Andres Iniesta is number 32 in 90min’s Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time Series
Put simply, Andres Iniesta was a genius.
The beating heart of arguably the greatest club side to have ever graced a football pitch, Iniesta must take his place amongst the world’s best midfielders. Not just of his generation, but of all time.
If you want to see Iniesta at his peak, you would have to travel back to somewhere between 2008 and 2012. Alongside midfield partner Xavi, the Spaniard changed the fortunes of a nation, as well as orchestrating unrivalled success at Catalan giants Barcelona.
Iniesta’s technical ability was unmatched, eyeing up passes that would seem physically and anatomically impossible to produce.
Not only was ‘El Ilusionista’ (The Illusionist) a dab hand at creating for others, his graceful running and exquisite dribbling led to Iniesta single-handedly carving open opposition defences, and chipping in with a fair few goals.
He was a product of Barcelona’s infamous youth academy; La Masia. The Spaniard consistently broke his way in to the first team during the 2004/05 season, playing 46 times in all competitions, helping Barca to yet another La Liga crown.
The midfielder – who thrived wherever he played across the pitch – continued to hone his talent, becoming indispensable to a side that was taking the world by storm. By the time Euro 2008 had rolled around, Iniesta had already won another La Liga title, as well as lifting the first of four Champions League trophies.
But Euro 2008 was perhaps one of his greatest achievements as a player.
Spain hadn’t won a major tournament since 1964, but their tiki-taka passing revolution was in full swing, and was something that even the world’s fiercest international competitors could barely deal with.
La Roja eased their way in to the quarter-final – winning all three group stage games – and narrowly found a way beyond a stubborn Italy on penalties.
Having beaten Russia 3-0 in the semi-final, the big stage was set for a heavyweight clash with Germany. Fernando Torres’ first-half goal was enough for Spain, and 44 years without a major trophy had come to a much-awaited end – with Iniesta earning his place in the Euro 2008 Team of the Tournament.
2008/09 would prove similarly successful for the midfield maestro, who helped Barcelona to another league title, despite injuries somewhat hampering the recent Euros winner. The performances of Iniesta would this time dictate the destination of the Champions League trophy as well, with the Spaniard running Barca’s European nights – even scoring a crucial and sensational goal against Chelsea in the semi-final.
Before the final with Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson identified Iniesta as Barca’s most integral component, stating: “He’s fantastic. He makes the team work.”
However, United wouldn’t be able to stop Iniesta showcasing his quality, playing through injury to provide a sumptuous assist in Barca’s 2-0 triumph.
OTD in 2009…
Andrés Iniesta scored one of the classic Champions League goals
He broke Chelsea hearts in the process pic.twitter.com/n33FCAnYTH
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 6, 2018
Persistent injury and personal bereavements didn’t stop Iniesta from winning La Liga once again, with Barcelona securing a then-record 99 points. But, a maiden African-hosted World Cup in 2010 would be the platform for Iniesta’s greatest moment.
Spain were looking to assert their international dominance on the major stage once more, aiming to be crowned World Cup champions for the first time in their history. Despite a rocky start to the tournament – losing the opener 1-0 to Switzerland – La Roja passed their way in to a blockbuster final with the Netherlands.
The stage was set, and Iniesta didn’t disappoint.
The final itself was a fiesty affair – undoubtedly a tactic used by the Netherlands to negate the talents of the likes of Iniesta – but Spain’s persistence was eventually rewarded, with Iniesta himself grabbing the World Cup-winning goal in extra time.
Justice was served.
Iniesta was named man of the match, and had earned the respect and love of all those in his homeland – even Real Madrid supporters (briefly).
His god-like status among those in Catalonia continued to grow, with the Spaniard’s conquering of world football – under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola – knowing no bounds.
In 2011, Iniesta won his third Champions League trophy, with Barcelona toppling Manchester United, again, in the final. While Iniesta didn’t get his name on the scoresheet, the magician still ran proceedings, and was widely considered the game’s best performer – even if the glamorous Lionel Messi earned the official man of the match award.
Euro 2012 would soon take centre stage, with the eyes of world football focused with unwavering precision on Spain. Could La Roja win a third successive major tournament? Yes, yes they could.
Despite a fairly routine journey to the trophy – including an emphatic 4-0 final victory over Italy – Iniesta still showed his class on the world stage, yet again confirming that he truly was the planet’s greatest midfielder.
The Spaniard was voted as the best player of the tournament, and his blend of power and poise was deserving of Europe’s elite prize.
Who would have thought that when little Andres Iniesta came through La Masia, that he would go on to make 674 appearances for Barcelona, scoring 57 goals and registering 140 assists?
Probably not many, but that he did, winning 35 trophies in total with grace and unrivalled beauty.