Xavi dreaming of Barcelona dynasty
Published 23:00 25/05/11 By Martin Lipton
Xavi believes his Barcelona side have the chance to establish a Champions League “dynasty” at Wembley on Saturday.
No team has successfully retained the “Cup with the Big Ears” since the competition was reformed in 1992-93, but Barca can pick up their second title in three years if they repeat their 2009 win over United in Rome.
And the Spain midfield ace, one of the key cogs in Pep Guardiola’s passing machine, is convinced Barcelona are poised to send out a message of dominance that will place them alongside the great club sides in the history of the game (see sidebar below).
“This is our third final in six years. For us, this is historic," said Xavi.
“There are 10 or 15 teams who can win the Champions League each season so for us to reach the final is fantastic. But now we intend to carry on and be like the teams people talk about - Real Madrid, Ajax, Munich and Liverpool.
“We see no reason why not. We have a great team and coach here.”
It's a team that most neutrals - even many United fans - expect will carry the day at Wembley, although Xavi is at pains to talk up Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
Indeed, suggestions that United have few, if any, players capable of even getting into the Barca side cut no ice at all with the World Cup winner.
“Many of them would,” he insisted. “Rooney. Chicharito. Evra. Ferdinand. They would be good enough to play in any team in the world.
“If you are good enough for Manchester United then you are good enough for any team.
“For me, United are the reference point - not just now but over many years. What Ferguson has achieved deserves a lot of credit.
“Ferguson, Scholes and Giggs are references for everyone in football throughout the world. They have been at the top for many years, playing at an extraordinary level, won leagues year after year and they keep reaching Champions League finals and semi-finals.
“They have a spectacular level and everyone in Europe still looks to them. The key is that they don’t just have talent but they work very hard for each other.
“It means they can play in many different ways. If they score they can sit back and defend the lead playing on the counter attack. The fact that they are so versatile again shows the great job that Ferguson has done.
“They are an example of how to defend from the front. They all work so hard. There is solidarity about them, they are working for each other and I suppose that comes from Ferguson. He is the reason they are what they are.
“Manchester United have many great players, but they are not only about individuals. They’re a great team. They move the ball quickly and the attacking players really stand out: Giggs, Rooney, Chicharito and Valencia. They make a difference.
“If I had to pick one out, then it would be Rooney. I would have said Scholes for many years, but he plays a little less now.”
Saturday’s final venue has a special significance for Xavi.
Born and brought up in Terrassa, just 20 miles away from Barcelona, he was devastated as a 12-year-old to be told by his parents that he was too young to travel to London to see the 1992 Final against Sampdoria, which Barca won with Ronald Koeman’s thunderbolt free-kick.
“My brother was allowed to go but not me," he recalled. "So you can see why it’s important for me to go this time.
“I’m very proud to be a Catalan playing for this club. I grew up here and supported Barca. For most people, Barca represent Catalonia. Catalans identify with Barca. We say here that Barca is More Than A Club and it’s true. We want to be at Wembley with our people.”
More than a club.
And in Xavi, they have more than just a player.
Events of the recent past make the “the best players of the world (plus Xavi)” headline one publication ran alongside a photo from a FIFA World Player of the Year Gala showing the midfielder with Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Kaka and Fernando Torres even more ridiculous, although the schemer simply laughs.
Xavi smiled: “I find that more people appreciate my play now. Maybe that comes from winning a World Cup and two Champions Leagues, but I actually changed the way I play.
"I started playing 10 metres more forward two or three years ago and then what people said about me changed.”
It certainly has.
And if Barca do, indeed, build their dynasty, his name will be at the forefront now.
DREAM TEAMS: THE EUROPEAN CUP'S DYNASTIES
Real Madrid (Winners 1956, 1957, 1958, 1969, 1960) Three different coaches but the likes of Miguel Munoz - boss for their fifth straight triumph - Alfredo Di Stefano, Francesco Gento and French goal ace Raymond Kopa made Europe’s first champions the most dominant force of all. Finally beaten in the 1961 semi-final by Barcelona, but Gento was still around to captain Munoz’s side to a sixth crown in 1966.
Ajax (Winners 1971, 1972, 1973) The next great super-team, with Rinus Michels' “Total Football” concept embraced by successor Stefan Kovacs. It helps, of course, when you have the genius of Johan Cruyff and the talents of Johan Neeskens, Ruud Krol, Arie Haan and Piet Keizer. Greek side Panathinaikos were their Wembley victims in 1971, Inter and Juventus were conquered over the next two years.
Bayern Munich (Winners 1974, 1975, 1976) Victory over Atletico Madrid in a 1974 replay was a precursor to what would happen in the World Cup Final a month or so later and Bayern represented the heart of Helmut Schoen’s future global champions. Sepp Maier, Uli Hoeness, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck and Uli Hoeness were vital cogs. The boss, though, was Der Kaiser himself, Franz Beckenbauer - a man who was both meticulous and inspirational.
Liverpool (Winners 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984) Maybe it should be called the “English era”, as Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa were also champions of Europe during a golden spell that brought seven English wins in eight years. But it was Bob Paisley’s side that were the flag carriers, bringing their special brand of pass-and-move and setting a standard that few will ever surpass. It was a team that evolved and improved, as Dalglish, Hansen and Souness replaced Keegan, Smith and Callaghan. The greatest English side?
AC Milan (Winners 1989, 1990, 1994) When coach Arrigo Sacchi married the Italian defensive resolve of Maldini, Baresi and Costacurta with the Dutch brio of Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten, Steaua Bucharest were humiliated in the Nou Camp and Benfica ousted the following year. Fabio Capello was in charge for the greatest night of all, though, as Cruyff’s Barcelona “Dream Team” were dismantled 4-0 in Athens by the second great San Siro side, including Desailly, Boban and Savicevic.