Xavi Simons and the demons of modern football


At 11.37 am on 23 July, Xavi Simons, one of the shiniest gems La Masia has had to offer for almost a whole decade, announced his official departure from the club. At 5:50 pm, Paris Saint-Germain confirmed his signing that will see him don the French jersey until at least 2022.

At only 16 years of age, Simons will earn more money than what most of the kids can only dream of, and at 16, he very well may represent everything that’s wrong with modern football in a nutshell. The new contract will see unimaginable sums of money flood into his account, he already has millions of followers on social media and to top it all of, at 16, he is represented by Mino Raiola, the super-agent of the beloved game. Let that sink in for a moment.

Reportedly, Barcelona were offering around €100k-a-season but it wasn’t enough; or rather, it was, but the youngster left for “different reasons”, presumably not satisfied with the sporting project offered to him at the Catalan giant. But for all the explanations and all the excuses and proclamations of love, Simons’ story has that all-familiar Neymar Junior feel about it.

“It’s not the money, it’s something else”. But what exactly are we talking about here? Simons is 16 years old and yet, being at Barcelona and arguably the biggest footballing academy in the world is seemingly not good enough. He joined La Masia when he was nine and if we fast forward about seven years in the future, Blaugrana has made Simons into who he is today as a professional football player. But Raiola did the rest.

Sure, it’s not easy to go through the ranks at Barca – recent graduates will certainly attest to that as only Sergi Roberto is the one who can proudly say he made it all the way. Carles Alena and Riqui Puig seem to be following suit but that’s two or three in a decade compared to roughly the same number of players “making it” in 2009 or earlier.

If it’s development he’s looking for, surely Paris Saint-Germain is not the right place for that. There are so many steps to be made before a young, in-development footballer should set foot in a gigantic club that buys and fields superstars rather than grooms them. And this is in no way, shape or form a dig at PSG. They are top of Ligue 1 for a reason and among Europe’s finest. But hasn’t Simons learned anything from Neymar? It seems that way but it’s rather strange since even Neymar himself has learned a thing or two about chasing your demons.

And just like in Neymar’s case there was a certain Neymar Senior, in Simons’ case, there is a certain Raiola. That’s the way young and chaotic minds are influenced. But if we’re looking purely at the sporting project, Simons has made a pretty big mistake. PSG can certainly be an end-destination for many players and that’s a fair choice through and through. But leaving Barcelona’s academy at 16, chasing six-figure sums and prestige is most likely not going to end well.

Well, not for Paris Saint-Germain that is. Simons’ future is already well taken care of regardless of whether he flops or not. But at 16 years of age, there’s no telling what kind of a player he might be nor should he already be branded in sense of the word. For most, the names of, say, Philip Osundo, William de Oliveira or even James Will won’t mean much but about 10 years ago or so those were the most promising U-17 players, dubbed the next Peles and Maradonas only to be forgotten in the blink of an eye.

Will ended up being a police officer and playing as a goalie for his village team in the Scottish Highlands. Who knows, maybe in a couple of years, Xavi Simons will work in a café in Paris or patrol the streets of a smaller town in France. Or maybe he’ll be a world-class footballer chasing the Golden Balls on the biggest stages of them all.

Such is the life of a 16-year-old – he is a “cat in the bag” and certainly not a finished or a guaranteed product. And at such a tender age, Barcelona certainly has enough talented players in their young crop to compensate for his departure. Puig being just one of those whose whole personality, along with the commendable skill set, is more representable of a Barcelona player anyway.

Xavi Simons is definitely a true gem that is, at this point in time, meant for greatness. But many before him walked the same path and many ended up choosing the wrong things, wanting too much and wanting to be too much far too early.

Neymar ended up regretting his big-money move and is aching to come back. Will Xavi Simons follow or is his place in the footballing pantheon already written in the stars?

Only time will tell.