Xavi: Goodbye Luis
Upon Luis Aragonés’ death, one of the most (if not the most) influential Spanish players of all time, Barça’s Xavi Hernández wrote his tribute to one of the most important coaches of his career. In many ways, Luis Aragonés gave back to Xavi the joy of playing football. Aragonés was made the boss of the national team and he understood that, in order to win, he needed the best players. Here, a text Xavi wrote to say goodbye to this influential character.*
“You are not Japanese. You understand what I say, don’t you?,” he said to me one night. It seems like I’m watching him, in that hotel room, and I know I will miss him, a lot. I loved him very much. And I talked to him so much too.
I knew his health was not fine, but I never thought his illness was so severe, that he would go so soon. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” he used to say when I asked. I used to speak to him ocasionally, as he became so important to me, since the very first day I met him. I’d say he’s the coach I’ve spent more time talking about football with. He would come to my room and we would talk for hours, sometimes about the style – and he’d say, “That’s the key, Xavi, to know how we want to play,” – and always, about the need of having the best players on the field, not to fear anyone, any team, even if they were stronger or faster. “You and I know the ball is faster than them. And that we play with it better than them,” he said. I have the best memories of his talks, or a casual meetup in a hallway, or a dining room. He always gave you something. And he was always right.
Luis used to be very upfront; he’d look at us in the training sessions and say, “You’re being lazy, you’ve come here and I don’t see you… I don’t like that!!” And then he’d walk away. He never deceived people, he’d just say, plain and simple: “You won’t play because you’ve been crap this week… Are you tired or what?.. You’ve been brilliant today, you’ll be great… Do you think I’m stupid?” That’s how he was. Close, real.
The other day I remembered something from the first time he called me up. He didn’t the first time so in September, as soon as I arrived, he said to me, “So, what did you think? You thought the old bastard wouldn’t call you up, did you?” And I was all ashamed, just said, “No, mister, of course not.” And then he just told me “Yeah, right, you think you can deceive me! Go, we’ll talk later,” and that day we talked for hours.
Luis was fundamental to me, to my career, and Spain’s national team history. Nothing would have been the same without him. Everything started with him, as he was the one who brought us together, the ‘small guys,’ Iniesta, Cazorla, Cesc, Villa, Silva… We changed the ‘fury’ for good football and we showed the world that winning is possible by playing good football. If we hadn’t won that Eurocup back in 2008, we wouldn’t have won the World Cup, for which we welcomed the arrival of Del Bosque, another fantastic coach.
I remember he got a lot of criticism at the early stages, but he was the one who paved the way Spain follows up to today. It was him who saw the talent we had as a squad and the guy who played us all together. “I’m playing the good ones, as they’re so good that will make us win the Eurocup.” And we won it. He was brave and smart.
Luis helped me a lot when my self esteem was a disaster. He made me Spain’s leader when I wasn’t at Barça. “You rule here,” he said, “and I’ll take the blame.” I decided the best I could do was return the trust he gave me in the field. If I got elected the best player in that Eurocup, it was all his doing, altough he always denied that. He showed me I mattered. I wasn’t OK for Germany but he waited for me. He would come to Barcelona sometimes , as he was worried for my knee. Paredes came (Spain’s physical trainer) to supervise my work as I was recovering. Luis would always call me. “Work hard, Xavi, don’t fall asleep. I will wait for you”.
If you look for “football” in a dictionary, the word would have to have his picture right next to it. Luis is football in a person.
Goodbye mister. Thank you for everything. And so you know: You and I were never Japanese.
*Original text at El País, by Xavi Hernández