Gavi during the La Liga match between Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona at San Mames, Bilbao, March 2023.

Gavi went full Phil Jones with TWO sliding head tackles to conclude Cruyff’s maxim

You might think there is no way we could ever legitimately compare Barcelona’s midfield wonderkid Gavi with John Terry or Phil Jones, but bear with us…

It’s June 2010. England are grimly clinging onto the 1-0 victory over Slovenia that will ensure their position as sacrificial lambs to Germany in the last 16 of the World Cup.

As Slovenia mounted an attack, millions of fingernails are chewed across Britain despite England’s opponents possessing all the threat of a toddler taking on Tyson Fury in the ring.

But John Terry was in his element. After blocking one attempt on David James’ goal, a turf-prone Terry watched with horror as the ball fell to Zlatko Dedic.

You’ll know what happened next; as Dedic prepared to shoot, Terry dived in front of the Slovenia striker with the grace of a dead seal being fired out of a canon.

It was Glen Johnson who eventually deflected the ball away, but it’s hard not to think that Terry’s moment of intense peculiarity had spooked Dedic and caused his brain to short-circuit.

Almost 13 years later, in the impressive setting of San Mames, Gavi attempted something similar during Barcelona’s 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.

With the game level and Barcelona in danger of drowning in the intimidating Basque atmosphere, the young midfielder put his neck on the line for his side. And, for once, we aren’t talking metaphorically.

As Dani Garcia prowled forward, the 18-year-old slid head-first like a man going down a water slide to dispossess the Bilbao midfielder and prove that bravery and stupidity aren’t mutually exclusive concepts.

But, whereas wimps like Terry and Phil Jones only had the cojones to attempt such a tackle once, Gavi’s brain cells are scrambled to the extent he used his noggin instead of his foot in the second half too.

The fact Barcelona had a lead to protect offers a modicum of explanation. Witnessing Gavi, eyes fixed on the ball like somebody who’s genuinely gone mad while struggling to regain his balance, offers another.

Alas, he was beaten to the ball by Raul Garcia, who inadvertently kneed the Barcelona midfielder on the side of the head. Perhaps it knocked some sense into him, as Gavi didn’t try another head tackle for the remainder of the game.

While some stick-armed wags will say his failure to complete a dangerous hat trick shows the same amount of backbone as a puddle, we’re presuming Xavi was relieved one of his players didn’t feel the further need to endanger themselves for a game of football.

Carles Puyol, the Barcelona legend who thought nothing of allowing his body to become riddled with bullets for the Barca cause, was one of many who praised Gavi on Twitter after their 1-0 victory.

And such commitment explains why Barcelona’s defence has now conceded just eight goals from their 25 league games, a best-ever record that surpasses the 10 that Atletico Madrid (1990-91) and Deportivo (1993-94) had let in by this same stage.

“I was a bit surprised by how hostile San Mames was,” Xavi said afterwards. “Historically, this ground treated us very respectfully. It makes me feel a bit sad. To make judgements before the end of an investigation is not good for society, I think.

“Everyone has their right to express their opinions. I respect them, and I’m not against it. I only can say that it makes me sad that people are judging ahead of time. I have nothing else to add.”

While storm clouds are potentially gathering after Barcelona were charged with corruption over payments they made to a former referees chief, Xavi’s side are now nine points clear at the La Liga summit.

And nothing underlines their dedication like Gavi channelling his inner John Terry and sticking his head where others wouldn’t stick someone else’s foot.

‘Play football with your head, because the ball is faster than your legs’, were the words of Johan Cruyff. Gavi has taken the maxim to its logical conclusion.

By Michael Lee

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