All good things must eventually come to an end. Such is the case with Xavi, who at 33 years of age will not be able to carry on his role with Spain for much longer.
The Barcelona midfielder has been a vital piece of the Spanish national team for many years now and has played an important role in La Roja’s international success.
Known for his creativity and dazzling abilities with the ball, Xavi is widely regarded as one of the best in the world at his position. He reads the game like no other and seems to have an eye for passing lanes that no one else can see.
Xavi is nearing the end of his international as well as his club career. His age has taken his pace away, and his body can no longer endure as much as it used to.
He may still be the incredible player the world has come to love, but the Catalan will soon have to take a back seat and understand his limitations.
When Xavi does hang up his boots, it will be a time of wonderful reflection. However, at the same time Spain will be looking for the player who can proudly take the torch from the fabled midfielder.
That player is former teammate Thiago Alcantara.
Thiago is, in a way, cut from the same cloth as Xavi. As the son of former Celta de Vigo star Mazinho, he had a lot to live up to. The midfielder joined Barcelona’s La Masia in 2005 when he was 14 and took the academy by storm.
From a very young age, the talent of Thiago was unquestioned.
The midfielder displayed incredible abilities with the ball and possessed the maturity of a seasoned player. Many were already considering him the heir to Xavi at Barcelona before he even made his debut.
Thiago had a difficult decision to make when he was still a teenager. Though he is fully Brazilian, he was born in Italy but was also free to play for Spain’s international youth levels due to his time in the country.
With three countries to choose from, Thiago went with his heart and chose Spain.
He made his international youth debut with Spain’s U-16 side in 2007 and never looked back. Thiago featured at nearly every youth level but dazzled the most for Spain’s U-21 side.
The Brazilian debuted for Barcelona at the age of 18, and fans immediately took notice. Thiago kept possession well, made wonderful passes and seemed as though he had been playing with the first team for his entire life.
Watching Thiago, any fan can see the maturity with which he plays. He also plays with such calmness and ease that it will remind fans of Xavi, making him the perfect replacement.
Thiago received the same youth training at La Masia that Xavi did. The same ideals and skills were instilled in him, but that is only the beginning of his similarities with his former teammate.
Last season, Xavi was able to complete 95 percent of his passes in La Liga while creating 37 chances resulting in eight assists. During that same time, Thiago completed 92 percent of his passes, creating 17 chances with four assists.
Though Thiago was not as efficient as Xavi, it is important to note that he played fewer matches.
In truth, statistics cannot accurately show the similarities between Xavi and Thiago.
Both midfielders keep possession like no one else while also managing to create chances that seem impossible. They are adept at pulling strings in the middle of the pitch and tying everything together. Xavi and Thiago control everything that happens when they are on the field. Hardly a single attack takes place without them initiating the move, as they possess the brains of a coach when on the pitch.
Thiago's play casts constant shadows of Xavi. He may not be at the level of the 33-year-old now, but he is very much the same player.
When the time comes for Spain to replace Xavi, the choice will be easy. Thiago will offer La Roja exactly what Xavi did, and the transition will be much easier than it would be with any other player.
Thiago has already proven his abilities internationally, having debuted with Spain in 2011 and being named the tournament MVP in Spain’s U-21 championship run this summer. His leadership qualities were also on displayed as he captained the team throughout the tournament.
The amazing thing, though, is that Thiago may actually offer Spain even more than Xavi does today.
Unlike the Barcelona midfielder, Thiago also possesses an uncanny eye for goal. Creating chances will always be his ultimate task, but the 22-year-old is not afraid to take his chances at goal when able.
Not only is Thiago a capable scorer; he is practically deadly in front of goal. The Bayern Munich midfielder would offer a more direct style of midfield play for Spain and yet another scoring option.
The world seemed to turn upside down when Thiago elected to leave Barcelona this past summer to join former manager Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich. When the deal was eventually reported by UEFA.com, Barcelona fans were in shock.
But despite his new adventure in Germany, Thiago is without question the future of Spain’s midfield.
He formed an unbelievable pairing with Real Madrid’s Isco for Spain’s U-21 side that very much resembled Spain’s own duo of Xavi and Iniesta. In a way, Isco is Iniesta’s heir as well, but that is a discussion for another time.
When the time eventually does come to replace Xavi it will not be easy, but Thiago is ready.
In all honesty, there will never be another Xavi, just as there will never be another Andrea Pirlo or Zinedine Zidane. Each player is individual and unique, but every king has an heir.
That heir could be nearly identical or someone completely different. For Spain, Xavi’s heir is nearly a carbon copy.
The 22-year-old is going to continue to learn a lot at Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola. His game will develop further, and he will get even better. When the time comes for Xavi to walk away from La Roja, Thiago will be there to take his place.
Most countries do not have the luxury of having young stars ready to take the place of established legends. Spain’s golden generation is still in full swing, and it is something spectacular to behold.
Is Thiago the natural heir of Xavi? How successful will the Bayern Munich midfielder be for La Roja? Leave your thoughts and comments below!