It has been more than three years since Andrés Iniesta tearfully bid farewell to FC Barcelona – the only home he had ever known in top tier football – and embarked on a professional swan song in Japan, with J1 League Vissel Kobe. The Barça that Iniesta left behind is decidedly not the one with which he commanded the sport for nearly a decade, and given the volume of foundational issues that have since come to light, his presence alone would not have staved off disaster. However, multiple years and numerous crises later, it is tempting for us to fantasize about a world in which Iniesta’s ideals (to say nothing of his talent) still permeate their club.
Iniesta’s Legendary CareerThe task of summing up Iniesta’s career is simultaneously straightforward, and virtually impossible. For a player whose utter brilliance was only ever deployed, humbly, in pursuit of collective success, he certainly attracted his share of individual recognition. Golden Foot this, Marca Legend that, three top-four finishes in Ballon d’Or voting, UEFA’s Best Player in Europe and Euro Player of the Tournament awards in 2012, La Liga’s Best Spanish Player in 2009, Best Midfielder on five occasions (only Xavi and Luka Modrić have done so more than once), and countless World XIs/Teams of the Year/Tournament.
He took the field 674 times in competitive appearances for Barcelona, and found the net 57 times. In 124 outings with the Spanish national team, he managed a further 13 tallies on the scoresheet. He led the Champions League in assists in 2010–11, and did the same in La Liga in 2012–13.
An Enviable Trophy Case
There is also the sheer obscenity of the trophy case: nine La Liga titles, four Champions League crowns, six Copas del Rey, two league/cup/Champions League trebles, and a pair of European Championship medals sandwiching a 2010 World Cup winners’ medal. For good measure, let’s not forget the UEFA European Under-17 and Under-19 Championships in 2001 and 2002. To top things off, there are another seven Supercopas de España, and three each of the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup. All of this surmounts to an amazing collection of accomplishment.
However, impressive as that all is, there is no statistic, ratio or metric capable of capturing the entirety and enormity of Iniesta’s contribution to the greatest era in the histories of both FC Barcelona and the Spanish national team.
Artist on the Pitch
With a ball at his feet, his technical ability rivaled those of any who ever played the game. Yet, putting together a “definitive” Iniesta highlight reel is quite challenging. This is not because the highlights themselves are tough to come by, but because they are so expertly woven into the fabric of the game – one after another mind-bending brilliance folded into a passage of play – that they do not immediately command your attention. That is, not until the job is done and you realize with awe when and how it began.
We compare it to the subtle, but unmistakable, addition of a distinct flavor in a spectacular dish that would never taste the same without. It is there - we sense it - and it just seems to belong. A flowing stream of perfect moves. Moments of understated greatness, with origins one cannot pinpoint, which ultimately defines the play. The sum is greater than parts, it seems.
Style, Grace, Authenticity
Iniesta’s tricks, feints, pivots and inch-perfect, sublimely weighted passes were, in reality, more partial goal than assist. He simply, with almost unnerving calm, slid the ball around, behind or through point-blank defenders, with a solitary aim – the creation of angles and space that increases the chance of scoring a goal. Spectacular means to a practical, premeditated end.
It is worth noting that, while Iniesta was decidedly not known as a goal-scorer, he netted perhaps the most iconic goal of a transcendent Barcelona dynasty and an extra-time World Cup winner. If his career had consisted of nothing more than Stamford Bridge 2009 and Joburg 2010, he would already be considered a bona fide legend. Fascinatingly, these pinnacle moments are not the foundation on which his legendary contribution to the world of football rests. Choosing the moment after securing the World Cup, before the eyes of the entire world, to honor a fallen friend is a much better summation.
These characteristics: integrity, honor, respect, dignity are perhaps the most defining of Iniesta – he simply embodied these values. Always. He was, in our opinion, the oxygen that allowed Barça’s brilliance to breathe.
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