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As the busy, quick-footed conductor at the heart of FC Barcelona's midfield, Xavi Hernández embodies the club's philosophy of tiki-taka football. As a perceptive, eloquent spokesman and ambassador, he sums up that approach to the game pretty neatly too.
"It's about doing something extra, not just winning," the 33-year-old said. "It's about playing well and then if you manage to win, even better. Barça always try to direct the game, they don't wait for the opposition but go out and attack, so people identify with the club. Barça fans would never understand if the team were not controlling or dominating a match. That's the way it has to be."
The Barcelona 'way' found its truest expression under Josep Guardiola, the midfield maestro turned coach who, in four years in charge from 2008 to 2012, won 14 trophies including two UEFA Champions Leagues in three seasons. He was the midfield orchestrator when the Catalans lifted their first European Cup in 1992, passing responsibility to his young team-mate when he left. A generation later, the diminutive No6 is still pulling the strings.
Xavier Hernández Creus joined the Blaugrana in 1991 aged 11. He has since played 700-plus games, more than any other Barça player, and collected 20 trophies, also more than anyone else – with both counts almost certain to rise. He has come to embody this footballing institution, learning as a youth under Johan Cruyff and his successors what it means to play for Barcelona.
"Football is played to win, but our satisfaction has to be double," Xavi said in 2011. "Other teams win and are happy, but it's not the same. The identity is lacking. In football the result is an impostor. You can do things really, really well but not win. There's something greater than the result, more lasting – a legacy."
That said, they needed a result in their round of 16 second leg against AC Milan. Questions had been asked of the Spanish Liga leaders after the 2-0 loss in Italy, but the return provided an emphatic answer. "We didn't perform well as a team in Milan, but the 2-0 defeat was not fair," said Xavi. "At home we knew we had everything on our side – the fans, the pitch as we like it, the ball moving nicely, so we managed to turn it around.
"That was a significant moment. We had just lost the Copa del Rey semi-final against Real Madrid, a real setback. But the team recovered well and started to play more intensely again – maybe even managing one of our best performances in attack, with a lot of pressure, which is something we had been lacking."
Now only FC Bayern München stand between Barcelona and another Wembley date on 25 May. "Wembley brings us a lot of joy," said Xavi. "We have been in two finals there and won both. Having the final at Wembley makes us dream of getting there again. It will be difficult, but we want to be there with all the good feelings we've had in London and at Wembley in particular.
"In 1992 we won with [Ronald] Koeman's goal. Two seasons ago against Manchester United we were the dominant side and did what we train for every day: took the lead and kept the ball. It was the same against United in the 2009 final in Rome, and in several games against Madrid – we've had four or five excellent years. This generation is still capable of doing great things."
This is an edited version of an interview in the new edition of Champions Matchday, out today. The official magazine of the UEFA Chammpions League is available in digital versions on Apple Newsstand or Zinio, as well as in print, and you can follow Champions Matchday on Twitter @ChampionsMag.
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