Spanish striker Xavier Lleonart made his senior international debut for the Red Sticks back in 2009 at the Champions Trophy in Melbourne, Australia. Perhaps fittingly for a big occasion player, Lleonart scored in the final – a match that Spain lost by the narrowest 5-6 scoreline.
Since then Lleonart says he has been chasing medals with the international side. This has been a quest that has taken in three World Cups, two Olympic Games and four EuroHockey Championships. That drive and desire for a medal was finally satiated at the Belfius EuroHockey Championship in 2019 when Spain finished in the silver medal position, losing in the final to Belgium.
Lleonart has also enjoyed success at club level, winning the coveted EuroHockey League title with Dutch team HC Bloemndaal in 2018, before returning to Spain to compete with Real Club de Polo.
In a continuation of our series of profile interviews featuring some of the world’s finest players, Xai Lleonart speaks to FIH about his career to date, his personal highlights and emphasises just how much he is craving a return to competitive hockey when the current Covid-19 situation is finally over.
Who or what first influenced you to pick up a stick and play hockey?
I started playing hockey at the age of three or four because my parents were members of a hockey club in Terrassa, so honestly, I have played hockey since I can remember.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
Well there have been some coaches and players who have created a big impact on the way I understand hockey. When I was younger I watched games and admired players like Juan Escarre, Pol Amat, Ronald Brouwer and Christopher Zeller. They were top class players and I always wanted to be like them. On the other hand Carlos Cuenca and Dani Martin as coaches, they have had a big influence on my career, each of them in different ways. Carlos is a winner and his management of the team is amazing. And Dani Martin, he picked me when I was only 19 years old and he gave me the opportunity to play for the Spanish national team.
If there was one sentence to sum up your playing style or attitude on the pitch, what would it be?
Well, that’s a good question. I think the sentence would be: “make it happen”.
What moment on the pitch are you most proud of and why?
It is impossible to decide only one moment. The first important achievement was my first Spanish league title with Real Club de Polo. That was special because it was something I had been looking to achieve for years. Also the EHL title with HC Bloemendaal in 2018. I knew it would be one of the few chances [I would] get in this competition and I was really happy to perform well and help the team win the cup.
Another important moment was during the Olympics in Rio in 2016 during the pool game against New Zealand. I scored a last minute goal and it was a special moment for me because it secured a place in the Olympic quarter-final. It meant we had achieved three wins in a row and I remember the happy faces of my team mates and it was a great memory. The last one [took place] last summer in the European Cup semi-final against the Netherlands. Beating them and reaching the final was something special for me because I have been looking for a medal with the Spanish national team for the past 11 years.
It has been four years since Rio 2016, how have you changed as a player in that time?
I am much more mature than then, I am much more confident in myself. I know me better - both my body and my capabilities.
The Covid-19 situation has obviously impinged on everyone's preparations but what are some examples of activities that you and the squad have used to keep a sense of 'team' throughout the lock-down period?
With Real Club de Polo we have fitness sessions online twice a week. It is funny because we see each other exercising at home and we start joking and kidding (teasing) each other. With the Spanish national team we have a daily routine but also a competition about who eats the healthiest. This is led by our nutritionist.
What part of returning to playing after this enforced break are you most looking forward to?
What I miss the most is to compete. After training at home is awful and after three weeks I am sick of it. I have the need to go back to the field and experience the winning feeling again. I wish my home had a big back yard so I could run free. It would help make the quarantine easier.
Profile*:Xavier Lleonart - Spain
Shirt number: 17
International appearances: 199
Place of birth: Terrassa, Spain
Current National Hockey League team: Real Club de Polo
*Information correct as of 14 April 2020