Xabi Prieto "proud and privileged" for a lifetime's service with Real Sociedad
Real Sociedad's grand 'kapitaina' chatted to AS about tomorrow's farewell at Camp Nou: “For me, Iniesta is the best player in the history of Spanish football".
When the final whistle blows at Camp Nou tomorrow night it will be a poignant moment for two emblematic players from the Class of '84 - who have dedicated a whole lifetime’s service to their respective clubs - two of LaLiga’s most respected captains will be playing their last league game in Spain, in the final fixture of the season.
Andrés Iniesta will make his curtain call before moving on to pastures new. Xabi Prieto will also be turning out for the last time with his lifelong club, but will hang up his boots definitively – partly because of a niggling groin injury which he has been unable to fully shake off, and partly because he can’t bear the thought of ever having to face his one and only club, Real Sociedad, the club he joined as a 12-year-old.
“The idea hasn’t even entered my head”, Xabi Prieto told AS ahead of tomorrow’s game against Barcelona – a match which will also serve as Iniesta’s goodbye. Prieto has been struggling to shake off a niggling groin injury but did come on as a late sub in last weekend’s home win over Leganés which turned out to be a tribute to him and Carlos Txarly Martínez who is also leaving. To mark the occasion, La Real swapped the club badge for one with an embroidered image of Xabi’s face. If he does take to the field at Camp Nou tomorrow and it looks likely he will, it will be his 533rd appearance for the club – only four players, Luis Arconada, Jesús María Zamora, Juan Antonio Larrañaga and Bixio Gorriz, have appeared more times in the Basque club's history.
Xabi Prieto, LaLiga's penalty expert
He also ranks alongside László Kubala, David Villa and Ronald Koeman as the finest penalty takers to have played in the Spanish top flight. During his 15 years at La Real, Prieto has only missed one spot-kick, giving him a strike rate of 95% - compare that to Messi’s (81%) or Cristiano’s (85%). The Txuri-urdin skipper remains unassuming about his impressive figures from 11 metres: “It’s just down to luck. It’s very difficult to practice taking penalties. Personally, I like to wait right until the very last moment to see which way the keeper is going to dive, then I’ll put the ball in the other side. There are many ways of taking penalties, and the only thing that matters is that the ball goes in. I’ve been lucky in that only one hasn’t entered for me”.
First team debut
Xabi says it’s not too difficult to single out one moment from the last 15 years as a professional which he cherishes the most: “The day I made my debut, my first game [in the Copa del Rey, against Oviedo on 8 October 2003]. I’d dreamt about playing for the first team since I was a boy, and finally, it happened”.
By the following season he was first choice in the team and in 2012, he took the captain’s armband from Mikel Aranburu. “I learned everything from Mikel. He set a very good example for me to follow. I try to see myself in him – he taught me how to captain a team, how to lead a group of people by setting an example and with humility… I owe it all to him”, Xabi explained before giving his blessing to the man who will be taking on the role – Asier Illarramendi. “Now it’s his moment. He’s a fantastic player, a great bloke and I think he is fully prepared take this step and to become the next captain of Real Sociedad. I’m sure he’s going to do a brilliant job – it’s his time now”.
Xabi Prieto: Iniesta is the greatest Spanish player of all-time
Back to tomorrow’s game, the result of which will be irrelevant but a sell-out crowd will be on their feet saluting two club icons. Xabi says he is sure Camp Nou will give Iniesta a send-off to remember: “For me, Iniesta is the best player in the history of Spanish football. He’s a player who can make everything that is difficult to do in the game look so easy, so effortless and it’s a shame that he’ll be leaving our league. We’ll really miss him” Xabi said. “I’ll have a few words with Andrés on Sunday. I was lucky enough to play alongside him with Spain’s Under-21s and every time we see each other, we always have a few moments to chat and on Sunday, I’ll wish him the best of luck”.
As his own playing days draw to a close, Xabi says he will take time out this summer to rest and decide which direction to take with his career. “Right now, I don’t really know what I’ll do next. Football is my big passion – that’s what I enjoy doing most so hopefully, my next job will be related to football in some way. I feel proud and honoured to have defended Real Sociedad’s shirt for so many years. I know that I am loved by the people [in San Sebastián] and well thought of by my team mates so all in all, I feel very privileged”.
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