Given that the ‘Greatest of All-Time’ debate is older than the hills, this recent round of nominations has been surprisingly good fun. However, one name which immediately popped into my head has been conspicuous by his absence: Xavi Hernández.
The arguments for seem ludicrously obvious, but I’ll put them forward anyway: he is the most important player in the greatest club side ever assembled; the most important player in the greatest international team ever assembled; all-time leading appearance maker for one of the world’s most important clubs; World Cup winner; two-time European Championship Winner; three-time Champions League winner. A player who, I’d wager, has the highest win ratio of any ever to compete at the top level.
It is easy to forget – indeed, judging from some of the nominations, people have forgotten – that the standard of football currently played at the highest level is almost exponentially higher than it was in years and decades past. Some contributors have put forward arguments that the standard of equipment makes the achievements of Pelé, Beckenbauer and co all the more laudable.
Those people are entitled to their views, but in this age of Herculean fitness and thorough statistical analysis, the demands on a player’s contribution to his team have never been so high. George Best, for example, could never have survived. Yet Xavi’s individual statistics (number of passes; passes completed; distance covered; assists/key passes) show with 100% reliability that he is a class above, even in this current Barça side.
To an extent, he has dominated top level football for five years – and given that those five years have seen the standard of play go through the roof, that is no mean feat. The greatest ever? Xavi. Every time.