At 5 foot 8, he isn’t the tallest guy around. At around 63 kilos, pale faced with a receding hairline, he isn’t someone you’d even look once at, in a crowd. Pretty much your ‘Average Jose’, as the Spanish would call it (no, the irony is not lost on me). But put him on a football pitch, give him a ball and grab a drink. The 28 year old from Fuentabilla turns into the smoothest, single most seductive player on the face of the Earth. Bar none.
Starting out at La Masia at the tender age of 12, Andres Iniesta has always been a shy boy. Keeping to himself in his early years at the academy, he says he cried rivers the day he had to leave his family behind to come live at the Farm. Little did he know, it was the start of a glittering career that would bring joy to an entire generation. Not much has changed in terms of his personality off the field. He remains a man of simple tastes and recently got married to his long time girlfriend.
The real metamorphosis has been on the pitch. A young Andres Iniesta received the Nike Youth Cup trophy from Pep Guardiola after he captained the side to victory in the tournament. He could barely believe it was the legendary Barca number 4 handing him the trophy. Dream come true. At the age of 22, he was coming on as a half time substitute in the UEFA Champions League semi final. Barcelona went into the break 1-0 down and Frank Rijkaard turned to one of his younger stars to turn their fortunes around. He played a part in Barcelona winning that night, but it was a night that signaled that he was ready.
Often, the way you play the game reflects your personality, the way you live your life. Iniesta always had skills. It was only the confidence that was missing. He was still shy on the field. At Euro 2008, he was a regular in the Spanish National squad. Coming off the Championship winning run and into a difficult season at club level, he was also a regular for Barcelona. With his idol back in charge, he went on to have an astounding season. Not always amongst the goals, but always involved. Over the course of a year, between the summer of ’08 and that of ’09, which ended with Barcelona winning an historic and unprecedented treble, he had unleashed the magic in his boots. Nobody will forget that goal at Stamford Bridge. He remains an integral part of two of the most devastating sides to ever play the game. Sir Alex Ferguson was asked who he had special plans for before the 2009 Champions League final. The reply was swift and doubtless. Andres Iniesta. He is the man that conjures space and forces the errors.
The Little Man for the Big Game
There is something about the really big matches that brings out the genius in Andres Iniesta. With his team going out of the competition, he came up with the goal that put them into the final of the Champions League in 2009. At the world Cup in South Africa, with the final heading toward a nerve racking penalty shootout, he popped up with the winning goal. Exquisite technique, perfect timing. In the various hotly contested (to put it mildly) El Clasicos he always has an extra edge about him. There is always danger when he has the ball. The 2012 Spanish Super Cup first leg in the Camp Nou was another example. He was simply sublime that night. The pass to create the goal for Xavi was born out of sheer wizardry. He doesn’t beat the defenders so much as simply go past them.
He does it Politely
With the ball at his feet, he produces touches which mere mortals could barely imagine. The shyness is long gone. Replaced with the cold confidence of a trained assassin. But that’s where the beauty is. There is nothing sinister about his play. Everything is just simple. Few other players go past an opponent the way he does. Fewer still have the vision and ability to execute a pass like he does. Almost nobody possesses both. There are only two names that we all discuss. The Portugese Juggernaut that just keeps getting stronger and faster, and the Argentine genius, who just keeps finding new ways to dazzle. But they both have the ruthlessness of champions. They will tear you apart and leave you feeling helpless. Iniesta goes about wreaking havoc in defenses, but with a certain politeness that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. He is like silk, running between defenders. Everyone’s trying to get a hold of him, but he just slips through their fingers.
Adept at playing in wide positions as well as centrally, he changes the point of attack effortlessly. He has the ability to create spaces and angles which no one can fathom even exist. What’s more, he leaves you absolutely mesmerized by his footwork. He cuts through defenses like a hot knife through butter. The beauty is that he will make you want him to kill you. He won’t steal from you, he’ll ask you nicely enough for you to simply give him what he wants.
Ronaldo and Messi score goals that only they can. You think to yourself, “there is nobody else that could’ve scored that!”.
And then there’s Iniesta. He puts it on a platter and coats it with sugar, and even invites the opposition to take a bite. He creates positions and plays from where you don’t need to be Messi or Ronaldo, to score. The beauty lies in its simplicity.
The Xavi goal was a masterpiece. Another, to add to his ever increasing collection of artworks on grass. Most certainly, there is no better player on the planet. Equally good, maybe, but not conclusively better.