BARCELONA, (Reuters) – Spain midfielder Xavi, one of the most decorated footballers of all time who defined the nation’s spectacularly successful ‘tiki-taka’ possession-based playing style, has retired from internationals at the age of 34.
The Barcelona player represented his country 133 times, a record for an outfield player and only bettered by goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas, and was a key figure in Spain’s glittering run when they won the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships.
Xavi had a disappointing 2013-14 season, when Barca failed to win major silverware for the first time in six years and holders Spain were knocked out of the World Cup in the group stage, and reports suggested he was poised to end his career in the Middle East or the United States.
However, he has decided to play on at club level under new coach and former team mate Luis Enrique but has called time on his international career before Spain begin their qualifying campaign for Euro 2016.
“I’m grateful for all those years,” Xavi told a news conference after a Barca training session. “It has been a fantastic time. I’m not 20 any more, but I still have the motivation of a kid.
“I was disappointed on two levels at the end of last season as I did not feel useful to Barca or to the national team.
“I would like to single out Luis Enrique, who has made me see that I can still be important.”
Xavi, who has won three Champions League crowns, seven La Liga titles and a host of other trophies with Barca, made his debut for Spain in a friendly against the Netherlands in November 2000.
He played in four World Cups and three European Championships and won 100 of his 133 matches for the Iberian nation, controlling play from a central position, regularly providing assists and also scoring the occasional goal.
His last appearance for Spain was a bitter 5-1 reverse to the Netherlands in their opening Group B match in Brazil in June.
He was dropped by coach Vicente del Bosque for their next game against Chile, which they also lost and were eliminated, and replaced by Atletico Madrid’s Koke, whom he has singled out as his natural successor.
“I would like to express my appreciation for a fantastic player,” Del Bosque said on Spain’s official website (www.sefutbol.com) after Xavi’s announcement.
“We are losing a unique player from the national team and it will be hard to find his equal,” he added.
“He has been a key figure in the team’s playing style which has brought us so much success. We will miss him both on and off the pitch.”