Barcelona is more than a club. It is a political cause, a football team in transition and an almost daily soap opera. Its stars are therefore expected to be part diplomat, part footballing genius and exemplars of a fiery Catalan nationalism.

It is a club that can convert a great Dutchman such as Johan Cruyff into such an impassioned supporter of Catalunya that he named his son Jordy after its patron saint. Barcelona supporters have still higher expectations of one of their own. Xavi Hernandez was born in Terrassa in Catalunya 28 years ago. He joined Barcelona as an 11-year-old and is part of the fabric of the club.

Yesterday, however, in the unusual setting of a St Andrews hotel, he was forced to play diplomat and peacemaker. The football part may have to wait until Tannadice this afternoon.

Xavi only arrived at the Barcelona training base on Wednesday after his extended break following Spain's victory in Euro 2008. But yesterday afternoon he was faced with a series of questions that illustrates both the identity of the club and its genius for attracting controversy.

In the Place Colon, Madrid, after Spain's defeat of Russia in the final of Euro 2008, Xavi had shouted: "Viva Espana." These two words carry a heavy weight for a player who is both a Catalan and has captained a club that was once the emblem of opposition to Franco's Spain. The brief outburst in Madrid has caused upset among many Barcelona fans.

Xavi, small but resolute, hunched over his microphone yesterday and refused both to apologise for the statement or expand on it.

"I don't want to mix football and politics," he said. "I just want to follow on my career. I want to be calm here in Barcelona, with no controversy. I don't want to express my political opinions in public. It is something that is from my private side.

I want to be a player for Barca. I feel Catalan, I am Catalan. But I want to play also with the Spanish team."

He was pressed further. Surely the "Viva Espana" was bad for his image in a Catalan side? "I don't want to create more controversy," he said.

"I don't want to make anyone feel angry because of these words. I don't want to mix football and politics."

The last was said for emphasis but politics is the eternal flame produced by the heat of Barcelona. If this view needed any reinforcement, it came in the next line of questioning when Xavi was pressed on the futures of two of his team-mates, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o.

Messi is believed to be keen to play for Argentina in next month's Olympics in Beijing. However, Pep Guardiola, Barcelona's coach, is equally keen for the young genius to play in the third qualifying round of the Champions League. Eto'o was declared surplus to requirements by Guardiola as soon as the coach was promoted from Barcelona B. Xavi said of Messi: "It is a situation which depends on himself, the Argentinian Federation and FIFA. They have to solve the situation. It also depends on what the player wants to do. That is important. I understand it is a great opportunity for him to go to the Olympic Games. But we also need him here. We have a very important qualifying game for the Champions League to play, and obviously we would like to have Leo here with us."

Xavi won a silver medal with Spain in the 2000 Olympics at Sydney, so what counsel would he offer the Argentinian? "My advice is do whatever you want to do, and feel you have to do," he said. "We would like to have him here but my advice is do whatever you feel like doing."

Of Eto'o, he said: "Samuel is working a lot. I think it is very good to have such a player. He is very important for us. He is a player who makes the difference. He always plays at a high level, even after his injuries."

Xavi, the diplomat, was thus interpreted as telling Messi to go to Beijing and Eto'o to stay at Camp Nou. But he stayed far from definitive statements. He has learned the art of politics in a difficult school.

He was more expansive on the attributes of his coach. Xavi, who made huge strides in his career at Barcelona when replacing the injured Guardiola in 1999-2000, knows his new gaffer well. "He knows the philosophy of Barcelona," said the midfielder of Guardiola.

"He knows all the players and he knows how we work. He is ideal. It is true the way of working has changed a little bit. Maybe he applies modern technology a little bit more. He takes care of the small details and that is important. The small details are the ones that can make you win or lose a game."

Having fielded a gentle question, Xavi was bowled three snappy inquiries.

What was the best league, the Barclays Premier League or La Liga? "They are different, not better or worse," he said.

What did he think of Carlos Cuellar of Rangers? "He is a very good player with good physical aspects and good technical skills. If there are English clubs who want him, then I am not surprised." And what of his own future? "I am happy at Barca. I am a player and supporter. So, I would like to stay here."

It was the most appropriate end to the interrogation of Xavi - midfielder, Catalan and diplomat.