How Will Barcelona Replace Creative Midfielder Xavi Hernandez?

Paul WilkesFeatured ColumnistJanuary 28, 2014

FC Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez in action against Espanyol during a Spanish La Liga soccer match at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Nov. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Less than a fortnight ago, Xavi Hernandez took part in his 700th game in Barcelona colours at Getafe's Coliseum Alfonso Perez, some 15 years after Louis Van Gaal gave him his first-team debut.

Not only has he played the most times for his club, but he has also won the most titles: 22 in total. This includes seven domestic league's and three Champions League trophies, via the official Barcelona website.

Departing club president Sandro Rosell described him as "the best player in Spanish football history," via ESPN, declaring:

I have always said that Xavi, Andres (Iniesta) and Leo (Messi), with help from (Sergio) Busquets, were the inventors of tiki-taka.

Tiki-taka is not a philosophy that Barca have had since its foundation. Tiki-taka was invented by these three, plus Busquets. Tiki-taka is Xavi’s registered trademark. The day he is not here I do not know if we will be able to continue with it.

This could be equally viewed as a dig at Joan Laporta and Pep Guardiola, but it was still a powerful recommendation from the man who resigned last week.

Xavi still averages 11 passes per game more than anyone else in La Liga with more than 90, whilst only teammate Sergio Busquets and Rayo Vallecano's Robert Trashorras are within 25 passes per match of him.

His pass completion is only marginally second to Busquets and that could be attributed to attempting more through balls in the final third, statistics via Who Scored.

"Xavi is a player who has the Barcelona DNA: someone who has the taste for good football, someone who is humble and someone who has loyalty to this club," remarked Pep Guardiola when he was coach, per Fox Sports Asia.

The midfielder turned 34 on Saturday and is still integral to Barcelona's style, with few signs of this abating.

Just three other outfield players have started more La Liga matches than Xavi this term and he has played some part in all the European games.

When Cesc Fabregas returned home in the summer of 2011, he was seen by many as the natural heir to Xavi's playmaking throne. However, it has become abundantly clear that his characteristics aren't suited to being a direct replacement.

That's the problem—no one is. Xavi is unique; while many others can pass the ball with such ease and distinction, few can be so involved in a full match. If there were other players of his ilk, they would be nearer to him in the passing rankings.

Thiago certainly resembled some of the signs, as he did with Iniesta, before the club woefully mismanaged his contract.

In recent weeks we have seen Messi drop a little deeper, acting as a quarterback with diagonal through balls to the incoming wingers. Time will tell if this is part of Gerardo Martino's evolution of the side or the Argentine just finding his feet after injury.

There are a number of young players who have been schooled at La Masia, which could in the future offer something similar as the emergence of Sergi Roberto has shown, but none are going to be Xavi.

To succeed Xavi, Barcelona require a number of players with similar attributes rather than the exact carbon copy. The set-up of the team can't be manufactured in the same manner, so why bother disappointing by pretending that this can be achieved?

The Blaugrana aren't the first club that has to shift the dynamic of their team to cater as an ageing world-class star comes to end of his career. It's certainly highlighted more because this was arguably one of the best club sides of all time.