"El arquitecto" or the architect. That's what Xavi Hernandez has been for Spain over the past many years. He was confined to the bench against Chile in a game that saw the defending champions bow out of the tournament in the first round.
Xavi with Spain's coach Vicente Del Bosque. Pic/AFP
Xavi's absence from the starting XI also signalled the end of an era, as the maestro had never been left out of a side managed by Vicente Del Bosque. Like Del Bosque in his capacity as coach, Xavi has won every major trophy in his illustrious career as a player — for both Spain and Barcelona.
And with Spain's elimination, the future of 'tiki taka' and its chief architect too hangs in the balance. When Netherlands legend Johan Cruyff saw Xavi (all of 14 then) at La Masia, the Barcelona academy, he sought captain Josep Guardiola out and told him: "Look at the boy. He is going to surpass you one day!"
So, when Guardiola was asked to take over the reins of Barcelona as the chief coach, he recalled the incident and told Xavi about his responsibilities at the club. Xavi responded in the best way possible, playing the lead role as the Catalans went about demolishing one team after another in the La Liga and the Champions League.
Xavi is part of a team that took Spanish football to its zenith, and it's not a coincidence that their decline has coincided with the fading away of the 33-year-old's skills. Earlier this year, even Barcelona couldn't win a major trophy, largely because Xavi could not whip up performances that had mesmerised the world in the past.
After the 1-5 rout to the Netherlands, Del Bosque had to rethink his strategy and chose to keep Xavi on the bench. It's a different matter that it made no difference in the result against Chile.
According to Marca, the leading Spanish sports daily, Xavi has already signed a pre-contract with Al Arabi, a club in Qatar. The paper quoted Al Arabi's coach Dan Ptrescu confirming the development.
And with Spain on their way home, it remains to be seen whether Del Bosque will allow his favourite disciple to team up with his illustrious partner Andres Iniesta against Australia on June 23.