BY: Scott McGlynn
All eyes are focused on Berlin as the Champions League reaches its conclusion for another season on Saturday evening. Barcelona will go head to head with Juventus as the two European giants battle it out for glory which will see one of them completing a domestic league, domestic cup and Champions League treble.
For two players, Saturday’s game will also bring down the curtain on their careers at the highest level of European football. Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez and Juve’s Andrea Pirlo have both announced that they will be playing their final games for their clubs, deciding to see out the twilight of their careers elsewhere.
Joining the Catalan club when he was just 11, Xavi progressed through the Barca academy and the Barcelona B team before making his first team appearance in 1998. Becoming a regular from the following season, Xavi developed into one of the finest midfield players of his generation and has made over 500 first team appearances. A fantastic and technically gifted player, Xavi is the player that Barcelona looked to to dictate their tempo of play and alongside Andrés Iniesta, he formed possibly the most talented central midfield pairing ever seen in both European and world football. Winning an incredible 24 trophies so far in his time at the Nou Camp, including three Champions Leagues and eight La Liga titles, Xavi is the most successful player in Spanish football history. Internationally, he made 133appearances for Spain, being an integral part of the team that won the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 European Championship’s. Announcing his intention to move to Qatari team Al Sadd next season, Xavi closes the chapter on a truly remarkable European football career.
Having made over 280 appearances for AC Milan and over 115 for his current team Juventus, Andrea Pirlo has won two Champions Leagues and six Serie A titles. Known as ‘the architect’, Pirlo is blessed with two fantastic feet and an astute footballing mind. Deadly with the ball from free kicks, he is the joint top scorer in Serie A from free kicks with 26 in his distinguished career. Making 113 appearances for Italy and scoring 13 goals, Pirlo helped his country to 2006 World Cup glory in Germany. Having announced he is leaving Juventus after Saturday’s final, reports suggest he has chosen to make the move to across the Atlantic to MLS team New York City.
The measure of both players can be seen with the praise and goodwill received from their fellow professionals from both teammates and opponents since the announcement of their impending departures.
There will be no time for nostalgia on Saturday as both players aim to help their team to victory in the biggest game of the season. Barcelona are the 1.36 (4/11) favourites to lift the trophy with Juventus available at 3.6 (13/5) with both Xavi and Pirlo available at 29 (28/1) to score the first goal of the game.