He’s not even 18 and is already advised by Mino Raiola and has signed a deal with Nike. At the same time, PSG talent Xavi Simons is showered with pure hatred online. The story of a polarizing exceptional talent.
Seven words, three photos, two emojis – over 700,000 likes. As a child prodigy, you announce to your more than three million followers that you have just played your first professional game. “Proud to make my debut tonight @psg”, writes Xavi Simons on his Instagram account. The lion emoji behind it symbolizes his head of hair, the telephone receiver his signature jubilation, which he has of course long had. In the comments below the post, there are seasoned footballers and those who want to become one. Marc Bartra, Alessandro Florenzi, Eljero Elia, Jamal Musiala are just some of the many professionals who leave their congratulations.
The most popular comment from an account without a blue check mark is a single word: “Overrated”. Overrated. 126 likes. It is this dichotomy in which public perception of Xavi Simons moves. Between superstar and failure. Between excessive adulation and hatred. Between the new Messi and the greedy traitor. Years before Simon’s professional debut, the public had formed an opinion about him.
Xavi Simons is: an internet phenomenon, one of the highest paid teenagers in the world and, last but not least, an extremely talented and well-trained footballer at two world clubs – and therefore not only popular. Simons was nine years old when he was put in the spotlight: highlight videos of the small, likeable boy with the blond curly hair and the blue and red jersey of FC Barcelona, who held the ball so close to his foot and which was so beautiful and precise Playing passes in a way you hardly ever see children his age. An exceptional talent, there was no doubt about that.
Whether new Messi, Xavi, or Ronaldinho: Experts and users outdid each other with comparisons for the child. “I can still remember a game against Belgium,” says Peter van der Veen, Simon’s first coach for the Dutch U15 national team, in an interview with SPOX and DAZN. “People really wanted to see Xavi. After the game, 300 children were waiting in front of the team bus. Xavi needed security to get through the crowd. But he handled it very professionally. He was already extremely advanced for his age.”
Xavi Simons’ ex-coach: “Of course he was kicked out a lot”
For two years van der Veen coached little Xavi Simons, who was younger than his teammates and yet was one of the best. The coach describes Simons as a very calm person, whose hype about his person hasn’t gone to his head: “He has done our team extremely well. I simply loved his work ethic,” says van der Veen. “These are often young, extremely talented Players, not too hardworking and think that they will make it to the top on their own. He was completely different. It was impressive how hard he worked. And that even though there was already this attention for him back then. ” As a 14-year-old, this attention earned him not only a sponsorship contract with Nike, but also a deal with perhaps the most famous player agent in the world, Mino Raiola, who from then on influenced the boy’s career planning.
But of course this attention also had negative sides. On the square, Simons got to feel his celebrities regularly. Fouls and tough tackles by opponents were part of everyday life for him. “Of course he was kicked over a lot. But he always got up and kept playing without showing any emotions. I think that when you play at Barça as a child, you’re just used to it,” said van der Veen. So far, so normal. But then, in July 2019, the public mood suddenly changed.
“I leave part of me in Barcelona and part of Barcelona will always be with me,” was the headline of the Instagram post Simons wrote in three languages in the style of a superstar. Never before had a 16-year-old made such big waves. All of Europe had hunted the young Dutchman up to this point. Even Real Madrid are said to have tried hard to break Simons away from arch rivals. But he decided to move to Paris. According to media reports, the French series champion had offered the teenager an annual salary between 400,000 euros and one million euros. Barça’s offer is said to have been € 200,000 net. Plus bonuses.
After the Catalans Simons had built up on social media and in interviews with a budding superstar for years and he had been burdened with being the leader of a new, promising generation from their own youth, the move to Paris came as a shock for Barça . What exactly lured Simons away from Barça is still not entirely clear. Did the money make the difference? Wasn’t it the unencumbered relationship between club and player agent Mino Raiola? The desire to break out of exaggerated expectations? Or that the last La Masia player to play for the first team at FC Barcelona before Simon’s move was Sergi Roberto, who made his debut in 2011.
What is clear, however, is that Simons has become a target of hatred since that day. Greed-for-money allegations, snake emojis and racist insults have flooded the comment columns under the teen’s posts since then.
The cup game against second division club SM Caen was the boy’s first game that football fans around the world watched and rated as they grew up. In the 78th minute the time had come. Julian Draxler trotted towards the exchange bench. You could see the tension in Simon’s eyes. But no sooner had he stepped into the square than this tension was no longer to be seen. Simons played a committed game, offered himself, ran out of the defenders’ shadows, pointed with outstretched arms at the ground in front of his feet. This is where the ball belongs! He threw himself into tackles, did not hold the ball too long, tried to actively help the team.
After 16 minutes it was all over. 1-0 for Paris. If Simons were a normal young player who would have played his first game for one of the best clubs in the world at the age of 17, one would simply say: very promising. But if you draw the comparison that has haunted him for half his life, Simons can only lose. Lionel Messi had brilliantly outstripped Albacete goalkeeper Raúl Valbuena in his first game three minutes after coming on and secured the victory for Barcelona.