And so the sun has set on the illustrious career of Xavi Hernandez. The Spanish magician has announced his retirement at the end of the season, ending over two decades of artistry on the football pitch, with Barcelona, Spain and Al Sadd.
Anyone who has witnessed the midfielder grace a playing surface will understand why he is held in such high regard. He is elegance personified, seamlessly weaving play together and manoeuvring teammates across the park.
🔝 767 appearances— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) May 2, 2019
⚽️ 85 goals
🏆 25 trophies
💪 The ultimate expression of the Barça style
He is a heroic figure at Barcelona where he spent 24 years, first honing his skills at age-level before helping transform the side into one of the most frightening, awe-inspiring, pioneering teams in the history of the game.
He left a teary-eyed Camp Nou for Qatari club Al Sadd in 2015 having called time on his international career 12 months prior, his name written into La Furia Roja folklore after delivering two European championships and a World Cup in a glorious four year period of dominance by Vicente del Bosque's recruits.
In homage to the wonder and excitement Xavi has given us, here are the best compliments he has been payed from the individuals he has played with, against and for.
"He signifies our way of playing, the culture of La Masía, everything. He is one of those emblematic players who have helped to make Barcelona even bigger."
As you read more and more of what has been said about the midfield maestro, you start to appreciate just how integral he was to the Catalan giants. Piqué's comments on Xavi (as quoted by the Guardian) tell of a man who lived and breathed Barça, earning a place in the hearts of supporters with his loyalty, passion and brilliance for the club.
Sir Alex Ferguson
"It wasn't really Messi who was the problem. It was Iniesta and Xavi. They can keep the ball all night long." (UEFA)
So said the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson following Manchester United's 3-1 Champions League final defeat to Pep Guardiola's phenomenal side in 2011. United were undone by Barça's legendary 'passing carousel' as Ferguson put it, while he claimed no side had ever given his Red Devils' a hiding quite like it.
A trend is starting to become clear; Xavi was the heartbeat of one of the greatest team's ever assembled. After all, who would argue with Fergie?
"I have run out of compliments for him. There is no-one who can compare to what he represents as a person and a player, Iniesta said of his partner in crime. "His statistics, the years, the feelings he conjures up, his way of doing things are beyond words.
"He is a unique player, unrepeatable and he has been fundamental to the club and Spain. It is a true pleasure and privilege to have played alongside him for my entire career."
What more needs to be added? Iniesta knew that his teammate was no ordinary footballer, that he changed the sport forever and that he was an absolute joy to watch.
"I hope future players learn from him in the way that I learned from his love for the game. There wasn’t a single day went by when I didn’t see him enjoy it. There would be a friendly and he would play. When he was injured, he would play, or he would do everything to be back soon."
That is what one of the finest minds in the history of football had to say on Xavi's Barcelona departure four years ago. His masterful technique is well-documented, the virtuoso displays well-known, but it was the 39-year-old's innocent delight at kicking a ball that endeared him to so many.
Whereas others may begrudgingly go about their duties, Xavi revelled in everything to do with being a footballer and everything about his darling Barça.
Puyol described Xavi as: "The motor, the style, the brain of one of the best Barcelona teams in history." (El Mundo Deportivo).
In short, he was the complete player. Insight and intelligence, composure and talent, drive and hunger; Xavi had no flaws. An accomplished playmaker and a splendid human being, it is rare to find someone who dislikes the man.
"If football was a science, Xavi would have discovered the formula. With a ball at his feet, no one else has ever communicated so intelligently with every player on the pitch." (The Guardian).
Former Real Madrid coach Valdano is a huge admirer of the Spaniard, waxing lyrical about his distinctive style of play. So fluent and fluid in his on-field manner, Xavi made those around him perform better.
"If Xavi has a bad day then Barcelona do not play half as well. He is the one that sets the rhythm of the game. His play allows the team to function. He’s different." (The Football Faithful).
What made the genius such a vital component in the team was his uncanny ability of controlling matches. Games took place at the tempo he set; there was a clear king, an individual dictating the course a contest would take.
So few can claim to have been so influential in almost every fixture they ever participated in.
Five-time Ballon d'Or winner and long-time Blaugrana amigo Lionel Messi summed up the majesty of Xavi in an interview with UEFA, simply declaring: "He is the best player in the history of Spanish football."
That is some praise from a man many consider to be the greatest of all time. It is evident in how Messi plays that he has learned a lot from Xavi, acquiring the slick playmaking skills of the Barcelona stalwart. If someone like the Argentine superstar has modelled part of their game on you, you're probably a reasonably good player.
The magnificent Nou Camp is emblazoned with the motto, 'Més que un club'. Indeed, they are more than a club and they have witnessed the glory of a man who was more than a footballer.