The midfielder talks tiki-taka tactics and how Barca and Real Madrid players settle training disputes...
After returning from injury to inspire Barcelona to a historic comeback against Milan in the previous round, star midfielder Xavi now has his sights on Beckham’s Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League quarter-finals. The man who makes the planet’s best club team and national squad tick has spent his entire career at the Nou Camp, so who better to reveal the secrets of La Masia and beyond?
You came through La Masia, Barcelona’s youth academy – what was the hardest thing about leaving home at a young age?
It is tough to leave your family, but you make some great friends and know what a great opportunity you have. I arrived thinking I was a striker, but it was quickly clear that was not for me. I was so eager to learn and just fully concentrated on what everybody there had to teach me.
When did you first know you were going to make it?
I have talked with my team-mates who also came through La Masia, and at some point everybody questioned themselves, there is so much greatness there. The talent is useful as a motivation – you need to work hard and just believe you will make it.
What does Barcelona teach you that other academies don’t?
Things that will help you in life, such as respect and how to conduct yourself. I was told if you want to be the best, stay out of nightclubs, and that is why we don’t have that culture at Barcelona.
Is training for a Champions League game different to a La Liga match?
We have a clear philosophy about how we want to play the game, and don’t compromise that. Preparation is key, if you are facing a British team, for example, you know it will be a more physical game.
What’s the best drill to find the perfect pass?
You need to think with your head before your feet – that is what we are taught. It is not easy when you are under pressure, but try to assess your team-mates’ situation and find the intelligent pass. Zidane was so difficult to play against because he could use both feet. If you practise passing with both feet, you will find things easier.
Do you have any tips on practising tiki-taka?
What you see now, a lot of us have been doing at La Masia since we were 11. From the first day we were taught to play triangles and move the ball around quickly. Playing triangles on a smaller pitch is important if you want to play with this style.
Do you ever get blown away by a spectacular piece of skill or goal during training?
Still some of the things we see Leo [Messi] do in training. He will go down as the greatest player in the history of the game. It has been a pleasure to play with him.
Are there any skills or tricks you struggle with?
I find it difficult playing with my left foot – and when I look at great players who could use both feet I see what a useful tool it can be.
Does the Barca vs Real Madrid rivalry ever come up when training with the Spain squad?
No, when we are together for Spain it is the Spanish national team that matters. Xabi [Alonso] at Real Madrid is one of my best friends. There is a great atmosphere and club rivalries don’t matter. If they did, we would talk about them face to face like men.
Xavi’s killer tip
It sounds simple, but always play with your head up. You need to know what is going on around you if you want to control the game in midfield. I was told I was not big enough to play central midfield – but it shows if you play with your brain you can do it, and you can do it well.