Former Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez, who plies his trade for Qatar club Al-Sadd, sat down with El Pais to talk about a range of footballing ideas and he shared his opinion regarding PSG’s Neymar and how Pep Guardiola's Barcelona side influenced tactical aspects of the modern game.
Xavi is working with the Aspire academy and also participating in the organization of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The midfielder brought up the idea of how football is at it’s peak physical level in terms of fitness and that it is harder to dribble in this modern age.
In Xavi’s opinion, PSG and Brazil star Neymar will be the reference point in the world of football in the coming years. “I think there will be a while after Messi and Cristiano [Ronaldo] when Neymar will be the reference point," the midfielder told El Pais.
"Especially as he is Brazilian; Brazil have every chance of making it to a World Cup final.
“We have improved so much on a physical level that nowadays it is very difficult to dribble defenses. Except Messi or Neymar, or the Luis Suarez's out there, even the likes of Cristiano [Ronaldo] or[Gareth] Bale face problems while trying to dribble opponents, because physically we[footballers] are at an insurmountable level,” the legendary midfielder opined.
Xavi also cited that use of modern technology has further equipped players with the ability to hone their physical level.
“We train with a chip in our chest, we adjust the distances, count the kilometers traveled, top speed ... It is impossible to be better prepared physically.”
Xavi said that modern football has changed due to the understanding of working with limited space and suggested that he would like to see someone like PSG's Kylian Mbappe feature against a defence like Atletico Madrid’s.
He believed that Neymar has characteristics which are similar to Lionel Messi’s. "I think that talent beats physical gifts," he continued. "Neymar is like Messi: talent and physicality. I think that Mbappe has more physical gifts than talent,” Xavi added.
"The Neymar era will last three or four years, and then Mbappe's time will come. He has mad potential. And he is still young; he's only 19. He is a monster."
He opined that the art of dribbling is also more difficult now because there is less space to work with – mainly due to the ideals that Guardiola’s Barca resurrected.
“The tactical aspect has been exploited and Guardiola focused on the details.
“I had never worked a defensive throw-in. He ordered you even for that. When the opponent got a throw-in, we would be perfectly positioned for that.
In football there are more Simeones than Guardiolas
“Guardiola had everything under control. What happened? That everyone has wanted to copy a little Guardiola style, like [Joachim] Low who looked at us and did what he did. Some have copied that, and others have gone towards the antithesis, which is Simeone.
The concept of attacking football has changed with the revolution of Guardiola’s Total Football concepts and that means technical means are being brought into sharp focus simply because physical levels are already at an all-time peak.
“There are talented players like Koke close behind, shrinking spaces, trying to unlock the superiorities. Football has exploded in the physical and tactical aspects. Now what remains to be exploited is the technical one; why things happen; how to attack. That's the talent! And it is not yet sufficiently developed. Because in soccer, there are more Simeones than Guardiolas. You see it in the Premier league. How many teams play like Guardiola’s? Three? Four? And how many teams play like Simeone’s and allow opponents to dominate the game? 70%? And it happens in La Liga too. The excuse of these coaches is that, 'I cannot compete against City or Barcelona'. But they do the same against Leganes!,” the legendary midfielder said.