Xavi Hernández was left to reflect on a "wonderful" feeling after inspiring FC Barcelona to victory in the UEFA Champions League final with yet another midfield masterclass.
Year to remember
The 29-year-old crowned a memorable 12 months in Rome by setting up Barça's second goal for Lionel Messi in the 2-0 win against Manchester United FC and was selected as the man of the match by the UEFA Technical Study Group, yet another personal accolade for the midfielder who was also named the player of the tournament at UEFA EURO 2008™. "I'm very happy, especially for the team and for my personal prize – we're very content," he said. "This is historic, for Barcelona and the squad."
Xavi, one of seven homegrown players in the Catalan side's starting lineup produced by the famed academy at La Masia, encapsulates the club's philosophy and has no doubts the Blaugrana's family spirit had been a crucial factor. "I feel very comfortable; I've said for a long time that it is wonderful with these team-mates around me. We worked hard and pressured United by attacking so they wouldn't feel comfortable. Apart for the first ten minutes, we dominated most of the game."
That has been the story of Barça's season, with 42 of their 61 matches ending in victory and the Spanish Liga and Copa del Rey titles already secured – although Xavi has no doubts which trophy means the most, saying simply: "This one, it's clear. It's the club's third European Cup and without doubt this is the best title." Asked where his side might rank among the great teams of the past, he added: "I don't know, I'll leave that for other people to say. I can only say it's a privilege to be considered in that debate. I don't know if we are the best team, but this treble is historic so we have to enjoy it."
"Xavi was outstanding, he epitomised the outstanding Barcelona midfield performance; the passing of the ball, the movement," Technical Study Group member Roy Hodgson told uefa.com. "There were a lot of other candidates, but Xavi was the midfield motor, ran the match and dictated the tempo. United started really well but the first goal is so important at this level. When Barcelona got that their confidence rose, Manchester United had to take more risks getting forward and that played into Barcelona's hands, especially as skilful as they are. Their defending was also very good; they quickly got back into shape and when the back four was called upon they did very well."
'Suck you in'
Hodgson reserved most praise for Barça's fluidity, explaining: "Most important of all is the tempo of their passing and their ability to change that. If you pressurise them they're very good at playing it first time and they've always got lots of players around the ball willing to receive it. But if you don't get around them they hold the ball and suck you in and the moment you come forward they pass it. They work very hard and it looks simple, but the front players and the midfielders do an awful lot of running to create space. There's so much movement from wide positions coming infield with the full-backs getting forward, and it's not easy to find an antidote to that."
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