Iniesta: Second best despite himself
His diminutive stature and mild-mannered ways often fail to appeal to a generation that idolises the success (and style) that is part of modern football lore. But anyone who has watched him on the green knows why Andres Iniesta matters.
Crowned the UEFA Player of Year in 2012, it is an accolade that has come late. He is, arguably, the best attacking midfielder of his generation.
And despite this, it was still considered an unexpected win only because he was competing against the far more popular Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Not many would have expected him to win the recognition.
Or be a contender for the most coveted individual honour in club football.
The Ballon d’Or will, in all probability, remain elusive for another year and, maybe, through his career. Though he has been nominated to be among the top three, almost everybody has ruled that a win for El Ilusionista will be unlikely.
No man denies the mercurial talent of his Barcelona teammate Messi and the superhuman athleticism of Real Madrid Galactico Ronaldo, but the genius of an attacking midfielder must be acknowledged apart.
It is the final comparison of goals scored and assists that sway the jury even though the best man may not have claim to either in the scoring sheets. It is just the way of the beautiful game, ironically as personified by both Barcelona and the La Roja squad of recent years.
When he did not win in 2010, it was likely never to be. He was the most influential of Spain’s talented midfield (won the Golden Ball) through the tournament and an integral part of Pep Guardiola’s phenomenal Barcelona. And the Man of the Match of the final in South Africa.
This time around, Iniesta was instrumental in Spain’s successful defence of the European Championship, a tournament in which he was ‘Man of the Match’ thrice, as many as comeback hero Andrea Pirlo, and was voted the most valuable player of the campaign.
In the years of the World Cup, the Euro and to an extent the Copa America (or even the African Cup of Nations), an outstanding international performance with a strong club showing is good argument for the top individual prize. Iniesta seems a most suitable contender.
Incomparable for Spain, especially with Xavi Hernandez in subdued form until the final against Italy, and his usual talented self with Barcelona (especially this season), the UEFA recognition is only just reward for hard work. He is the quintessential team man and both La Roja and The Blaugrana are better for it.
But when the world’s journalists, coaches and captains pick a name for the Ballon d’Or later this year, he might not be the chosen one; moreover, he might not even come close to his competition.
Globally, both Messi and Ronaldo are far more popular for the spectacular number of goals they score. The mastery of the technical aspects of the beautiful game, as Iniesta has effortlessly done, is a quality admired far less.
And like countless times before in history, the man who does his work in the shadow of his humility will be overlooked. Hopefully, at least the debate will last longer this year.