Having won everything on both club and international level, Don Andrés ranks amongst the best midfielders to have ever graced the game. Known for his amazing ball control, sublime vision and professionalism, he is one of the great players who ultimately missed out on the Ballon d’Or. But is he the greatest Spanish player of all time? We look back on the amazing career of Barcelona’s “little magician”.
“You can learn how to shoot and how to control the ball but being aware of everything that’s happening out on the pitch – that’s something you’re either born with or you’re not.” Juan Roman Riquelme (former Argentina and Barcelona playmaker) on Iniesta.
Few would have thought that a little, shy and quiet kid from Fuentealbilla, a small village in the province of Albacete would have grown on and become one of the greatest footballers the world has seen. Back in 1996, scouts from Barcelona were monitoring this little magician who was playing for his boyhood club Albacete and soon enough knew that this was something special.
At such a young age, Iniesta showed glimpses of brilliance and was signed by the Catalan giants at only 12 years old. Having come through one of the worlds greatest football academies “La Masia” Andres was destined for greatness, and it soon became clear that he was heading for a bright career after shining for the Under-15 and Under-17 Barca team and then winning the UEFA European Under-16 Championship until he was originally brought up to the first team as a 19-year-old. Just after arriving at the first team, Pep Guardiola famously said to his fellow team mate Xavi; “You are going to retire me, but this lad (Iniesta) is going to retire us all”.
Iniesta after recently joining La Masia. Check article of La Masia.
A player who knew how to pass, knew how to defend, knew how to assist and knew how to score. This was the explanation of the new kid arriving to Barcelona who would soon establish himself as a regular by the 2004-2005 season. Being part of a revolutionized era of the Barcelona squad, alongside players like Ronaldinho, Xavi, Puyol etc. Iniesta was beginning to show his football to the world. Having played an important role on the victories of Barca on both La Liga and the Champions League he was named in the final squad for Spain prior to the World Cup 2006 in Germany.
Having had only one appearance for his country, much pressure was put on him by the critics, but he had a decent tournament which unfortunately ended early, being defeated by France in the last 16. Few months before the World Cup, Zinedine Zidane had a special message to Spain supporters by claiming that “Once Spain begins to win, they will not stop”. The hope raised.
And certainly, the era begun. Iniesta’s shine reached its peak in 2008. After enduring a difficult season with Barca by finishing third, all eyes were on “the golden generation” of Spain with the Euro 2008 coming. A generation of players like Casillas, Xavi, David Villa, Fernando Torres and others were Spain’s hope to finally bring some international success home. And it came home, quite welcome. Spain finally showed its strength, and the huge amount of “fault” was on Iniesta and his brilliant companion in both Barca and Spain, Xavi. The arrival of fellow mentor Pep Guardiola only improved matters for Iniesta, who would form a legendary midfield partnership with Xavi and would later win a historic sixtuple with Barcelona in 2009.
Spain celebrating the 2008 Euro with their captain, Iker Casillas.
The Barcelona era was on its peak, and so was Spain’s. Iniesta scored a last-minute goal against Chelsea in Stamford Bridge to ensure Barcelona’s wat to the final in Rome. He was chosen as Man of the Match in the final against Manchester United, after assisting for Samuel Eto’s first goal. Messi added a second goal later with the assist of Xavi. After having enjoyed possibly his best season yet, the beginning of the 2009-2010 season did not go as planned. The death of his close friend Dani Jarque affected him a lot, and he was also sidelined for most of the season having only started 20 matches. However, he proved to be crucial in important matches as Barcelona retained their title and maintained their superiority in Spain.
Many Football fans would have never thought that one player can rise so high in such a short period of time after suffering both emotionally and physically. Andres Iniesta surprised the world with his recovery and imminent impact in the FIFA World Cup 2010. He scored the winning goal against Chile to advance Spain to the next round and played decent games against Paraguay and Germany on the road to the final. Showtime. The eyes of the whole world were at the World cup final. The amazing performance by the little kid from Albacete had once again impressed fans around all continents. After an intense match, a ball from Fabregas found its way to Iniesta who finished with a perfect volley to bring everybody on their feet. Emotionally, he ran all over the pitch and took of his shirt to reveal his dedication to Dani Jarque who had passed away in 2009.
The world was at his feet, he was enjoying the best moment of his career. He had just won his country’s first ever World Cup. To make things better, he was awarded Man of the match and was welcomed as a hero in Spain. His brilliance continued, as he helped Barca to another spectacular season by winning the La Liga and Champions league in 2010-2011. He finished second only to Leo Messi at the 2010 Ballon d’Or ceremony, a decision which is still widely regarded as the most unfair choice to many football fans due to Iniesta’s impact at the World Cup. Despite claiming that he isn’t interested in individual awards, he certainly did more than enough to earn the reputation as the world’s finest player.
Don Andres’s performances did not decline within the years, as Iniesta continued to be consistent for both Spain and Barca with the Euro 2012 approaching. As reigning champions of Europe and recent World cup winners, it was hard to believe that Spain would push on for another triumph given the strong competition. The golden generation was still there, but the years didn’t stop by. Closing on to his thirties, not many would regard Iniesta and others to achieve another historical win. But they did, against all odds.
Spain became the first team to win three consecutive international trophies, and Iniesta was part of it. He was yet again chosen Man of the match in the final against Italy and proved once more how much of a big game player he is. The glory had reached all limits, there was nothing more anyone could ask for. Iniesta won his first major individual honor in August 2012 by coming first in the UEFA Best player of the year Award, finishing above both Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. His name in the history books was already written, this only strengthened the claim of many that Andres Iniesta is indeed a gift to the game. Is he the greatest midfielder ever, certainly amongst them?
Iniesta celebrating his first major recognition after another UEFA title.
The following years were somewhat quiet. Barcelona did not perform well in Europe in the past 3 years and was beginning to prepare for life without Xavi. The 2014-2015 season was another milestone to add to Iniesta’s marvelous career. After winning La Liga and Copa del Rey in spectacular fashion, the final of the Champions league against Juventus was awaiting. Leo Messi, Luiz Suarez and co were expected to be the highlight of the match. Up stepped Andres Iniesta, who performed an outstanding match, became the first player ever to be Man of the Match on three important competitions (European Championship, World Cup, Uefa Champions League).
Iniesta was voted in the UEFA team of the year for the 6th time, and later into the FIFA World XI for a memorable ninth time. Things were going to be harder with the departure of Xavi, but Andres Iniesta took control of the midfield once again and won a further 5 trophies with Barcelona. Having recently won his last Copa del Rey, and scoring in the final against Sevilla, he is one game away from winning another La Liga with the club and leaving the club in the best way possible.
Barca President Bartomeu claimed that Iniesta is the club’s most important player in history as he was part of every coach’s plan. Indeed, he was. Iniesta did fit in the system of the many managers that came across the Catalan club. Not only being the phenomenon on the pitch, he was a gentleman outside of it. He is only the fourth player after Maradona, Del Piero and Ronaldinho to get a standing ovation from Barca’s fierce rivals Real Madrid. Everything about Iniesta made football fans love him, and rightly so.
Whether he did not win a Ballon d’Or in his prime, for sure he was the most important player in Spain’s 5 years of dominance, and Barcelona’s decade of success. Having won 34 trophies in total (31 with Barca) he will go down as one of the greatest Spanish players in history, if not the greatest. And after his retirement, the football world will recognize that his artistry was a joy to watch and even now the thought of him leaving is a sad moment for everyone. Don Andres, you will be missed. Farewell Maestro.