Xavi and Thinking on the Ball

In watching the two games Spain have played so far, I think it’s worth pointing out something that I don’t think gets mentioned enough: Spain does not have the fastest, most explosive players.  They are known for passing, dribbling, and above all keeping possession.  Of these three qualities, there is a fourth quality that I would crudely call “Holding the ball at your feet, keeping it away from a defender right on your back, and looking around to make a pass.”

There are a lot of would-be creative players who simply don’t get the time and space to create when playing at the top level.  Xavi has more time to look around for teammates than other playmakers because he is so devastatingly careful with the ball at his feet.  He is dribbling, but in a circular, “holding and shielding” manner, not in a linear progression towards a particular location.  Unlike Arjen Robben or Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi isn’t going to burst by anyone. (Iniesta certainly can, which is why he plays more out on the wing)  But Xavi’s role doesn’t require him to dribble by anyone.  He just needs to buy himself time in the middle of the field while his teammates to move into dangerous positions.

To quote Carles Folguera, the director of La Masia, Barcelona’s youth academy: “We’re always looking for a type of player who’s not physical but a very good thinker, who’s ready to take decisions, who has talent, technique and agility. Physical strength is not important.”

I don’t feel like Xavi out-thinks his opponents so much as he buys himself more time to think while on the ball.




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