The start of the 2015/2016 season will be strange for fans of Barcelona and Liverpool with Xavi Hernandez and Steven Gerrard not lining up for the teams for the first time in their careers. Both midfielders made their debuts for their clubs in 1998 and are now regarded as legends of the game having consistently performed at the highest level over a number of years and winning some of the most prestigious club honours between them. Both have been one-club men, and as a result have decided to continue their careers abroad to avoid having to play against their boyhood teams.
Whilst both are legends of the game and will be remembered with incredible fondness by their fans and the history books, the end of this season was a microcosm for their careers. Both teams were keen to give the club icons a deserved send but as Xavi and Barcelona completed a La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble, Gerrard and Liverpool missed out on FA Cup glory and Champions League qualification. Xavi’s final game was a stunning Barcelona team performance in claiming the club’s 5th European crown, whilst Gerrard’s was an abject display away to Stoke with the maestro scoring Liverpool’s only goal in a 6-1 defeat.
Xavi has gone slightly under the radar throughout the career but has been the glue in a Barcelona juggernaut for nearly 20 years. When asked to remember Xavi’s Barcelona career, one particular moment or game may not spring to mind, but the string of mesmerising display’s he was at the centre of under Pep Guardiola will always remain. Alongside Andreas Iniesta, he created one of the greatest midfield partnerships in the history of football, with the duo helping Lionel Messi on his way to extraordinary goal scoring exploits. The pair also combined to help Spain to European Championship and World Cup glory around the turn of the decade when the Spanish football model was the envy of the world.
Gerrard on the other hand has had a career full of individual standout moments. The midfielder almost singlehandedly won Liverpool the Champions League and FA Cup finals in 2005 and 2006, whilst goals against Olympiacos and Manchester United will stay with fans forever. There were also low points in a 17-year career though, such as a 40 second red card against Manchester United this season, the title-costing slip against Chelsea in 2014 and England consistently failing on the international stage.
2015 has highlighted these differences like no other. With both players now in their mid-thirties, managers Luis Enrique and Brendan Rodgers have been forced to rotate and rest their star midfielders. With Xavi used to being surrounded by world class players he seemed to understand the role and help replacement Ivan Rakitic to settle into the Barcelona side. On the other hand, Gerrard has been used to being Liverpool’s ‘go to man’ whenever the club needed him. The red card against Manchester United was attributed to the frustration at not playing and being sat on the bench, suggesting Gerrard was struggling to adapt to his reduced involvement.
With a potential FA Cup final as a perfect Gerrard send-off, Liverpool crashed out to Aston Villa in the semi-finals after a disappointing display in which an ageing Gerrard couldn’t produce his magic of old. Liverpool’s season collapsed thereafter and despite Gerrard scoring a final Anfield goal in front of the Kop as Liverpool beat QPR, his final home appearance saw Crystal Palace spoil the party before the final day hammering at Stoke. A Gerrard goal showed that Liverpool’s talisman still had the drive and determination to inspire his team, but the result proved Liverpool are still lacking in other departments, something that has been the same throughout Gerrard’s career, meaning the Premier League title eluded him despite a glittering career full of match winning moments.
Despite the different styles and trophy halls in Xavi and Gerrard’s careers, both will be remembered as football legends, particularly by their adoring fans and numerous teammates who have had the pleasure the play alongside them. The Qatari league and MLS are both much slower paced than Europe’s top leagues so despite both La Liga and the Premier League losing one of their greatest ever players, 2015 is unlikely to be the last we hear of Xavi and Gerrard. In fact, 2015 is unlikely to be the last we hear or see of Xavi and Gerrard at Barcelona and Liverpool. The idea of Gerrard returning to Liverpool on loan during the MLS close season is possible, even if slightly fanciful after the incredible send-off he received this year, but both have astute football brains and it would be a big shock if Barcelona and Liverpool didn’t bring them back as a coach or even manager in the future.