The rumors were well in the air for more than six months, rumors that a footballing colossal will bade his good bye to Europe and move to Japan for last few years of his footballing career, a colossal who has dazzled all, woven threads though opposition midfields and defences, have won everything there is to win playing an integral part in all those victories, and being humble and silent through out his glittering career,the little man, but a giant of modern football, Andres Iniesta. So recently when Iniesta announced his departure from Barcelona in the press conference, an era came to an end. Every generation is laden with successful and accomplished footballers, who enrich the game with their accomplishments, skills and victories. But some footballers carve their signature so deep that they transcend time with their names etched in footballing folklore with their genius and creativity. These footballers are never replaced , no matter how many successful footballers come and go. Andres Iniesta is among this rare group of footballers and alongside Xavi Hernandez is one of the greatest midfielders to grace Spain and Europe.
One can’t gauge Iniesta with numbers and statistics. Numbers always reflect one particular aspect, but it can’t represent the complete footballing masterpiece happening on the field. Hence to understand the full value and greatness of a footballer, along with numbers, one need to witness and understand the game as well as its nuances.No footballing stat can still measure the importance or give a number when iniesta dribbles pass multiple players to initiate an attack, twists and turns with silky touches in the same spot keeping the ball and sucking in players thus creating space and then releasing the ball to a free player, bring down a looping ball caressing it with a magical touch and then releasing it within a millisecond cutting the opposition press and zones like a knife through butter and reaching the open man in the best position. None of these can be gauged with number and statistics, yet these are the factors which gives your team control, wins over opposition midfield, makes them disorganised and ultimately leads to victory.
As a midfielder Iniesta has it all, he can dribble through multiple players, he can keep possession of the ball like a glue, he can thread passes bypassing entire opposition midfield or defence, he has a magical first touch and technical abilities, he has wonderful vision and astounding footballing intelligence,is reasonably two footed and has that uncanny ability to score at the biggest of stages. He has been deployed at wings, as no 10, at LCM, RCM,in double pivots as well as holding roles under managers varying from Van Gaal, Rijkard, Pep, Tito, Tata, Enrique, Valverde, Aragones,Del Bosque,Lopetegui etc etc in all sorts of roles and formations with various partners in various styles.As a midfielder he is as complete as it gets and its difficult to find any player in the history of the game with such versatility playing in midfield of footballing behemoths like Barca and Spain for such a long streak with such aplomb.
His performances in recent international friendlies where he outshone the likes of Isco,Saul etc and was like a singular beacon in Spanish midfield at the ripe age of 33 shows his true worth and echoes the recent words of current Barcelona Boss Valverde , ” Let’s not kid ourselves, Iniesta is irreplacable”. The folklore of the silent genius starts right at its adolescence when Pep Guardiola utters these famous words to Xavi Hernandes about a young lanky kid in la masia, ” You may retire me, but Iniesta will retire us all”. It finds its pinnacle with his various dazzling displays and legends of the game rightfully waxing lyrical regarding his talents and achievements. It continues with him being applauded at every ground in Spain including Espanyol where he receives regular ovations , unthinkable since he is the only player in Barca history to get such respect from Espanyol fans, and him receiving a standing ovation at Bernabueu after his wonderful performance in a 0-4 demolition of a formidable Madrid side in a season where Madrid ultimately won the UCL. Perhaps Juan Riquelme sums it up best , “The one who plays this game the best is Iniesta: he knows exactly when to go forward and when to drop back. He picks the right moment to do everything: when to dribble, when to speed things up and when to slow things down. And I think that’s the only thing that can’t be taught or bought. 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.” Thank you Don Andres for all the memories, you have etched your spot in footballing history and among footballing royalty, and only the almighty knows if we shall ever witness anyone like you again in our lifetime.