Former Barcelona striker Javier Saviola believes Andres Iniesta and Xavi should have won the Ballon d’Or during their careers but were unlucky to play in the “age” of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Saviola joined Barcelona as a 19-year-old in 2001 and spent six years at the club in total, though two of those seasons were spent on loan at Monaco and Sevilla, respectively.
During his time at the club he played alongside both Iniesta and Xavi, who ultimately went on to become the midfield linchpins of Barca’s domination under Pep Guardiola, as well as key figures in Spain’s rise to prominence between 2008 and 2012.
Despite their worldwide acclaim, neither Xavi nor Iniesta have ever won the Ballon d’Or, with the former coming third three times and the latter named runner-up in 2010, a fact that disappoints Saviola.
“Iniesta is spectacular in all senses,” Saviola told Omnisport. “He always has this touch of quality that has delighted the world of football.
“It would have been beautiful to see Andres win a Ballon d’Or. Also Xavi.
“The thing is that nowadays it’s about Cristiano or Messi or some other that enter the competition, but they [Iniesta and Xavi] also have deserved it. They have had great seasons. But in this age the Ballon d’Or goes to Messi or Cristiano.”
During Saviola’s spell at Camp Nou, he was also a team-mate of Guardiola and he is not remotely surprised by his success as a coach, though he believes the Manchester City boss owes more to his leadership than tactical acumen.
“He [Guardiola] was the same [as a player],” Saviola added. “He had a very strong character.
“When I was his team-mate I noticed that in future he was going to be a coach. I knew because of the way he expressed himself, because how he managed the group. He had a lot of personality and he always was a leader within the team. Yes, I saw it [his success] coming.
“I noticed that because of his leadership rather than because of his tactical skills – he was more of a leader. Probably after that he improved himself. You have to study to be a coach.
“Sure, after you stop being a player you improve in other ways in order to be a coach. But, yes, he was a leader inside the dressing room and on the pitch.
“He had a very strong personality. He always wanted the best of each player. I saw it coming that he was going to be someone important in the world of football.”
Now Guardiola is in the Premier League at City with Saviola’s Argentine compatriot Sergio Aguero, and the former striker feels the duo will ultimately be a good fit for each other.
He said: “I believe both Guardiola and Aguero need each other. Kun [Aguero] has been playing in very important clubs too.
“Hopefully Guardiola will help him to reach his best level. I trust that they will connect well to each other. They are two professionals working to do the best for City.”