Abel Xavier: Style and Substance

portuguese defender abel xavier

Player Profile: Abel Xavier

Full Name: Abel Luís da Silva Costa Xavier

Date of Birth: 30/11/1972

Height: 1.89cm (6 ft 2 in)

National Team: Portugal

International Caps: 20

International Goals: 2

Club Career

Abel Xavier is perhaps better remembered for his hairstyles than his footballing ability. But beneath the peroxide blonde exterior was an accomplished right back, whose career saw him turn out for a number of Europe’s biggest clubs.

Born in Mozambique, Xavier moved to Portugal as a boy and his professional career kicked off at Estrela da Amadora in the Portuguese second tier. The full-back consistently impressed during his three seasons at the club, earning promotion to the Portuguese top-flight in his final season, before moving to Lisbon giants Benfica.

His move to Benfica also proved successful, with Xavier helping his side to the Primiera Liga title in the 1993-94 season, narrowly beating rivals Porto and Sporting to the championship. His fine form during his spell at Benfica earned him the first of his 20 international caps for his adopted country.

Xavier’s next move was a season long loan to Serie A side Bari. After struggling to establish himself in the first team in Italy, the side were relegated at the end of the season and Xavier’s next destination was Real Oviedo in Spain.

Despite his lack of game time in Italy, he was able to get his career back on track at Oviedo, playing regularly during his two seasons at the club, where he helped steer the club clear of the relegation zone.

Next he was off to PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands. It was from this point on, for one reason or another, that Xavier’s CV began to resemble that of a journeyman. After a season with the Dutch giants, he moved to the blue half of Liverpool with Everton for a £1.5 million fee. Xavier made 49 appearances for the Toffees, across three seasons before controversially moving to Merseyside rivals Liverpool.

Initially signed as a replacement for the injured Markus Babbel, Xavier made a promising start to his career with the Reds. It was in his second season with the club that he began to struggle for game time after having a disagreement with then manager Gerard Houllier. He was subsequently shipped out on loan to Turkish powerhouse Galatasaray for the remainder of the 2002-03 season.

His next port of call was Hannover 96 in Germany, followed by another short stint in Italy’s Seria A, this time with Roma. Xavier struggled to break into the first team at both clubs, making only a handful of appearances during his time with with each team.

Available on a free transfer, Xavier returned to England and joined Middlesbrough at the start of the 2005-06 season as a replacement for Dutch international Michael Reizinger.

It was during his time at Boro that he tested positive for the anabolic steroid dianabol, and was banned from professional football for 18 months. Xavier unsuccessfully appealed the ban, however, it was eventually shortened to 12 months and he returned to the Middlesbrough first team in late 2006.

After leaving the Riverside Stadium, Xavier moved to Major League Soccer (MLS) with LA Galaxy. He never really found his feet in his two seasons in the United States and retired from football when he was released from the club in 2009.

At his peak, Xavier was a calm and confident right back, who was equally comfortable in the centre of defence. The Portuguese international also possessed good short passing ability and was strong on and off the ball. However, as his career progressed, he often struggled to stay fit and was known to go missing from time to time.

But despite the frequent changes of club, injury troubles and a couple of suspensions along the way, Abel Xavier forged a largely successful playing career.

International Career

Abel Xavier made his debut for the Portuguese national team in 1993. Despite making a few appearances for Portugal that year, he would not feature for the national team again until 1998.

His international career peaked a couple of years later at Euro 2000, where he played some of the best football of his career. However, he’ll mainly be remembered for his handball in the semi-final against France. Deep into golden goal extra time, he unfortunately deflected a Sylvain Wiltord shot with his hand. The resulting penalty was confidently converted by Zinedine Zidane sending the Les Bleus through to the final.

Xavier passionately appealed the referee’s decision, but was seen to have gone over the top, and was slapped with a six month ban from football.

He would go onto feature for his country a few more times before earning his 20th and final cap in the final group stage match at the 2002 World Cup.

Where is Abel Xavier now?

Since hanging up his boots, Abel has tried his hand at management, with short stints at Olhanense, Farense and Desportivo Aves in his native Portugal. He has also coached the nation of his birth, Mozambique, although, was recently let go by the Mozambican Football Federation, after they decided not to renew his contract.

Did you know? Interesting facts about Abel Xavier

– Xavier was part of Carloz Queiroz’s U-20 Portugal side, that won the FIFA World Cup on home soil in 1991. Other notable footballers to feature in the winning side were Luis Figo and Rui Costa.

– He was the last player to move between Merseyside derby rivals, Everton and Liverpool.

– Abel Xavier was the first English Premier League player to be banned for using performance enhancing drugs.