated me wonderfully: Pep, Pitu, Luis, Sergi, Figo, Rivaldo – they were all great to me.
Saturday you celebrated your eighth League title. You won the first while the team was in Vitoria and you were in Albacete.
Yes, that’s right. I played 18 games that season but in the last round only the players that made the squad traveled, that’s how Van Gaal decided it. And I went to Albacete with the B-team and saw the game there. There was a jersey in the museum Ángel Mur built in the dressing room, made by Anderson and Rivaldo, which said “We’re all champions” and had the names of Ciric, Busquets, Okunowo, Roger and Óscar on it, all the players that didn’t make the trip. But I was in Plaça Sant Jaume. The last league title that was celebrated there. I’m so old that I was in Sant Jaume!
What would you be without Van Gaal?
He taught me a lot. He used to tell me: “You’re better than Zidane,” and I answered, “Don’t go overboard, mister, thanks, but let’s not exaggerate.” I’ve been fortunate, I’ve had great coaches. We were very unfair to him, he was a great coach.
After that there were five years in which you didn’t win anything. What happened?
We lost the essence. We changed coaches often; we didn’t have any stability until Rijkaard came. And Ronaldinho. When we won we did so by having possession, by playing the ball, by attacking to defend, showing our essence.
Our only solution is to be ourselves. If we don’t respect our style nothing makes sense, it’s proven. But there were times, when we didn’t win, when we doubted our way and nothing was good. Here the first thought is to look for a guy who is 1.80-meter-tall and very strong. And that’s not the answer. What we need are players that understand our essence, the concept of the third man, the pass that creates superiority.
Is that the reason why you felt like you were put in the spotlight?
Yes, when we won people praised me, but when we lost, they doubted everything and I was the first on that list.
You always said that Busquets and Pedro were examples worth following. Why?
Because they’re humble, because they sacrifice themselves, because they have exceptional talents and are extremely committed, but they’re not recognized and that upsets me. I know how much work is needed to get to the top, and they did get there; they won everything and they’ve always put themselves in the service of the team, just like Jordi [Alba]. Always. It’s the same for Andrés and for Piqué, don’t think it isn’t, but they, like me and Leo, have been praised. Pedro and Sergio are extraordinary footballers. Pedro’s story is exceptional: a Barcelona forward, raised in the academy, gets to the very top and wins everything. You have to look at him, applaud him and say, “Kids, learn from him!” And Busi? I’ve never seen a more intelligent footballer on the pitch.
You won a league at halftime and league on the couch at home. Strange isn’t it?
Yes, we won one in Balaídos at halftime, in the year I was injured. It was one of my most difficult years, but it made me learn a lot. I broke my ACL in training in December. My knee was trashed. That’s when I learned to take care of myself. I've never gone to the gym before that, I used to think that working with the ball was enough. I didn’t do any weights, it was all talent. That year, with the help of Emili [Ricart] and doctor Cugat, I understood that if I didn’t take care of myself, my career would end prematurely. The other time was when Capdevila scored a goal against Madrid and that won us the league. We were home and I started calling the guys “Come on, we have to celebrate this!” And we went out and did, even though we had a game at the Calderon the next day.
The year of the treble was unique, right?
So far it’s the best year in history. Because of everything, because of how we won. That year was pure essence. I’ve never seen football like that one. I watch games from that season and I think: It’s impossible to play better. We won the Champions in a resounding way. Pep’s years are unrepeatable.
Was he a pain as teammate and more as a coach?
No, man, I enjoyed him. As a teammate he suffered too, the comparison between us wasn’t his fault. It was a weight on my shoulders to be marked as his heir. He used to tell me not to pay attention, but I couldn’t…Growing up next to him added pressure, but it wasn’t his fault. He was always very good to me.
Is it true that you were close to leaving before he came as a coach?
I had an offer from Bayern Munich and I was willing to leave, it’s true. And he told me: “Xavi, I can’t imagine the team without you, it’s impossible.” And I said: “Okay, I’m staying.” An impressive coach. Maybe that’s also because we saw things the same way; we understand football in an identical way. All the stars were aligned during those years with Pep. We had an extraordinary team. But it wasn’t a coincidence, we worked a lot and we were very superior to our rivals. I have a theory: Barça needs to be very superior to Madrid, otherwise we don’t win. They close ranks: the press, the spirit of Juanito, the cómo no te voy a querer (how could I not love you)… We’re either good, or nothing. If we’re at the same level they can build themselves up with things we don’t have here; here the dynamic is always negative, there it’s always positive.
Would you have wanted to work with Johan Cruyff?
There’s nothing I would love more. He’s my football reference point, and I didn’t even work with him, so imagine…. Johan changed the history of the game, it’s clear. At least at Barcelona.
Of all the leagues you’ve won only one was won at Camp Nou.
And I didn’t even play. Undiano [Mallenco] had given me a yellow card in the previous game and I was suspended.
The worst league was the one with Tito’s illness?
That and the next one, yes, the year he died. Tito’s season was very painful. He was super-demanding. “One hundred points, we have to get 100 points,” he used to tell us. But it was a very hard year, the mood in the dressing room was always down. We managed to win it due to our talent and because Aureli [Altimira] and Jordi [Roura] poured their hearts in it. They used to play us voice messages, they told us that Tito said this thing or the other, Tito called us…. He was always there with us. I talked to him frequently. One day he got mad at me. I had some pain, I wanted to play and I ended up re-injuring myself against Milan. And the Bayern game was on the horizon and I wanted to play and he called me: “If you get yourself injured again, I won’t play you anymore!” He was so mad! He had a lot of guts, he was brave.
How did you handle this season, after years and years of being a starter? Of being in the Gala XI?
It was hard, obviously. But I learned from other teammates who weren’t playing, who were quiet and always positive in the dressing room. One of my examples has always been the reserve goalkeeper: almost never played and celebrated things as if he had; I thought about Jorquera, about Pepe Reina, guys who worked as hard as they could and never complained, even though by nature every footballer is selfish. I learned from them. Look, in Valencia I was subbed off 10 minutes before the game ended and I jumped on the pitch to celebrate Busi’s goal. I embraced Luis Enrique! He had subbed me out and I wasn’t even mad. I changed my mindset and did what I learned to do as a kid: think of the team. I wanted to end the season with a trophy and now… I was talking to Puyi the other day, he couldn’t even play or celebrate when he left. And look how I’ve said goodbye to the Camp Nou. It’s incredible. All the pieces of the puzzle have fallen in the right place. It’s a scandal. I could have never imagined such an end to my time here; it’s the stuff of movies.
Why did you stay?
I felt good vibes, I was over the pain of losing La Liga at home and without playing; over the pain of the World Cup, which was brutal. I knew that Luis Suárez was coming, I talked to Luis Enrique and he told me: “Pelopo, think carefully!” And my feeling was that it was going to be a good year. I told my teammates on the chat: “Guys, I’m staying for another season, because this looks promising.” Luis has treated me perfectly because he never lied. And that’s a big thing. Honorable and direct. I could be mad at him because I didn’t play a lot, but it’s the opposite, I owe him one because he was one of the guys who did the most to get me to stay. I recovered my enthusiasm. And I spoke to Zubi, who was great to me. I feel very bad about what happened to him. This League also belongs to him. The day I told them I was leaving he came home with me and made me think that maybe it wasn’t my time to go yet. Thankfully I decided to stay.
Do you remember the day when you came to Barça to pass the test for La Masia?
Of course. My dad was in the car telling me: “Open your eyes wide and learn! Not everyone gets this chance.” I was already signed, but I didn’t know. And that’s what I’ve done: learning, learning and learning. In this club I’ve learned how to play and also how to be a person. Here and at home, obviously. I owe everything to Barça. I’ve been so happy. I could have never imagined this.
Do you know anyone who is a bigger culé than you?
Yes, of course, my mother.
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