Pirlo and Xavi show the game can still be beautiful

Xavi’s brief consoling of Pirlo at the end of the Champions League final was a much-needed reminder, in the wake of the FIFA scandal, that the game can still be beautiful, writes Ciarán O’Connor.

Pirlo and Xavi show the game can still be beautiful

The final whistle bellowed in Berlin and scenes of celebration began as the brilliant Barcelona collected their much coveted fifth Champions League title - and in the process completed the treble.

The carnival commenced and the tattooed torsos of Brazilian pair Neymar and Dani Alves danced in tandem, while Luis Enrique was hoisted high in the air amidst scenes of sheer jubilation.

Amongst the back-patting, fist-pumping, hugging and kissing; the camera focused on Pirlo and Xavi - two of the game's greatest midfielders, who had just played their last match for their respective clubs – an iconic image was born.

Fixated on the pair for no more than 15 seconds the deeply emotive footage was both moving and appropriate. Xavi embraces an almost inconsolable Pirlo with an arm around the shoulder and few kind words of encouragement.

Through the anguish etched on the Italian's face a wry smile follows. Two class acts share a sincere moment of simplicity, but one that will come to define their legacy as legends of the game.

This public display of affection was the ultimate juxtaposition - agony and ecstasy side by side. A despondent and dejected Andrea Pirlo could not hide his pain and tears flowed from the face of a footballing demi-god.

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Society suggests that it is taboo for grown man to show such weakness and vulnerability. This, unfortunately, is the by-product of an antiquated culture synonymous with too many sports.

Not this time however, such a public display of emotion was refreshing. This was real. This was one of the finest insights into why the sport, despite the bad publicity in recent weeks, is often referred to as the “beautiful game”.

It not only showed that the man, who has attained mythological status amongst football aficionados, is, in fact, mere mortal – human - just like you and me.

But it also contests the constant contention that modern footballers are simply money hungry mercenaries, who, quite frankly, don’t care.

Take one look at the pain etched on the face of Pirlo, clearly a broken man, and it is evident that no money, or any tangible thing for that matter, could take away the hurt. This wasn’t reality TV or fiction driven drama. This was authentic. This was real.

Pirlo, from the outset, looks like your pop-culture pin-up, whisked away on wave of hipster hysteria. But he had the beard before it was cool.

A quiet and unassuming individual, the Italian is one of the last remaining midfield mavericks. At the age of 36, he doesn’t move much, but he doesn’t have to – he’s that good.

Like a fine wine (and he has his own vineyard) he has got better with age. He is the ultimate pass master, dictating from deep with an effortless elegance.

The moment also shows the measure of Xavi, a man who instead of losing himself in the euphoria of picking up a fourth Champions League winners' medal, sought to console a fellow professional due to mutual respect.

Xavi’s on-pitch influence has somewhat subsided this season with Luis Enrique preferring to partner Ivan Rakitic, Andreas Iniesta and Sergio Busquets in a three-man midfield.

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Nonetheless, the club captain was said to be central to the sudden change of fortunes at the Catalan club at the turn of the year. After a sequence of poor performances and revelations that Messi had become disillusioned with manger, Luis Enrique, Xavi called a crisis meeting.

Acting as the mediator between manager and master-performer, Xavi convinced all parties to pull together. Despite playing less, Xavi was still the glue that stuck this, treble-winning, Barcelona team together.

At the age of 35, and with 17 seasons on the clock Xavi, the 'Rolls Royce of Catalonia', is having engine issues. Like all classic cars, who despite encountering mechanical problems, never lose their style, grace and class - Xavi, when playing is still the best at what he does.

The midfield metronome has elegantly conducted the Camp Nou orchestra with magnificent minimalism over a 17-year period of dominance. 505 appearances later he leaves as Spain’s most decorated player - with 25 trophies and a phenomenal pass completion rate of 93%.

Together Xavi and Pirlo personify all that’s good about the game. No off-field antics, no media-mix-ups and no late night meandering from a nightclub. There is no irrelevant brilliance or over indulgence. Their style of play is draconian simplicity supplemented with sublime ability.

The curtains have now closed on the European careers of two of the finest midfielders to grace the game. Their final minutes on the pitch encapsulated by a beautiful moment that personifies their footballing philosophy and undeniable class.

Their inadvertent embrace, unbeknownst to them, serves as the antithesis to FIFA and their assault on the essence of sport. It was a resounding reminder that through all the talk of bribery, slavery and corruption the game can still be beautiful.

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