After weeks of speculation, Andres Iniesta finally confirmed that this season would be his last as a Barcelona player, at an emotional Press conference on Friday.
“This is my last season at Barcelona,” Iniesta said. “This was a decision which took a lot of thought. Barcelona are the best club in the world and they’ve given me everything. This club deserve the best version of me and in the near future I won’t be able to give that… It’s best for me to leave this club feeling important, still winning trophies.”
It’s difficult to know where to start with this man. First of all, there are the numbers. With 669 appearances for Barca and 124 for Spain, the man from La Mancha has won it all, including four Champions Leagues and eight La Liga titles, not to mention the World Cup, when he scored his most famous goal, and European Championship double in a Roja jersey.
Nowadays, there is so much emphasis on the number of goals and assists a player can achieve, and even though Iniesta’s statistics don’t stand out in that sense, they should be irrelevant for the impact that he can have on a game without playing a direct part in a goal. The way he effortlessly glides past opponents, always plays the right pass and finds space are the reasons why his teammates adore playing with him and why he is simply irreplaceable.
Spain teammate – and Real Madrid rival – Sergio Ramos recently said, ‘if he was called Andresinho instead of Iniesta, he would have won two Ballon d’Or titles,’ but that probably isn’t true. Playing in the same era as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo means no player has stood a chance of dethroning them, but a lack of individual accolades does not trouble a man like Iniesta because they don’t matter. Messi said, in Iniesta’s book ‘The Artist’, that in the difficult moments of matches, he always looked for the midfield maestro and made sure he was close by, which tells you all you need to know.
‘The way he effortlessly glides past opponents, always plays the right pass and finds space are the reasons why his teammates adore playing with him and why he is simply irreplaceable.’
The adulation he receives wherever he goes in Spain is testament to the fantastic person he is, and that’s not only because of his World Cup-winning goal. Always humble and helpful, and yet when he steps onto the pitch, especially in big games, you can tell when he’s up for it, nibbling away at opponents and making things happen.
Moreover, the mental strength he has shown throughout his career, most notably to recover from the ‘freefall’ in which he found himself after the passing of his dear friend Dani Jarque in 2009 to lead his country to the World Cup a year later is nothing short of admirable.
"It’s a pleasure to see him play like he did today,” his current Coach Ernesto Valverde said after a masterful display in the Copa del Rey final last Saturday. “I said the same about Messi in the past: They make it look a lot easier, what they do. I would have given my arm to be able to do what Iniesta does when I was a player. We’re very lucky to have him with us, and everyone else is very lucky to be able to enjoy his game.”
The way Iniesta performed in the Catalans’ 5-0 demolition of Sevilla suggests this decision has come too early. But the 33-year-old wants to be remembered like this, playing the way he has always done and not as someone who struggled at the top level of the sport towards the end of his career.
For this, Iniesta will always be remembered as a player and a person, who oozes class and played such a crucial part in a glorious era for both Barcelona and Spain. Thank you, Don Andres.