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May 26, 2011

Xavi: United success has led the way

Barcelona midfielder Xavi believes Manchester United's achievements over the past two decades should be a "reference point" for other clubs to try to emulate.

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Xavi, 31, has helped create a lasting legacy at Barca, winning six La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues, one Copa del Rey and a FIFA World Club Championship during his 13-year career at Camp Nou.

But the World Cup-winning midfielder feels that Manchester United's sustained period of success under Sir Alex Ferguson is the real yardstick for the Catalans to aim for.

"For me Manchester is the reference point - not just now but over many years," Xavi was quoted as saying in The Times. "What Ferguson has achieved deserves a lot of credit. Ferguson, [Paul] Scholes and [Ryan] Giggs are references for everyone in football throughout the world.

"They have been at the top for many years, playing at an extraordinary level. They have won leagues year after year and they keep reaching Champions League finals and semi-finals. They have a spectacular level and everyone in Europe still looks to them."

While Xavi recognises United have some quality individuals in their ranks, the Barca star believes United's chief threat comes from their ability to pull together as an effective team unit.

"The key is that they don't just have talent, but they work very hard for each other," he said. "They can play in many different ways. If they score, they can sit back and defend the lead playing on the counterattack. The fact that they are so versatile again shows the great job that Ferguson has done.

"They are an example of how to defend from the front. They all work so hard. There is solidarity about them, they are working for each other and I suppose that comes from Ferguson. He is the reason they are what they are."

Barcelona will likely be relying on Lionel Messi, who scored in the 2009 final against United, to lead their line at Wembley but Xavi believes the Spanish champions will have to be wary of the Red Devils' own talisman, Wayne Rooney.

"They move the ball quickly and the attacking players really stand out: Giggs, Rooney, Chicharito and [Antonio] Valencia," Xavi said. "If I had to pick one out, then it would be Rooney. I would have said Scholes for many years, but he plays a little less now."

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