Xavi arrived at Barcelona’s La Masia as an 11-year old. 24 years later, the midfielder would leave Camp Nou as one of the greatest midfielders of all time.
The former Spain international began his professional career with immediate success, winning the Segunda Division B with Barcelona B in his debut season. Xavi appeared 33 times, scoring twice.
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. 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.
– Andres Iniesta
His international youth career started in similar fashion, as he scored twice in Spain’s triumph at the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championships.
However, these achievements seem minuscule compared to what he would later go on to win. Throughout his spell at Camp Nou, Xavi won 25 trophies, and a further three on the international stage.
Given his success at youth level, it was only a matter of time before Xavi got his chance in the first team. That opportunity came at the start of the 1998/99 season.
Xavi was one of ten players given their Barcelona debuts by Dutch manager Louis van Gaal – a list which includes his iconic central midfield partner Andres Iniesta.
His debut came on 18 August 1998 in a Supercopa de España fixture against Mallorca and he could hardly have made a better start. 16 minutes into the game, Xavi scored his first ever professional goal, brilliantly smacking in a lay-off from future manager Luis Enrique.
Just under a month later, the Spaniard was given his first taste of Champions League football.
Just 18 years old at the time, Xavi came off the bench to replace Brazilian midfielder Giovanni in an enthralling 3-3 draw at Old Trafford against a Manchester United side that would go on to win the treble that season. Talk about a baptism of fire.
His early days at Camp Nou garnered a lot of attention, with another one of his future managers, Pep Guardiola, telling him “you’re going to retire me”.
Xavi’s game time in the 1998/99 season was almost perfectly split between the first team and Barcelona B, as he made 17 appearances at senior level and 18 for the B team.
His 98/99 season at Barcelona B was underwhelming, as they were relegated from the Segunda Division.
In contrast, his spell in the first team was incredibly successful. The Blaugrana won their second La Liga title in a row and Xavi picked up the breakthrough of the year award. This form sealed Xavi’s place in the Barcelona senior side for the 1999/00 season, as he made 24 appearances for the first team while featuring only four times for Barcelona B.
Rather unbelievably, the 98/99 league title was the last trophy that the Catalan giants would win before a five-year silverware drought.
However, as we all know, it was not long before the good times came back to Camp Nou. As Xavi matured into a world class footballer and the likes of Lionel Messi and Iniesta emerged from La Masia, Barcelona began a period of dominance that saw them win seven La Liga titles, three Copas del Rey and four Champions Leagues over the next 11 years.
During this 11-year period, Xavi also led Spain to massive success on the international stage, winning a World Cup and two European Championships. The midfielder assisted the winner for Fernando Torres in the Euro 2008 final, and registered two assists in the 2012 final against Italy.
Xavi currently manages Qatari side Al Sadd, who he turned out for in the final four years of his playing career. With such uncertainty at the helm, it seems almost inevitable that Xavi will get his fairytale return to Camp Nou as a manager. When that will happen remains to be seen.