Xavi Hernandez before the La Liga match between Barcelona and Cadiz at Camp Nou, Barcelona, February 2023.

10 Xavi quotes to explain his football philosophy: ‘Combine, pass, play’

Barcelona legend Xavi looks set to lead his hometown club to the La Liga title during his first full season in charge. 

Born and raised in Catalunya, the La Masia academy graduate went on to win everything there is to win multiple times over with Barcelona as a player. He was also a defining figure in midfield as Spain won two European Championships and a World Cup.

Staunchly ideological, Xavi has always preached the gospel of how Barcelona play and never been afraid to criticise opponents that he perceives don’t play the right way. Here are 10 quotes from the man himself explaining how he sees football.

Barca DNA

“We understand the game as a positional game, we can’t change our system,” Xavi said at his unveiling as Barcelona boss.

“We want to press high, we want to recover the ball in our opponent’s half, we want to be an intense team, we want to create chances. I am not discovering anything, that’s Barca’s DNA. An intense team, trying to give our all on the field and we are Barca and we have to try to win every single game.”

Combine, pass, play

“It’s good that the reference point for world football right now is Barcelona, that it’s Spain,” Xavi told The Guardian in 2011, while Spain were world champions and Barcelona were about two win a second Champions League title in three years.

“Not because it’s ours but because of what it is. Because it’s an attacking football, it’s not speculative, we don’t wait. You pressure, you want possession, you want to attack. Some teams can’t or don’t pass the ball. What are you playing for? What’s the point? That’s not football. Combine, pass, play. That’s football – for me, at least.

“For coaches, like, I don’t know, [Javier] Clemente or [Fabio] Capello, there’s another type of football. But it’s good that Barcelona’s style is now a model, not that.”

A romantic

“I’m a romantic. I like the fact that talent, technical ability, is valued above physical condition now. I’m glad that’s the priority; if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be the same spectacle,” Xavi explained in the same interview.

“Football is played to win but our satisfaction is double. Other teams win and they’re happy, but it’s not the same. The identity is lacking. The result is an impostor in football.

“You can do things really, really well – last year we were better than Inter Milan – but did not win. There’s something greater than the result, more lasting. A legacy. Inter won the Champions League but no one talks about them.”

The master of the game

“I pass and I move, I help you, I look for you, I stop, I raise my head, I look and, above all, I open up the pitch.

“The one who has the ball, is the master of the game. That’s the school of Joan Vila, of Albert Benaiges, of Johan Cryuff, of Pep Guardiola.”

A devout Cruyffist

“For me, Johan has been the most influential person in the history of modern football,” he said. “He’s (Cruyff) been the key person behind all of the successes at Barça over the last 20-25 years – and the national team.

“He came to Barcelona as a coach and changed the philosophy of our play: he instilled a system which is even taught today. Barca and the national team have grown out of Cruyff’s philosophy.”

Play in the opponent’s half

“It’s clear to me that my team has to have the ball,” Xavi told The Coach’s Voice. “I suffer when I don’t have it.

“It happened to me when I was a footballer and now even more now that I’m on the bench. That’s why I do everything I can to control the game through the ball, through possession.

“What interests me as a coach? To play as much as possible in the opponents’ half. If they press us high, the most important thing is to break the midfield line, go into the opposition’s half, and attack.

I’d be the same player today

“I don’t think I would change anything at all if I still played today. The 2020 Xavi would be on the same line than during my last years. Eager to play dominant football, associate with the other players, having vision,” he told France Football in 2020.

“I would do the exact same work. The game has changed, but not enough that the player I was no longer exists. I’d say I would be the same footballer who delivers similar performances.”

Learning from Guardiola

“My concept is very similar,” the 40-year-old, who is at the helm of Qatari outfit Al Sadd, told ManCity.com.

“Guardiola also wants to be dominant, he wants to have the ball, strong possession, lots of attacking movements… It’s ultimately about being proactive within the game.

“It’s about skilfully attacking the opponent in a certain way. In this sense it is not my idea.

“I’ve learned a lot with Guardiola, from the way he is, the ambition he has, the desire and passion that he feels.

“He’s a football-obsessed tactician and it has been a pleasure to be around him.”

An admirer of Klopp’s Liverpool

“The energy he [Klopp] gives off from the dugout and injects in the team is amazing. It’s admirable.”

Big clubs should play a certain way

“Real Madrid played like a small team in the Clasico at Camp Nou,” Xavi scathingly said, of Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid, back in 2016.

“A big team like Barcelona should not be playing like Atletico Madrid. Big teams like Barcelona and Madrid should always stick to their own style. You cannot start playing like Atletico.

“Atletico coach Diego Simeone perfectly sets his team up to counter their opponent’s strengths, but I don’t like to see teams who shut up shop at the back.”

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