Xavi Hernandez on Sunday penned an open letter to his former team-mate at Barcelona Andres Iniesta whose final game in the Catalans colours is the La Liga showdown at Camp Nou against Real Sociedad.
Xavi who spent 17 years at the senior level with Barcelona won 31 trophies, only surpassed by Andrés Iniesta as the most successful Spanish player in history.
The 38-year-old in a lengthy note on Sunday wrote: "I still remember the first time I saw Andres play. I was in the youth team and he was in the underage group and somebody in the club told me 'Xavi, there's a boy down there who's going to be the best, there is him and another, Troiteiro, who is like Mario Rosas and Andres is a lot like you.'
"When I saw him play, I said to myself, 'What's going on, this guy doesn't look like me as much as they say, he's different'. This player had more creativity, he was a better dribbler and could go to the wide areas and cross the ball.
"That was very different to my style because I played as a four, much more positional like Pep in his time or Busquets now. He could play as a four, eight, six or even a 10, and as a young player
he looked like an absolute master because of the way he positioned his body before receiving the ball. He used both feet to play, something that seems normal now but was revolutionary at that time, he could control the ball with his right leg whilst his next move was executed with his left.
"What surprised me about him the most was that he could manipulate the ball with his body, without even needing to touch it.You
watched him play and it was a show. It seemed as though he could listen to your thoughts and it was so natural that he didn't even think about it. Andres always played with his head up, he never lost possession.
"That was a concept we had been working on with Joan Vila for years, but it was natural for him. I often used to think 'f**k, he's four years younger than us, but he's got an innate talent.'
Andres is, for me, the most talented player in the history of Spanish football that I've seen. He's spectacularly talented. If we talk about him as a person then it's ridiculous, he's admirable in every single way. He's exemplary, empathetic, a team player, a winner and a leader on the pitch, he always wants the ball. Do people realise just what that means? Where many players don't want the ball because it's a difficult situation, Andres always asked for it.
"Andres loved the ball and when others thought 'no, no please don't give it to me.' Andres would come and say 'Come on, give it to me, give it to me now, please.'That's a blessing for his teammates, that's what having personality is, that's being a true leader. A silent leader, perhaps, but an authentic one nevertheless. I have been a passer of the ball all my life, but I needed players like Andres, Leo and Busi. You have been the best partners that I've ever had. They always gave you an option, no matter how bleak the picture was. I don't know how, but Andres always showed up at just the right moment.
"We didn't need to talk on the pitch, he didn't tell me where he was with words, I just knew. We understood each other after playing together for a more than a decade, it wasn't necessary to communicate. His body language was the best form of communication, sometimes during matches, we would watch and wonder just how he did things, he could be in an impossible corner but would always escape. It was impossible! It seems as though nothing was impossible for him when he was playing football, he would weave, pass and accelerate with a near perfect balance. He was as happy in midfield as he was on the wing, he is a teacher, a true teacher. Furthermore, people had this idea that Andres wasn't strong. They thought he was too little, frail and flimsy. This was incorrect, when he used his body, defenders couldn't take the ball. He was strong, really strong, just look at the number of matches he played in his career. In the end, his mentality is key, he's been so strong in the bad times, even those which people don't know about.
"He had a hard time living away from his family, and now if you were to ask him, he'd say such a sacrifice was worthwhile. Who knew it would end like this? Nobody could guarantee it, that's what made it so hard and it was such a long road for him, the normal outcome would have been to fail, but his mentality was so strong that it carried him to this position today. Andres is a person who has their own angel, don't ask me how or why, but he just has it. He's like Iker Casillas. The rest of us just don't have it, but they do because at the right moment they are able to make the winning goal or the crucial save. We have lived with Andres during our time with Barcelona and the Spanish national team.
"We remember Stamford Bridge and Johannesburg, just look what happened at the World Cup, and if you have the time then you should go and re-watch that match, and not just the goal. You will realise what Andres really did.
"People may ask why it was Andres who scored the goal, it couldn't have been anyone else, it could only be someone with an angel. That's Andres. I also remember those who said we couldn't play together. This is Barcelona, a club full of debates, but I felt bad for him because I always said that I need people who understand me.
"I understand my own style when alongside players with technical quality rather than physical presence. Of course, strong players are important but look at Andres, Leo and Busi. I hated those debates in which people said Barca needed muscle, what are you talking about? The most important muscle to play football is the brain, as Johan Cruyff said. We're both very quiet and that's why I'm in tune with Andres, we both like to be silent and impose ourselves on the pitch.
"If the club sign three new players then perfect, I'm going to show those mother f**kers that I will compete with them even if they cost 250 million pesetas, I'm going to prove that I can be a Barcelona player. This is the exact mentality that Andres had when he was young, that Busquets had when he was battling for Yaya Toure's place. Anyone who doesn't think like this won't make it. There are two options: fight and claw-like we all did or fall into disillusion thinking you'll never get a chance.I
remember, for example, what happened to him just before the World Cup in South Africa; we were training in the sports city when all of sudden we heard Carles Puyol shout 'Noooooooo' and I didn't realise what had happened but when I turned I saw him leaving the pitch in tears. He'd only just recovered from an injury and now another had arrived. There were doubts that he'd even make the World Cup, but he ended up doing so because of that aforementioned strong mentality. I'll never forget the discussion in the Monaco dressing room after the UEFA Super Cup that we won with Pedro's goal. 'Andres, we need you, here you're very important, very very important, it can't be that you go on like this. Barcelona can't afford you not to be playing. We really need you, you're different, when you're not with us it costs us so much.
"Believe it, Andres, please believe it because we're telling the truth, we need you'. We saw that Andres was in a real moment of turmoil, in those months a lot of negatives happened at once. But he, along with the help of his family, turned everything around due to his incredible mental strength. Sometimes, I get this feeling that Andres Iniesta can't be properly explained as a player using mere words, he does everything in such a way that it appears easy and tricks anybody into thinking they can do it. That's a lie, nobody can do it like he does. On the pitch, he's transformed, that's where his real personality appears, it's his natural habitat. If he isn't touching the ball then he's unhappy, I can't remember a single big match where he hasn't excelled. I've never even seen him raise his voice, never. When he complained he did it with respect, in arguments he never screamed or shouted but simply put the team ahead of his own wishes.
"This isn't easy because every player has an ego.I
can recall the Champions League of 2006 when I was injured, he took full responsibility
playing as a defensive midfielder, in both Lisbon and Milan. What incredible performances he gave there. We reached the final and then Rijkaard didn't put him in the starting line-up. When I found out I spoke to Puyol, 'How is Andres not playing? Why isn't he playing Andres? He isn't playing, he isn't playing.' Carles simply looked at me and said 'I don't know, I don't know.' The truth is, nobody knew and nobody could understand the decision. He had gone from making key contributions in Lisbon and Milan to not playing, but when he appeared in the second half everything changed.
"He put things in order for us, together with Larsson and Eto'o he made the difference. Surely on the inside
he was livid, but his first thought was about how he could help the team. That anger helped him to be even more useful, any other player may have thrown in the towel and sulked, but he didn't, he simply didn't say a word and then demonstrated on the pitch just why the coach had made a mistake. That is Andres. Now that I'm basically out of elite football, I realise just what it means to play at the top level, I appreciate what it is to represent Barcelona. When he leaves, he will understand what I'm saying.
"He's won everything and played incredibly whilst doing so, he's respected by everyone and admired the world over. He departs in the manner in which he deserves, nobody has a negative word to say about him. Soon he will realise just what he's achieved in his career and what he has represented, he's proven everybody wrong, but that's Andres." said Xavi as published by MARCA