He was the most famous Dutch player who never played a senior pro game in his life. Xavi Simons. Son of Reginald Simons (a once upon a time striker for Fortuna Sittard, FC Den Haag and Kyoto Purple Sanga) and named after the current Barca coach. (Xavi, for the slower ones amongst us…).
Xavi is born in Amsterdam, where his dad had a brief career as Ajax youth coach, but the family moved to Spain to give Xavi his chance at one of the biggest clubs on the planet. Barcelona of course.
The midfielder with the vision of his name sake and the looks of a blond Gullit-like demi-god made his way into the hearts and minds of football fans the world over and his reputation became bigger than his actual football exploits.
Last season, at PSG, he had 10 benchwarming matches before he made his debut as a 17 year old. He got 1 minute vs Strasbourg, replacing Ander Herrera. The only thing the less switched on ones saw was that his hair style resembled one Carlos Valderrama. This month, he finally made his true debut in the first team of Paris St Germain.
His coach sent him onto the pitch with the aim to change something, force something. This time, it wasn’t symbolic. Not a sub turn to give him a signal. They were trailing vs Peter Bosz’ Lyonnais and there were only 20 minutes left. Something needed to happen.
And these were minutes he earned, based on his performances in the French Cup games, his games in the U19 team and his training efforts with the first team.
Simons didn’t hide in the Lyon game. He wan’t on the pitch for a minute or he passed the ball to Mbappe with a crafty backheel flick. He also saw a tremendous through ball option for the French forward but his pass was just not weighty enough. He played with energy and intent and demonstrate a silky touch in confined spaces. He even won a header one time, and he’s not the tallest of players. After the match, coach Pocchetino complimented him on his game.
So yes, he does exist and yes he can play. We have seen many clips of him on Youtube and social media and it felt like this 10-year old blond kid could walk on water. When he turned 16, he decided to go to PSG. He didn’t see a plan for him at Barca anymore and gambled on PSG.
Initially his coach at Paris St Germain said to the media that he was training well, had a good personality and could have a great career at the highest level. This is a friendly way of saying: “I am not going to use him too much…”. And we all need to keep on realising that Xavi Simons indeed is still a year younger than Gravenberch (to name another example), or Ihattaren. And… his contract in Paris ends after this season. With Neymar, Mbappe, Messi and Di Maria at his club, Xavi might have to be patient, should he stay in Paris. It is now time for him to make the right choice. He needs to start playing now. He needs to be at a club where his new coach will treat him like Pep treated Foden, or Ten Hag treated Timber.
Now, it is not the Instragram clips that will determine how good he is, but the minutes he’ll play in a first team somewhere.
Barcelona has already winked at him again. In the youth academy in Spain, he made an impression by seeing the forward pass way earlier than his peers. He is not only named after the current Barca coach, he also plays on his position. As the controlling mid, he was the engine that made all the youth teams click. A lot of the tiki-taka attackes on the internet started with him. His technical skills and his blonde locks made him a popular topic amongst football followers.
Even before he turned 16, he was used as the figure head in a Barca campaign aimed at mending the relationship between La Masia and the first team. It really hurt the club and the socios when his exit was announced in 2019.
Some people think Simons went for the money. But in truth, PSV presented him with a better plan. The perspective for Barca youngsters wasn’t great under chairman Baromeu and there were some many different cliques and groups that resulted in a culture were youth coaches feared for their jobs if they didn’t get results. Under coaches Valverde and Setien, the door to the first team was firmly locked.
At PSG, Simons did get that opportunity. Even better, the Paris Academy deserves credit. The European top leagues are filled with talents who were developed at PSG. They invested in Simons, but not just financially. He was able to play in the Youth League with the U19 when he was only 16 years old. And while the club could use his talent and skills, Xavi himself worked on his physical strength and endurance. With Pocchettino in charge, Simons got a serious chance to show himself, and he made his first team debut at 17 years old.
But at PSG, things changed too. In a spectacular transfer window, PSG signed several top names, like Messie and Ramos and Dutch midfielder Wijnaldum, to name a few. Pochettino sees Simons as an attacking, creative midfielder, but Paris St Germain already has Di Maria, Messi, Neyamr, Wijnaldum, Draxler and Alcantara for this position. And the former Spurs coach has difficulty finding his right team which resulted in some youngster, like Simons, going back to the U19 squad.
For Xavi, this is a step back. He will have to focus on the top matches in the Youth League, but that is also where he was two years ago. The position switch from holding mid to the false striker/10 role worked well for him. He scored two goals and four assists in his last three Youth League games. U19 coach Zamara: “I can’t complain about him. When he is with us, he gives it all. His mentality is wonderful. If this goes on, he won’t be with us for much longer. Dutch U19 coach Bert Konterman also tried Xavi in the strikers role, a position he seems to fill easily, with his skills in the small spaces.
PSG wants to extend his deal but Simons and his management – dad Reggie and uber agent Mino Raiola – keep the courting at bay. There is no guarantee that things will change in Paris for the youngster.
The Spanish media say that Barca is rekindling the relationship. Raiola was in Barcelona recently for a long talk with Barca President Laporta and Simons’ name was mentioned. The new Barca boss was keen to see if he could deliver a nice PR blow to the French rivals. Ever since Neymar left for Paris, the two clubs are less than friendly. Xavi Hernandez is aware of the talks. The new coach has given it his blessing, as he remembers the youngster well from his playing days.
Under Koeman, the doors to La Masia were kicked open with a vengeance. And as per usual, this was due to lack of other options (we have seen this before) but it has worked well: talents like Araujo, Oscar Mingueza, Gavi and Nico Gonzalez have made the leap to the first team, like Pedri and Ansu Fati have done before them.
When Xavi took the coaching job, he immediately had seven Barca B players join in at practice.
Xavi Hernandez is keen to keep this going. He has had his loyal assistant Alegre check the youth teams out in September and October and he asked for detailed reports on the young talents. With Langlet and Umtiti on the way out, there will be more youngsters making their way to the first team, for sure, such as Marmol, Akhomach and Ezzalzouli.
Barca will bounce back and become one of the most attractive clubs of Europe, for young players. A good place for Xavi Simons to develop himself further. The Dutchman has grown physically in France and became more versatile. He will have some competition from Gavi, Pedri and Nico who can all play on that playmaker / false striker spot. It will be interesting to see where this young talent will end up and how he will measure up. Who knows, his nine year old dream to play in Barca 1 might actually come true…