In 1998, Xavi made his debut for Barcelona. 17 years, 739 appearances, 84 goal, 163 assists, and a truckload of trophies later, the Spanish legend left the field at Camp Nou to rapturous applause, congratulations from teammates and opponents, and tears in his eyes.
Xavi, who as much as any player personified the team-first ethos of tiki-taka that led Barcelona and the Spanish national team to concurrent runs of dominance, will move on to Qatari club Al-Sadd at the end of this season, meaning Saturday marked his last La Liga appearance in a game vs. Deportivo La Coruna. Barcelona fans used the occasion to unveil a giant banner toasting Xavi's lengthy run with the club:
Upon Xavi's substitution, he received a rousing ovation, congratulations from players of both teams, and had tears in his eyes as he crossed the white lines and sat on the bench:
After the game, as Barcelona captain, Xavi lifted the La Liga trophy, which Barcelona secured in last week's victory over Atlético Madrid:
Subsequently, he delivered an emotional speech to the crowd, and the tears were still in his eyes.
It's incredible to think, given the celebrations, that Xavi actually has two more games to go in a Barcelona shirt -- one more at Camp Nou (The Copa del Rey final vs. Athletic Bilbao), and the Champions League final vs. Juventus. Still, it was a rousing tribute to the metronome-like central midfielder, whose consistent passing and superb vision served as the backbone of some of the best teams the soccer world has seen in recent times.