Andres Iniesta will succeed Xavi as Barcelona captain – with Lionel Messi acting as his understudy – pending coach Luis Enrique’s approval.
Xavi joined La Masia, Barça’s youth academy, as an 11-year-old and spent 24 years at the club before recently leaving for Al Sadd in Qatar. The Barcelona players voted in secret to appoint his replacement as skipper, with Iniesta – now their longest-serving player – emerging victorious.
A Barcelona statement read: “The FC Barcelona first team have chosen their four captains for the coming season, with Andres Iniesta, Leo Messi, Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano, picked by their team-mates to lead the side. With the departure of Xavi, Iniesta takes over as first captain, with Messi and Sergio repeating as second and third vice-captains, and Javier Mascherano coming in as the fourth captain. The coaching staff now have to give their approval to the results.”
Shortly after Iniesta, 31, arrived at La Masia as a preteen, Barça’s then-midfield general Pep Guardiola famously told Xavi: "You're going to retire me. This kid [Iniesta] is going to retire us all.”
Iniesta made his first-team debut in 2002 and has since helped Barcelona win La Liga seven times, four UEFA Champions League titles and two FIFA Club World Cups. In 2010 – the year in which he scored the only goal in the FIFA World Cup™ Final – he finished runner-up to Messi at the FIFA Ballon d'Or, before coming third two years later.
Only last week the attacking midfielder, capped 104 times by his country, said: “Becoming Barcelona captain is very special, especially for those who have spent so long at the club. It is a very special responsibility to represent not only the team but much more: the kit, the club image.
“In the same way that all people are different, I don't think there is an exact model of a captain. Everyone is different and communicate things in their own way."