BLESSED with an incredible talent at just 13, the burden of expectation on the shoulders of Xavi Simons was huge.
He was the great hope at Barcelona, where he honed his skills at La Masia.
However, the lure of PSG and opportunity for first team football was too much to refuse – and the midfield playmaker tried his hand in France.
After one season in Ligue 1, Simons moved again – this time back to his homeland with PSV.
Under the tutelage of manager Ruud van Nistelrooy, the wonderkid, 19, is finally flourishing and living up to the hype that originally surrounded him.
Now, there are calls for him to be included in Louis van Gaal’s Holland squad for the World Cup.
Simons began his football education at Barcelona, when he was just seven.
The Catalans saw him as their greatest prospect since Lionel Messi, and fought off teams including Chelsea who tried to poach the superstar-in-waiting.
One year, at U14 level, he captained a youth side that won all 25 games – scoring 164 times and conceding just 14.
Golden Curls, as he was affectionally nicknamed, even got to meet his idol and namesake, Xavi Hernandez.
He said: “I was with the physio when Xavi came over.
“When I told him that my name was also Xavi, he laughed. It was funny. He’s my idol.
“I know it’s difficult but I will do everything to make it.”
But it wasn’t to be at Barcelona.
PSG came calling
The LaLiga giants tried desperately to convince Simons his exciting future belonged at the Camp Nou.
However, with his path to the first team blocked, he snubbed a new contract at 16, on the advice of his former agent Mino Raiola.
Instead, an inviting offer from PSG – reportedly worth £1million-per-year – was enough to take him to the Parc des Princes.
As the man himself explained: “Everyone dreams of playing with Messi, but sometimes there is another way.
“I decided to try another adventure – and I think that this is good for my development.”
Little known at the time, Lionel Messi would end up following Simons to Paris two years later.
But his popularity off the pitch for a boy so young was astonishing – as the hype surrounding the Amsterdam-born youngster grew.
By the time he was 16, and this is before he’d even made his professional debut, Simons boasted a remarkable two million followers on Instagram.
While Nike also offered him a bumper sponsorship deal. The world was his oyster.
Again, he would cut a frustrated figure – with reports that he wasn’t progressing as swiftly as was hoped and chances limited.
Talk of a return to Spain was quashed – with the media in Barcelona insisting his former club were not interested in taking up the option of resigning him with their buy-back clause based on his lack of development.
Truth was he barely got a game. In his three years, he appeared just 11 times.
And when he did, luck would have it that he would become the fall guy in defeat – most notably missing a penalty in a shootout defeat to Nice in the last 16 of the Coupe de France.
Simons took the opportunity to rebuild his career closer to home.
Return to Holland
This summer gone, PSV brought Simons back home.
Initial reports suggested the French giants weren’t willing to let him go, beyond a loan deal.
When a buy-back clause was inserted, that sweetened the transfer and made the move a permanent one.
PSV’s new boss Ruud Van Nistelrooy was desperate to work with the boy wonder, seeing more of a forward in him than a midfielder. And he was right.
In his first four games in the Eredivisie playing in a more advanced position, he netted six times – prompting a compliment from his manager.
“I’m not even surprised. Before we put him on, I had already seen a lot of him,” Van Nistelrooy told ESPN.
“I saw that his potential is great and fantastic. I also knew that his character is well constructed. And if you train well and do your job well, you can take big steps. He does that.”
Impressively, Simons has had a hand in 14 goals across all competitions this season (10 goals and four assists), which is more than any player under the age of 21 across Europe’s top six leagues.
There is a belief that Louis Van Gaal has to take him to Qatar as part of the Holland squad for the World Cup.
It’s also been rumoured that PSG want to exercise their buy-back clause next summer, although Simons isn’t entertaining that thought.
“There’s a clause in my contract: if I want to go to PSG at the end of the season, I can do that for a certain amount,” he admitted.
“To be honest, it’s not in my head to leave PSV. I feel good here and I’ve just settled in. I think you can see that on the field.”
Simons has come of age – just at the right time – with football’s biggest stage imminent. And he could give the departing Van Gaal the perfect send off by helping him lift’s football’s biggest prize.
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