In the last decade, we have arguably seen Xavi Hernandez make that position his own. But, just what is ‘that’ position? There is no doubt that it became one of the most important roles in the Barcelona line-up under Xavi’s occupation, though it got us thinking, who else was there before him?
While Barcelona were one of the first clubs to adapt to a 4-3-3 from a 4-4-2 most teams always tended to have a player who could pass the ball well and dictate the tempo of a game. Especially Spanish sides.
Xavi became accustomed to what is the No.8 role in a 4-3-3 just slightly in front of Sergio Busquets and slightly behind Andres Iniesta; essentially making him the heartbeat of the team.
His ability to control the team was attributed to by his razor sharp awareness, vision and above all quality passing ability and it is these traits and characteristics which helped five other Spanish stars before Xavi have a big influence for their clubs. Let’s have a look.
Fondly remembered by Valencia fans, the midfield magician helped the club to two La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey, a UEFA Cup and UEFA Supercup during his tenure there. While known mainly for being able to keep possession and play defence-splitting passes, he also weighed in with 41 goals in 262 appearances for the club.
Image Source: alchetron.com
Juan Carlos Valeron
A player who most fans will remember from his time at Deportivo La Coruna, Valeron played a little bit further forward, though his influence in the iconic blue and white helped to make the club one of the most feared in Europe. Image Source: skysports.com
Helped to form, probably the best midfield partnership at the time, with Baraja at Valencia, he often dictated from deep, rarely venturing forward and provided a nice balance to the side. For Spain, Albelda, Baraja and Valeron were a formidable midfield trio, in a similar vein to Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. Image Source:
Highly creative on the ball, the former Valencia, Barcelona and Middlesbrough man made things look so easy and his distribution helped him become one of the best in the world in his position at the peak of his powers. Also a goal threat, he hit the back of the net 44 times in 230 appearances for Valencia. Image Source: goal.com
The man who many say can take responsibility for Xavi's incredible rise to the top, Guardiola was renowned for his passing game as a player, which is easy to understand considering the way he likes his teams to play as a manager. Mobile on the ball, he rarely gave away possession and is quite possibly the one out of the five whose game mirrored Xavi's the best. Image Source: barcablog.com
No doubt an impressive quintet and deciding which one is the best of the lot is an enviable task. Each had their own unique style, though perhaps just for his inventiveness and sheer audacity, Valeron was probably the most pleasing on the eye.
Soon, Xavi’s fellow Barcelona and Spain midfielder schemers; Iniesta and Busquets will step aside which has left many wondering who will be able to step into their shoes as easily, especially considering the formidable five already mentioned. A dilemma many will follow with interest.