The Prince of Barcelona: Finding Xavi's Replacement

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The Prince of Barcelona: Finding Xavi's Replacement
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The Maestro

Over the years FC Barcelona’s in-house production line La Masia has produced some outstanding footballers, most notably the Blaugrana legend and current manager Pep Guardiola.

Lionel Messi, the Argentinean phenomenon and fellow La Masia graduate, is arguably the best player in the world, but not as fundamental to the success of FC Barcelona as one might believe.

Any side that can count on the services of La Pulga is a lot more dangerous than without him. But even the mercurial talents of Messi can be replaced; not like-for-like but they can be compensated with others.

An example of this is the transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo (perhaps the only player that is equipped to go toe-to-toe with Messi) from Manchester United to Real Madrid. Though Wayne Rooney is not as flashy as the Portuguese he did get the job done and scored a truckload of goals in wake of CR7’s absence.

A player whose contribution to FC Barcelona has not been properly recognized by the media, due to the presence of global superstars as Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o or aforementioned Lionel Messi, until very recently is Xavi.

Xavi’s game is very understated yet fundamental for the way FC Barcelona or Spain play. When he plays at his best he makes others shine.

It’s no coincidence that Messi performs superhuman feats in a FC Barcelona jersey and not performing to the same standards in an Albiceleste shirt (the other one being incapable managers).

 

He is quite literally the orchestrator of the game. It is Xavi that makes the Blaugrana and La Furia Roja tick like a well-oiled machine. Xavi almost never loses possession and always provides a venue for his teammates to play a pass to. For a team which bases its play on the domination of possession it’s essential.

It’s what separates Spain from England. For all their superior athleticism and box-to-box qualities, English midfielders have a hard time keeping the ball. Their approach is very direct, straightforward, very English.

 

The Contenders (for either FC Barcelona, Spain or both)

Cesc Fabregas

 

The Arsenal captain and fellow La Masia alumni (though not a graduate) may or may not have Barca DNA in his system, but he is a fine midfielder nonetheless. Though he might have been introduced to the Barca-way of playing he is an almost radical different midfielder than Xavi.

While Xavi operates from deep within midfield Cesc is more in the mold of an English midfielder like Frank Lampard but with a better vision and wider passing range. Fabregas is more direct in his approach than his fellow Catalan.

 

At the Argentina vs. Spain friendly, Fabregas was given a rare start and the opportunity to make a case for himself in his quest for place in Spain’s starting eleven. But Cesc failed miserably because Spain play a different ball game than Arsenal.

It’s quite stunning that a marvelous player like Cesc can look out of depth, but he did. At Arsenal, a side renowned for their possession, he is accustomed to keep the ball just long enough to mount the next attack and play the final ball.

Guardiola would have to alter his system or deploy Iniesta in a wide position to accommodate Cesc.

 

Jonathan Dos Santos

Unlike his arguably more talented brother Giovanni, he decided it is in his best interest to stay with the Blaugrana and learn under the tutelage of Luis Enrique and Guardiola. He is characterized by his impressive range of passing and his vision.

During the pre-season, and in the absence of Xavi, Guardiola employed him in centre –midfield and JDS generally did well. Given time and opportunities he should develop nicely as he is the most similar La Masia kid to Xavi.

 

 

Thiago Alcantara

 

The crown jewel of the La Masia academy and greatest prospect of FC Barcelona. The son of former Brazil international Mazinho can only be described as a mixture of Xavi and Iniesta.

Like every midfielder nurtured and educated in La Masia he is a superb passer of the ball and moves into spaces well. He’s positioning is also exemplary as he is found all over the pitch like the Terrassa-born maestro.

If there’s something that Xavi’s game lacks, it’s flair and this youngster has lots of it. As gracefully on the ball as Iniesta, but with a swagger like Ronaldinho.

Time will tell who will inherit the duties from Xavi but as it stands the Barca youngsters are better equipped to take the responsibility one day. This is not suggesting that they are better than Cesc, they certainly are not. But for better or worse Cesc stay in England has significantly reshaped his game.

If FC Barcelona and Spain are to hold on to their current style of play, Cesc is not a ready-made replacement yet. He is definitely not Xavi’s like-for-like replacement anyway.

At this point there’s a slight advantage for JDS (if we are looking for a like-for like replacement) since Thiago can always be found in close proximity to the box.

In any case the future of FC Barcelona looks bright and this season could be the breakthrough season of either JDS or Thiago or even both.

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