Xavi Hernández at El País’ Eurocopa supplement
“A day in the life of Xavi, his family, his friends, his passions.” That’s how this article, published in El País supplement on the Eurocopa, is described in the table of contents.
The life of Xavi can be summed up in the 20 kilometers that separate Terrassa from the Camp Nou. He says, “my oxygen is my family, my friends and football. With that, I have more than enough, and without that, I would be lost.” When asked if he will accept this proposal to find out what lies hidden behind the star that this player, who had marked a style, wears on his chest, he responds, “okay, but I warn you, my life is quite boring. After football, there’s only family and friends.”
We meet up on a Wednesday. Xavi pulls up to the Ciudad Deportiva in a black Audi sports car at 09:30h. There’s only a few days to go before the Copa del Rey final, and so he needs to be careful. He jokes on the way to breakfast, “I’m already at a certain age, nano!” It’s sunny and the training session doesn’t end until 13:45h. After that, he signs a shirt for a girl who invites him to go mushroom picking. He laughs, “you see that? Women only want me to go mushroom picking!”
“¡Va máquina, vamos!” He starts the car and advises, “I don’t know what is waiting for us, but my life is very simple, very normal, there’s nothing strange about it. Yes, I am a footballer, of course, but look, I’m really boring. I don’t know what people believe, but you’ll see what there is.”
The meeting point is in Matadepera, a residential town next to Terrassa, in the family home. On the way there, he speaks about mushrooms, one of his passions: “the rovello is the Maradona of mushrooms. On the day that I was nominated for the Ballon d’Or, I was picking mushrooms with my father and el Cholo.” He also reveals, “I was born on Galileu Street in Terrassa, but a few years later, we moved to Matadepera.” He has a few tickets for the final of the Copa to distribute, he has to meet up with his agent Iván Corretja and he wants to give a kiss to his sister Ariadna, who will be there with their parents. He says, “I haven’t seen her in several days.”
In the afternoon, he plans to take a siesta and later on, perhaps go to the movies. “With el Cholo,” he says. El Cholo is his friend and his roommate of the past several months. “The crisis, nano, the crisis…” says Xavi. In that moment, el Cholo, who works in Gest Music as a producer, calls him on the phone. Xavi’s friends are ones he’s had his entire life, from his childhood, his school. They’re like a family to him.
As a child, Xavi would come home from school at noon with just one thought: “I hope mamá made macaroni!” He would set down his books, and mamá, who had made vegetables, would give him some money and send him to the Plaza del Progrés to buy freshly baked bread. The story would usually end with the Hernández family having lunch without bread because when Xavi got to the plaza, he would run into Justri, Rubén and all his neighborhood friends, who were playing football. “Many times my mother would have to come down and say, ‘Xavi’, it’s 14:10h! You need to eat!’ And I knew that she would then ask me about the bread. ‘And the bread?’ ‘The bread? There wasn’t any left.'” In the Progrés plaza, the fountain is still there, but the candy store is no longer there, and various trees that Xavi used as a wall – “it’s because I always needed someone to pass me the ball” – have been cut down. The town hall has also banned children from playing football in the plaza. Xavi passes through here once in a while, just to remember where he came from: “I don’t want to ignore my origins.”
The history of the Hernández-Creus family began the Tibidabo bar, whose storeroom served as a changing room for the football field of Sant Josep, a local team. Joaquim met Maria Mercè in this bar. The parents of the blond Maria Mercè, who was from Navarcles, were in charge of the bar. Joaquim, the son of immigrants from Almería who had come to Terrassa in the 1950s, used to go to that bar. In time, they would marry. In that bar, Joaquim saw his first ever game on television, and he also played futbolín with his friends. Practically every Saturday night, Mercè’s grandfather would have to kick him out of the bar. He remembers, “with one peseta, we could play the entire afternoon, because we rigged the system so that the balls would keep coming out.” Back then, Mercè didn’t pay him much attention, since they were too young. Joaquim played in the first division with Sabadell in the 1965-66 season, making a living as a midfielder. When he was 25, he married Maria Mercè, who was working as an administrator. He says with a look of love in his eyes, “she was the most beautiful and smartest girl there. And she still is.”
It’s said that Xavi is very much like his mother, who spent two months in bed before giving birth to him in the Mutua de Terrassa (he weighed 3.5 kilograms at birth). She says, “I’m very intuitive, like Xavi. It’s because he’s a Pisces.” Xavi says, “yes, it’s true, I’m very much like my mother,” although he has the thick eyebrows of his father. He adds, “we think about a million things at once, we’re impulsive, intuitive… my father is more calculating, more tranquil, more organized. I’m more hyper, impulsive.” His mother interjects, “he’s as good of a person as his father.” Xavi never used a pacifier, he started walking when he was nine months old and at 10 months, he was already kicking a ball. His mother says, “Óscar is like Xavi, Álex is more of a terror.”
Óscar is married, the father of two children. He’s waiting for Xavi in the family home. He lives in Santa Agnès de Malanyana and works in Mataró, where he has a company that organizes sporting events, including the Campus Xavi. Álex, the other brother, lives between Madrid and Miami, where the midfielder will hold two campuses this summer for boys and girls. He says everyone will go. And that means everyone, including Ariadna, his younger sister. Mercè says, “she’s not spoiled even though she’s the only girl and the youngest, because they treated her like a boy, and so she played football with them.” Xavi says of Ariadna, “she’s a crack. I like her because she’s strong and she’s a go-getter.” She has established a speech therapy consultation in Matadepera and she’s finishing her psychology degree. She has a Pug named Whoopy. Ariadna says, “my brother is very normal. He has his peculiarities, he’s very stubborn, he does his own thing… but he’s affectionate and very detailed, he thinks a lot about others. He took care of me when I was small, the older ones weren’t as nice to me.” Xavi says “she can take care of herself” before clarifying, “we have the same group of friends, or colla as we say in Catalan, we get along very well.” Ariadna admits that she suffers when she watches her brother play: “he does well when he loses and when he wins.” She hates it when he’s insulted on the field. The entire family starts laughing: “it’s because you get confused!” “I’m going back to work,” she says. She gives a kiss to the dog and leaves, but not before saying, “my brother is good.”
Xavi shared a bunk bed with his sister until he was 13. He says, “then my grandfather died and my grandmother came to live with us. I was good with my sister, but I went to sleep with my grandmother, so that Ariadna could live her life.” The family says, “it didn’t surprise us. He was worried about the privacy of his sister, and didn’t want his grandmother to feel alone… he proposed it and we said yes, of course.” Xavi finds it easy to think about others: “I was a very happy child. We played football and cars a lot. We made caravans in the hallways. Now my nephew Guillem does that.” Xavi remembers the advice that his grandmother gave to him: “you have to be a good person, love others, your family, your teammates…” as well as the time he upset her. He says, “I did an interview and I said, ‘I believe more in what I can see than in God.’ My grandmother wanted to kill me. She said, ‘is that what I taught you?’ The poor thing. She cooked very well.”
We walk through the salon and Xavi says, “this is the football couch. Here, we must have watched thousands of games.” Óscar says his brother knows all the football players in the world, starting with the Catalan third division. He says, “we were watching Hospitalet and Xavi said, ‘this guy played in Sant Andreu last year, not on the wing, but behind the forward.’ He knows all of them. He loves football.” Just like the entire family. They get together on Sundays, or Saturdays, if that’s when Xavi plays. He remembers, “and Christmas, the 25th, New Year’s Eve and the morning of the Three Kings’ Day, those are sacred. I love the Three Kings’ Day. We received many presents and now with the nephews and nieces, it’s more special.” His preferred gift to receive is shoes: “I have 200,000 pairs! I bought a house to store them in! I don’t throw a single pair away, I have a sickness! I like shoes and clothes a lot.”
The doorbell rings. Justri and Rubén appear. There’s a futbolín table in the garden and Xavi explains that he’s going to buy one for the house he has in Sant Antoni de Calonge, where he goes to sail his boat. The Billares Córdoba company left him one so he could try it out. Iván Corretja and his father Xavier show up, and Iván sees the futbolín table and makes a beeline for it: “none of you can beat me!” The challenge is on. He’s the president of the peña Xavi, although the midfielder never wanted one. “He’s just like my father,” Xavi laughs, “he always puts me in a tight spot.”
The game gets tense. Xavi explains, “I always play with Justri. He plays in the front. He’s left-handed, so he controls the middle and just like in Terrassa, he doesn’t stop the ball…” Xavi says he was a good student until he was placed next to Justri, who now works in a store in Sant Cugat. The game stops, and Alberto Justribó speaks: “he was the best one in the class and I was repeating a grade. They put us together to see if I would improve. I continued failing and Xavi’s grades got worse.” Rubén, who now works in the property registry of the town, went to the same school.
Justri, Marta, Álex, Rubén, Cholo, Benji, Juárez, Albert and Xavi’s three siblings form part of the buffer around the player. They’ve known him even before he started playing for Barcelona. He says, “we’re in contact the entire day via private chat. And when I go out, I go out with them. Sometimes Messi comes along, sometimes Busi, who is from the same area…” When they go out, they go to El Velero or El Reina Victoria (both have futbolín tables, of course). Xavi says, “they know us there, so we can be tranquil.” Justri says, “he likes to feel secure. He likes to go to places where he knows what he’s going to encounter.” He then looks at his watch and returns to work. Xavi explains that there are three Madrid fans in the group: Juárez, Benji and Germán.
Iván asks for some time with Xavi to get his response to various sponsorship offers. He says, “he doesn’t have that much of a presence, and has not done that many campaigns because he doesn’t want to.” Xavi has been the image of Playstation and La Caixa, he has collaborated with UNICEF and he’s done campaigns for Ato and Garmin. And investments? Iván, who also negotiates the contract because he’s a lawyer, says he doesn’t pay attention to that. Xavi says, “I saw that I could depend on him and I asked him to take charge of those things.” His father handles the investments. The footballer never goes to his company, Galileu 136. He has an office, but it’s empty. There’s not even a computer. His thing is the ball.
“Justri, something happened, but you can’t tell anyone,” Xavi told his friend on the first day of the 1991-92 school year. Justri was frightened until Xavi explained, “I signed for Barcelona.” For Justri, who was 12 at that time, that was wonderful news and he didn’t see the problem in telling everyone. Xavi responded, “it’s that if everyone knows, they’ll look at me differently and I want to continue having the same friends.” Now, he says, “I’ve never liked to show off. I’m not better than anyone else because I play for Barça and for the national team.” He looks at his father, laughs and says, “you know what happened the day I signed with Barça? I played the best game I ever played in my life. I scored three goals, including a penalty! It was incredible. I remember being really scared when I was trying out. I scored three goals. I don’t know what happened to me, but there was a penalty and I asked for the ball. I took it! I don’t know why it occurred to me to do that, but I scored it. I don’t think I took another one until the quarterfinals of the World Cup in Korea. I took the third one, right before Joaquín. My legs were shaking. I was scared shitless! But I scored it.” He continues, “the best part of it all is that I thought I was trying out, but they had already signed me. My father tricked me, he didn’t tell me that beforehand.”
His father knew that Xavi had talent ever since one afternoon in the football school of Terrassa. He says, “they were small, and of course, all of them went forward to score the goal and back to defend. You know, six-year-old kids. Everyone except Xavi, who always ended up alone in front of his goalkeeper.” When the game ended, on the way home, Joaquim asked his son why he did that. Little Xavi responded, “Papá, if no one’s there and we lose the ball, the goalkeeper will be alone!” His father says, “he’s had a football field in his head ever since he began to walk.” Xavi didn’t live in La Masía because his mother didn’t want him to. She only allowed him to take a taxi to go train each day. The taxi would pick him up at school and return him to his house in time to have dinner. Xavi says, “I really like football.” The best part about it? “The ball and my teammates. Without them on the field, I couldn’t play. And without them in the locker room, it wouldn’t make sense.”
He remains in contact with the many footballers that he’s shared a locker room with from the lower categories of Barcelona and who are now scattered all around. And on the national team, his relationship with Casillas is special: “Iker is my friend. I don’t care that he plays in Madrid. He’s my friend, period.” That’s why, he says, the latest arguments between Barça and Madrid have hurt him. “But we spoke and we put things back in order.”
Xavi made it to the national team via a championship of territorial teams in Tenerife. He says, “Teodoro Nieto saw me and three months later, he called me. My teams are Barça and the national team. I like to play with Spain. I’ve always been treated well. After 100 games, there are still people who doubt my commitment, but I’m past that.” And he explains at as a kid, he followed the World Cups, he always wanted Spain to win and that he’s not the one to credit for La Roja’s exquisite style: “no, maqui, the credit goes to everyone. A player doesn’t make a team. I’m not Messi!” No, he’s not Messi, he’s Xavi Hernández, the brain of the world and European champions.
The house in Matadepera is at last silent. On the way back to Barcelona, he calls his sister. Then he waits for el Cholo to go to the movies. But he falls asleep and cancels the date: “I’m not going out. I’m going to watch Athletic play.” When he’s saying goodbye, he says, “I think I’ll buy the futbolín.” It’s amazing how easily this small footballer moves around on the field, his genius with the ball. He also likes to head into forests to look for mushrooms and navigate the high seas. That’s the way this footballer, on whom a great part of Spain’s hopes in this Eurocopa are pinned, is.