Xavi: “If football is a religion, Johan Cruyff is a god”

Xavi Hernández and Johan Cruyff during an event by the Cruyff Foundation / UEFA

On the fourteenth day of each month, Blaugranagram will share a story related to FC Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff.

Johan Cruyff died in March 2016, but he is still seen as one of the people with a lot of impact on FC Barcelona. Both his time in Catalonia as a player and as a coach completely transformed the club and the city. Although Cruyff played with the number 9 shirt at Barça, he is known in the rest of the world for his famous use of the number 14. Therefore, on the fourteenth day of each month, we will publish an article related to a story or quote about or by Johan. This month, we’ll look at the advice Cruyff gave to Barça’s newest head coach Xavi Hernández.

Recently, a video resurfaced in which Cruyff gave Xavi some coaching advice. One of the things he says is that “if there is a player who bothers you because he doesn’t do what he should, you have to get rid of him. It has got nothing to do with footballing quality of insight, absolutely nothing. It has to do with the character and mental strength you need to get to where you want to be.”

During Xavi’s press conference last week, he made sure to mention Cruyff a few times. The Spanish midfielder said: “We’re all sons of Cruyff, Van Gaal, Guardiola, Rijkaard and Luis Enrique. These are trainers who have meant a lot to the history of this club and I want to continue with those ideas.”

Another person who took in Cruyff’s influence was Pep Guardiola, by many said to be the best coach Barça ever had. Pep listened to everything Cruyff told him and tried to make his teams play a similar style of football: “Cruyff made me really fall in love with football. His influence was huge. Most of his players are coaches now, we can never pay him back for everything he did for us.”

Xavi is often compared to Guardiola. Both were appointed when they were not yet experienced coaches, but both also share the same football philosophy which includes the Barça DNA and was formed by Cruyff. Xavi said the following about comparisons to Pep: “Being compared to Guardiola is already a success for everything he has given to football and to Barça. For me, he’s the best coach in the world and any comparison makes me look bad. The results will tell if we’re doing well or not, but for me, it’s a compliment that they compare me with him.”

Xavi also revealed that Cruyff predicted that he was going to end up as a coach: “He told me they (Barça) would approach me someday and he gave me advice. If football is a religion, Cruyff is a god. Johan was right. Being a coach is the closest thing to being a footballer. I followed this route. The tactical aspect of the game triggered me. I think I’ve developed my own way of playing by now. This is something Cruyff achieved with great success in Barcelona.”

The special relationship between Johan and Xavi is also showcased by the work Xavi does for the Johan Cruyff Foundation. Xavi is one of the board members of the Spanish part of the foundation, and he also opened his own ‘Cruyff Court’ in his home town of Terrassa in 2014, which can be seen in the video below.

The video includes an interview with Xavi by Soufiane Touzani, one of the most famous freestylers in the world. Cruyff, who acts as a translator in the video, was a big Touzani fan because he promoted playing football outside to the kids and also inspired them to play creatively.

Who told you that you were going to have your own Cruyff Court?

Xavi: “It was Johan’s idea. The truth is that I have a very good relationship with him. To me, he is a reference at both a level of football and a personal level. In both of these things, I think he is a worldwide point of reference. So when he told me this, I didn’t even have to think about it. It’s not just about having my own field, it’s about helping the people of Terrassa, the people of this neighbourhood. I’m very proud to work with Johan and his foundation. Like always, it was a very good idea by Johan.”

When you were a kid playing on the street, were you one of the kids that were picked last when making teams?

Xavi: “Yes, I had problems with this because I was very small. When I went to Barça, their new philosophy helped me a lot. This is because this man, Johan Cruyff, changed the idea of football in Barcelona. Talent became more important than someone’s physique, which was ideal for me. This change of philosophy helped Barça become one of the best clubs in the world.”

You were 9 when you came to Barça. Now (in 2014) you’re one of the older players. Do you have a special role when it comes to helping the young players?

Xavi: “Yes, we try to help them with things. It’s a new situation for them, FC Barcelona is a very big club with a lot of pressure. The veterans have to try to help the players that are just getting started. We have to give them advice and guide them so that they can be successful in the first team.”

What do you want kids to say about you in 30 years?

Xavi: “Man, I would like to still be linked with football, that’s what I like the most. I would like to stay active in football.”

What do you think about Xavi as a player?

Cruyff: “When you’re watching a game, you see everything. But when he’s on the field, he has to control the ball and already know what’s happening behind him… A lot of people have wondered whether he has eyes in the back of his head. He sees everything, he knows it, he feels it. It’s beautiful to see. He receives the ball, controls it well, and in a small fraction of time he feels where his opponent is and which way he has to turn. There’s not a lot of players like him.”

And what do you think of him as a person?

Cruyff: “He’s an example to a lot of people. It’s obvious he’s got a huge quality when it comes to football, but when you look at him as a person, the way he is, the way he helps people, the way he speaks on TV, he is a good person.”

Let’s hope Xavi can use some of the things Cruyff taught him about football and about life during his time as FC Barcelona’s head coach.