No single player in world football in the past one decade has made his mark on the game in the manner FC Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez has. The midfield maestro is set to bid adieu to the club, after 24 glorious years, for Qatar side Al Sadd. The likes of Paul Pogba, Koke and Ilkay Gundogan are regarded as his possible replacements.
Xavi joined Barcelona at the tender age of 11 and went on to become an integral part of the club. Since his senior team debut in 1998, Xavi has won more trophies (25) than any other Spanish player in history.
Xavi became a regular member of Barcelonaa s starting XI soon after his debut but made a name for himself, only under Pep Guardiola’ who took the reins of Barca in 2008. Guardiola revived the a tiki-takaa system at Barcelona and went on to win all the major trophies in his debut season, and in years to come.
Guardiola’s possession based system relied heavily on Xavi Hernandez, who acted as the focal point of the team along with Andres Iniesta and Sergio Buesquets. The Superior technical abilities of Xavi and Iniesta along with Buesquets’ positional sense allowed Barcelona to dominate the oppositions, while dictating the game play.
However, after the departure of Pep Gurdiola in 2012, Xavi’s impact on Barcelona started to fade; advancing age, tired legs and persistent injuries took the toll on the legend. The maestro has failed to replicate the same level of consistency in past couple of years; finding it difficult to adjust himself with the physical demands of the modern game.
Aware of his decreasing stature at Camp Nou, Xavi had made up his mind to leave the club the club last summer, however, Luis Enrique, the new coach, persuaded him to prolong his stay in the Catalan capital.
Luis Enrique has used the experience of Xavi intelligently in the past one year. The Asturian coach has used Xavi as an impact substitute and this strategy has paid rich dividend it seems, as Barcelona look capable enough to win the treble this season.
While replacing Xavi with a like for like replacement might not be easy, Barcelona management is tracking the likes of Paul Pogba, Ilkay Gundogan and Koke to resolve the potential midfield crisis. Following is a comparative analysis of the three players –
Ilkay Gundogan has made it clear that he wouldn’t extend his contract at BVB, which runs out in 2016.
Previous to the current season, Borussia Dortmund, under coach Jurgen Klopp, played some breathtaking football, ending Bayern’s dominance in the Bundesliga. Ilkay Gundogan, with his great passing vision and ability to dominate possession, was arguably the most important member of BVBa s squad earlier.
But, the midfielder is injury prone as he has spent majority of last two years on a dressing table. Ilkay Gundogan has no doubt the ability to become a heir of Xavi Hernandez but his injury record could prove to be a stumbling block.
Diego Simeonea s Atletico Madrid ended the reign of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid by winning the La Liga last year.
Youngster Koke, with his passing skills and vision, has become the lynchpin of this Atletico Madrid side. Koke is no doubt a great passer of the ball and is a world class talent, but, he feels more comfortable in an advanced a no. 10a role. On the contrary, FC Barcelona are looking for a natural central midfielder.
Even in the presence of the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba has emerged as the most important player of Serie A winners and Champions League finalists Juventus in last couple of years.
The playing style of Paul Pogba and Xavi Hernandez is totally different but nonetheless, playing from central midfield, the Frenchman proves equally effective as he has got that ability to provide key passes.
The physical strength of Paul Pogba is also an added advantage and looking at the more direct approach adopted by FC Barcelona under Luis Enrique, he looks ideal fit for the Catalans.
It is of course not easy to fill in the shoes of a maestro like Xavi Hernandez. But, looking at the current market, Paul Pogba emerges as the best possible option.