Widely regarded as one of the best playmakers the game has produced, Xavi has been the tireless dynamo at the heart of a glittering run for his club and country, effortlessly controlling play in the central areas and able to pierce even the most stubborn defences in a heartbeat.

The 35-year-old from Terrassa announced on Thursday he was leaving Barca after more than two decades with the Catalan club he joined aged 11, during which he has won 23 titles, including three Champions League crowns and eight La Liga trophies.

With Spain, he helped end a 44-year trophy drought at Euro 2008, sending Fernando Torres clear to score the winner against Germany in the final, and went on to lead La Roja to their first World Cup success in 2010 and another continental crown two years later.

Spain destroyed Italy 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final in Kiev, when Xavi created two of their goals including another for Torres, and the general consensus after the news emerged he had agreed a three-year deal with Qatari club Al Sadd was that Spain is unlikely to see a player of his quality again anytime soon.

"Xavi has been a key man in the run we have had in Spanish football," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said on Wednesday. "It's hard to find a player coming through who can replace him. He is irreplaceable."

Age, of course, was finally starting to catch up with Xavi, while the prospect of a lucrative stint in the Middle East will also have played its part in his decision.

TRUE PLEASURE

Iniesta has largely assumed Xavi's role this term, although with him having turned 31 this month Barca face a fiendishly tough task in finding an effective long-term replacement for the playmaking role.

Candidates Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara have both moved on, while Ivan Rakitic, who joined from Sevilla last year, has potential but still much to prove.

Iniesta paid tribute this week to Xavi, with whom has he has won pretty much everything there is to win in soccer.

"I have run out of words of praise, I can't find a compliment that does justice to what he represents, what he means as a person and a player," Iniesta said on Barca's website (www.fcbarcelona.es).

"He is a unique, once in a lifetime player who has been fundamental in almost everything good at his club and with the national team. "For me it has been ... a true pleasure and honour to have played my whole career by his side."

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