Having just closed the door on a year that brought him FIFA World Cup glory with Spain and a fifth Spanish championship medal with FC Barcelona, Xavi Hernández has wasted no time in clocking up another milestone just two days into 2011.
The FC Barcelona playmaker equalled the record for most appearances in the famous Blaugrana shirt when stepping out in yesterday evening's home win for the Spanish Liga leaders against Levante UD. It was the 549th outing in all competitions by Xavi, who turns 31 on 25 January, and takes him level with ex-Barça defender Migueli, who had held the record outright since his final appearance in 1989.
Xavi received a warm embrace from Migueli on the Camp Nou pitch before kick-off and after the game his team-mates gathered in the centre circle to hold aloft a banner declaring in Catalan "Xavi t'estimmem" (Xavi we love you). Barcelona's No6 responded with characteristic modesty. "I'm very happy. It's a cause of pride not for the record but to have worn the shirt," said Xavi, who began his long association with the club at the age of 11.
Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola paid tribute to Xavi when he said after the 2-1 victory: "I played 300 games here and I thought that was a lot, but what he has done is incredible." Guardiola sees no reason why Xavi cannot play many more times for the club. "If his tendons hold out, I think he could get to 700," he added of a player who had to recover from a ruptured cruciate ligament in 2005.
Ironically, it was Guardiola whom Xavi replaced as the reference point in the Barcelona midfield. Although he made a goalscoring debut at the start of the 1998/99 campaign in the Spanish Super Cup against RCD Mallorca, it was really in his second season with the senior team that Xavi got the opportunity of a significant run of games thanks to an injury to Guardiola.
By summer 2001, his future coach had left Camp Nou for Italy and Xavi was on his way to becoming the symbol of Barcelona's passing game. Or as today's Sport newspaper put it: "Xavi has evolved to become the personification of Barcelona's DNA."
The Player of the Tournament at UEFA EURO 2008, Xavi may only have to wait a week for another milestone given his inclusion on the all-Barcelona short list – alongside team-mates Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi, the 2010 recipient – for the FIFA Ballon D'Or award. The winner will be announced next Monday but the unassuming Catalan said: "It's already an honour to be on the list and the important thing is it will be staying at home. Whoever wins it, Barcelona will win it."
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