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Andres Iniesta: The calm guy called the Don

ANALYST
Feature
792   //    Timeless

Barcelona v Real Sociedad - La Liga
Iniesta in action: His final ever Barcelona game

“Your favorite player hasn’t even won a World Cup. They said. The little Cule closed his eyes. The sight of his favorite player scoring a World Cup winner embraced his thoughts. Andres Iniesta was something else.”

Humility, Resolution, Ardour, these three words sum up Andres Iniesta Lujan. Andres was born in a great society, in the Albacete region of Spain. He was rich, more by his heart than by the wealth he possessed. A kid of a very small built, Iniesta developed a love for the ball at his feet at age of 10. For Iniesta’s talent, something had to give, the small kid caught the eye of Barcelona scouts at the age of 12 while playing in a local tournament. The famed La Masia recruited kids aged 13 or 14 normally but they saw something in this 12-year old that convinced them about recruiting him. Little Andres cried rivers when he was forced to leave his family at a small age. But he cried, even more, when he had to leave his biggest family, his Barcelona family, last year.

In the Nike Cup of 1999, Andres Iniesta led the U-15 Barcelona team to victory. The news of the player of the tournament award and the last minute winner by a small kid from Albacete caught the eyes of people in and around Barcelona. Iniesta received the winner’s trophy from Pep Guardiola himself. The famed conversation between Xavi and Pep just glorifies the talent possessed by Iniesta.

“You will retire me, but he will retire us all” -Pep Guardiola to Xavi Hernandez about Andres Iniesta

Rising through the ranks, Iniesta burst through to the first team and has been there till the end of last season. Iniesta witnessed the departure of club legends Ronaldinho, Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernandez, Valdes, and Eric Abidal, but he was there like a pinnacle, holding the team together. The vivid exchanges of passes from the little man remained the same in the years that passed and his involvement in the game never ceased. From the pass to Leo Messi in Wembley which defeated Van Der Sar, to the one which helped Leo break his Chelsea jinx, Iniesta had been a central figure in the Barcelona team for a long long time.

Iniesta had that magic that Sir Alex Ferguson labeled him as a bigger threat than Lionel Messi. Age was nothing else than a mere figure for Andres Iniesta. He aged like fine wine, getting better with each day that passed. Chelsea found it out the hard way, last season in the UCL. A misplaced pass from Andreas Christensen and the resolute Iniesta beat a certain Azpilicueta for pace and won the ball. That too, with Azplicueta being five years younger than the magician. The move by Iniesta earned the crucial away goal for Barcelona in the tie.

It is just the mystery that surrounds such great players. They always find themselves at the pick of things. How else can you explain the final minute winner by a young U-15 captain and, then the same kid repeating that feat 10 years later at a much bigger stage? There is no explanation for magic, it is uncanny, and it is quintessential for the magic to be unexplainable.  

The Nike Cup in 1999, a kid scores a final minute winner for his team. The 2009 Champions League Semi-finals, Chelsea are two minutes from reaching the Champions League Finals. The night had already seen some brilliant pieces of football, some ecstatic reactions from Chelsea fans and some very controversial decisions. While Stamford Bridge was getting ready to celebrate, although a lot had gone through them, one moment turned it all. Lionel Messi was on the wrong side of the wing, the ball on his weaker right foot, the defense swarming the little genius. But yet, completely unnoticed, Iniesta snuck into scoring zone and blasted one into the net, with a single touch.

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In the commentator’s words, “The Chelsea fans covered their eyes in horror”. Iniesta took off his neon yellow in his euphoria and the whole of Barcelona cried in joy.

Your team is trailing 4-0 on aggregate. You have managed to pick up only one goal in the second leg and halftime is approaching. The pass has too much weight on it and will run away safely for a goal kick. What does one expect of the situation? Nothing. But Iniesta was different, even after all the players giving up the chase, the oldest man on the pitch chases it and backheels it in desperation. For all that he endured, he gets his reward. The ball ends up inside the net off a deflection.

You are missing your main man and are about to enter the pitch, leading a group of youngsters, for a game of huge significance. The missing man is Lionel Messi. The game is El Clasico. While we are seeing Real Madrid missing the presence of a striker, Barcelona on that day were missing their best player. But rather than going into the pitch with a bad morale, Iniesta lead his team, by example. Pinpoint cross-field passes and brilliant through balls came off his feet. One of the balls picked up the Brazilian young sensation Neymar who was just establishing himself in Europe. And when the time came, the artist painted a moment of beauty. A pre-assist pass to Neymar, beautifully back-heeled towards Iniesta and the wizard swung a magical right foot. The ball passes into the net and the artist went off in celebration with a thumb in his mouth.

Yet, after seeing all that their team has suffered. When that one man, who was to blame for all the sufferings was substituted, the Santiago Bernabeu rose. The Real Madrid ultras rose and bowed down to a genius. They recognized that there was no shame in losing to such a humble and artistic man.

Even fate has been amazing to Andres. He wanted to give that tribute to Dani Jarque. He painted the T-shirt, completely unaware that he would score the most important goal in Spanish history. Yet, fate gave him his chance. He had to wait for 116 minutes for the moment maybe he would never have got his moment. Perhaps that is what greatness is all about. Great people etch their own fate.

Iniesta stayed with Barcelona from the age of 12. He saw it all, won it all. Decided crucial games, provided amazing assists, took the captain’s armband and lead from the front. While there have been players who have been compared to this little magician, no one comes close even at his age. While many would put Luka Modric and Toni Kroos over Andres Iniesta, one needs to remember a few things when you draw comparisons. Iniesta has earned applause from each and every crowd that he has played in front of, no one hates him, and no one doubts his abilities or questions his achievements. Iniesta has never displayed a performance as horrific as Kroos and Modric did against CSKA Moskva, ever. The now 34 years old has perhaps never put in what one would label as a 'bad' performance.

No one except for a few like Xavi, Pirlo and Paul Scholes deserve to be named along with Iniesta. There is no next Iniesta, not ever. Andres signed a lifetime contract last year, but he left Barcelona when he thought was the best time to leave. He left as a hero. He had the trust that Messi will lead an overhauled squad. He left so that he doesn’t become a liability. 


Barcelona v Real Sociedad - La Liga
All alone for one last time: Andres Iniesta

Iniesta was never a liability, even in his last season. He offered Barcelona everything he could. And when the time came, he sat on the Camp Nou pitch at 2 AM, alone. Enjoying the aura of the stadium, the chill of the night, the feel of the air and the smell of the pitch. When you are alone, you could recollect every tad bit of memory that is associated with you. He just decided to salvage the memories, knowing he won’t be taking the Camp Nou pitch ever again.

But magic doesn’t subside ever. Iniesta’s first goal for Vissel Kobe was as good as any 20 years old could score. He is better than ever. At 34, he could turn so sweetly. Football was easy for him. It has been 22 years since he first arrived at La Masia. Where has time flown, only God knows? But if someone offers to turn the clock back, it will be received with both hands by Cules, just to witness that magic, one more time.

A silent guy who never lost his cool yet got the nickname the Don. Don Andres Iniesta, the greatest midfielder that Europe will ever see. Iniesta’s biography is titled "The Artist" and it is the aptest title for any book on the bald man with a smiling face.

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