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Why Xavi was 2010's best player

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In addition to playing some of the most attractive soccer in the world, Barcelona and Spain have a few other things in common.

Both have been incredibly successful recently, with Barcelona winning two Champions League titles and three league trophies in five years, while Spain captured both the 2010 World Cup and 2008 European Championship.

The rosters of both teams are loaded with incredibly gifted players, but maybe most importantly, both have Xavi Hernandez running things in midfield.

Xavi has scored five goals in the past 15 months for Barcelona, while he failed to score in seven World Cup matches for Spain.

Yet his value to either team cannot be measured in numbers alone, because as the heartbeat of two of the world's best attacks, Xavi has no peer.

Most central midfielders possess great physical size and strength and are great at disrupting things, or they have tremendous footwork and speed which gives them the ability to dribble past multiple defenders to be effective.

At just 5-foot-7, Xavi is blessed with neither size nor speed, yet he has been arguably the world's best midfielder for the past five years.

Xavi Hernandez simply shows up and does his job game in and game out with little fanfare.
Lionel Messi gets much more attention for Barcelona with his eye-catching runs and sublime skill, while strikers David Villa and Fernando Torres usually garner the accolades on the international stage for Spain.

For all of their brilliance, those players still must rely on Xavi to pull the strings and work the ball seamlessly from the back to the front players, a job which gets largely overlooked.

On Monday, the three finalists for the FIFA Ballon d'Or award were announced, with Xavi, Messi and Andres Iniesta earning consideration.

The award merges the two biggest player awards - the FIFA World Player of the Year, voted for by players and coaches, and the Ballon d'Or, which was handed out by journalists via France Football magazine - for the first time this year.

And while Messi scored 34 goals for Barcelona during the 2009-10 season, and an additional 22 in just 18 games so far this season, his inability to lead Argentina past the quarterfinals of this past summer's World Cup will count heavily against him.

Iniesta scored the goal that gave Spain its first World Cup title in their 1-0 win over the Netherlands in the final. He also partnered Xavi in midfield for both Barcelona and Spain, making it tough to choose between the two.

But while Iniesta gets the edge in versatility, the steady play of Xavi throughout the entire year in the middle of the field allowed both Barca and Spain to dominate that area.

Xavi's intelligence and vision set him apart from Iniesta, and he is easily one of the top passers in the world.

He always seems to be in the right place at the right time, and the fact that he has been able to blend his game perfectly to fit the systems of both Barca and Spain can't be discounted.

Since the FIFA Player of the Year award was introduced in 1991, the team that won the World Cup also had the Player of the Year winner on its roster.

It happened in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006, and on Jan. 10 it should happen again.

Xavi simply shows up and does his job game in and game out with little fanfare.

In 2010, he did that better than any other player in the world.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com.

Follow Tim Keeble on Twitter and Facebook.

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