Charles Mingus, a famous jazz musician, once walked into a bar to see an impetuous young drummer attempting a frenetic solo. "No," Mingus said "it's not like that. You have to go slowly. You have to say hello to people, introduce yourself. You never enter a room shouting. The same is true in music."
The term La Pausa (pause) is used in Argentina to describe a player who operates between midfield and attack. A skillful midfielder between the lines, enganche - literally 'the hook', who has the ability delay a fraction with his pass, waiting for the player he is looking to feed to reach the ideal position to then make the pass. Ricardo Bochini, Maradona's idol, became the originator of La Pausa. He explains it as an extraordinary football intelligence, the ability to visualize and predict behavior of others to make rapid calculations. It also requires a teammate who either makes a quick run so you can make the pass, or make a movement to open up the space and then make the pass.
After Bochini came Maradona, Ortega, Aimar, Riquelme, Messi who all excelled at that particular skill. And eventually Xavi Hernandez.
Xavi is not your traditional enganche though. He started his career as a pivot and when Rijkaard came, he moved further up the pitch where he started to play where he because most famous, as an interior in a 4-3-3 system. However, he has the skill set to execute La Pausa, he has a team that understands the concept of it and players who make the particular movement that is needed.
There are actually many different ways of La Pausa. One is controlling tempo of the game. This is why Xavi is different to those Argentine enganches. He plays deeper and he can dictate the whole tempo of the game. For example Madrid-Barcelona in 2009/10 season. The game was played with great intensity and tempo and Xavi was the player who had the ability to manage it. When Madrid had the ball, having won it back after they didn't have it for a while, they wanted to make quick progress forward but they quickly lost the ball. You can see the frustration in many Madrid players, waving their arms around. Xavi, as an excellent reader of the game, saw this as a moment to make a pause in the game, not to play a pass forward. He put on the breaks, slowed down the game and started a new attack as Madrid got more and more frustrated. Barca won that game 2-0 at the Bernabeu and Xavi had two excellent assists.
What Xavi also does is dominating the midfield. he overloads spaces and then provoke them to open them up. Xavi has an extreme ball control, he always feels comfortable in any situations because he has played that way since he was a kid, always in small areas, tight situations. One of the best things he does, as you can see from the video above, is that he runs with the ball to tease and provoke you, not just to dribble. With that he can drag defenders towards him and then at the right time he release the pass. He does that twice to Pogba. First time with a dribble and second time he just holds the ball long enough when Pogba runs towards him, leaving a pocket of space behind him, and then makes a pass to Xabi Alonso between the lines.
Sometimes in midfield you can create a new situation by doing nothing as you can see in the video above. When Xavi receives the ball from Alves, he has no option to play it forward. What he does? He waits. Just long enough so that the two Rayo players come towards him. That it makes a perfect passing lane for him to play it forward to Iniesta in the open space and they have a good attack.
But most of the time you need a little bit help from your teammates to make that space for you, to make a run forward just to take defenders away from you and thus create a clear passing lane. Like in this video. You have Keita and Henry making a run behind the defense. He could play over the top ball to either of them but decides not to. He still holds the ball and waits for Busquets to make a run to drag Zanetti away from his passing lane to Iniesta. After keeping hold of the ball for 3 seconds, he had overloaded the right flank and has now the perfect option to play a free pass to Iniesta. That's the key concept in positional play. Overload a certain space and then move quickly away from it via third man and you have open space.
“The principle idea of Positional Play is that players pass the ball to each other in close spaces to be able to pass to a wide open man.”– Juan Manuel Lillo
The next three goals are very similar. Xavi receives the ball, carries it forward a little bit, scans the situation as always. But he doesn't make the pass right away. He waits for the perfect moment. He waits until either Pedro or Messi comes towards him and then waits until he makes a run behind the defender and then releases the ball. It's perfection. Had he played the ball right away, nothing dangerous would've come out of it. But because he took a pause, just a tiny fracture of a moment to wait, he created a goal scoring opportunity. Watch around 0:44 in the video how he visibly shows with his hand to come towards him. Messi comes towards him and so does the defender, which leaves a space behind him. It's just a disguise to exploit it. Messi then makes a quick turnaround and then Xavi plays a perfect ball in the open space behind the defender. It's not just the ability to pass the ball, that's just a tiny part of it. You have to be intelligent and make the right decisions. That's when you are a good passer
Xavi's assist to Pedro in the champions league final in 2011 is the epitome of intelligence and La Pausa. He receives the ball from Iniesta between the lines and has 3 of his teammates in front of him (better view on the replay) Villa on the left, who is marked, Pedro on the right, who is marked and Messi, who is not marked but also not in a dangerous position. He starts to carry the ball and what it seems to be too long, but it's only to find the perfect solution. At first he doesn't have the right option to play a through ball so he holds the ball and runs with it. He constantly switches his body position so he could play the pass in either direction. Pedro makes a diagonal run, Xavi ignores it. he then makes a couple of steps backwards, which opens a channel for Xavi to make a through ball to him. Vidic doesn't notice it and the ball is in the back of the net. It's a perfect example of intelligent play, teamwork, pause and waiting for the perfect moment.
The pause helps to make music. It's the same with football. It's build into the game, like music, which also needs pauses, drops in intensity. Xavi is the true maestro of football. He knows exactly when to go fast and when to slow down.
There has been always one song that defines Xavi in my eyes