When I did the position for position analysis before the Quater-Final first leg some people jumped on me simply because they had a different opinion. Probably the most controversial comparison was when I said Cesc was a better player than Xavi.
Now before I proceed further I would like to put it on record that I love watching Xavi and that he is an excellent player. So when I say Cesc is better than Xavi I’m not trying to be negative about the Barcelona player but just giving my honest opinion about the two outstanding individuals.
Lets consider some facts. The following are Xavi’s stats from Soccernet.
The first thing that stands out is that till the 04-05 season Xavi didn’t have a single assist in any competition. ( Update – Thanks to Fenix in the comments, we now know that the assist stats upto 04-05 are not valid. I do feel Xavi might have a few each year but I doubt if he has anything close to what Cesc has because his stats in 05-06-07-08 aren’t extraordinary either and they seem valid) I don’t have the assist stats prior to this period but even if he had an odd one somewhere it doesn’t change the fact that he was an ordinary player. I mean Denilson and Diaby have better stats this year than what Xavi had in those years. Little wonder that Barcelona struggled to win anything in that period.
Even otherwise the only year when he has stand out performances are in the 08-09 season. So you can say that Xavi matured and became a big player at the age of 28-29. Before that he wasn’t exactly special.
The other way of looking at this is that Barcelona became a better team in this decade after signing big names like Ronaldinho and Eto’o. They are the ones who won them the titles while Xavi was just another supporting player. Similarly last year Xavi was behind Eto’o and Messi.
According to soccernet, Messi had 42 goals and 18 assists in the 08-09 season. Eto’o had 39 goals and 6 assists.
It makes you wonder whether Xavi is really among the greatest in the world or he is coming into his own because he is playing behind some real superstars. This is certainly consistent with his ordinary performances for large parts of his career.
As I said before I don’t deny Xavi is a brilliant player and his experience makes him even more valuable in the system that Barcelona and Spain play. Still, he isn’t in the category of truly special players in the world, not on the basis of those stats.
In comparison lets look at Fabregas,
Lets not forget Fabregas is 22 right now. So these stats are from age 17 to 22. At that age Xavi was nondescript at best. In the tables above Cesc and Xavi have the same number of goals (52) and Cesc (88) has far more assists than Xavi (59). And this is 6 years of a young Cesc vs 9 years of a maturing Xavi!
Some people will say that Xavi right now is a better player than Cesc. It’s an opinion I can only laugh at. Cesc was as good as Xavi three years ago and has now moved on towards the extra special category, something Xavi will never achieve.
Don’t forget Cesc hasn’t really played behind two world class attackers ever. You just have to wonder how great his stats would have been if he had been playing behind players like Messi and Eto’o.
Some people don’t understand the dynamics of football. When you have a guy like Messi in your team you can be confident the opposition cannot push forward in numbers. It allows you to push 6-8 men in the opposition half to press them and win the ball back.
If the opposition does push forward Messi will clean out three or four defenders if he is given the length of the half to run into. This single fact allows Barcelona to play the way they play. Ibrahimovic adds to this strength and the same was the case when Ronaldinho and Eto’o were playing at their best.
Even when Messi doesn’t do anything on the pitch he completely controls the tactics that the opposition can deploy. This allows his team mates to look far better than they actually are.
I know some people point out one or two matches without Messi but that’s just dumb. You have years of stats telling you something and while they may not be perfect, over the years they do paint a picture.
In that sense you can understand the impact of Van Persie’s injury to Arsenal’s chances this year. He was a guy with 7 goals and 7 assists in 11 league games. Someone who could have been a huge figure in front. I’d love to see what this Barcelona squad can do if Messi is out for half a season or more.
Another argument is about the national team. Xavi has played for Spain for years without doing anything special. Their national team is now doing well because they have guys like Torres and Villa at their peak and some great support from players like Iniesta and Silva. Fabregas plays a different role and system at Arsenal and hence Xavi with his experience starts ahead of him. Moreover, Fabregas has had some serious injuries in the last two seasons. In time Fabregas will be a far bigger player for Spain than Xavi has ever been.
To me, the bottom line is that Fabregas is in a different league and Xavi, while very good in his own way, is not even half the player Cesc is.