Greatness has followed Iniesta throughout his career and his reputation had already taken on a life of its own by the age of 15-years-old. By impressing the senior coaches at Barcelona, in which he joined the renowned La Masia just four years previous, the young, frail Iniesta was asked to join in the first team’s training session. 

Even at the tender age of 15, the young Spaniard didn’t allow his stature, size or clear deficiencies get in the way of showing the senior players what he can do with the ball at his feet. Pep Guardiola, the then-captain of Barça, told 19-year-old Xavi Hernández, “You’re going to retire me [but] this kid is going to retire us all.” 

After that training session, Guardiola addressed the group of players and said: “Remember this day - the day you first played with Andrés.”

Quite the compliment. 

Many players would be ecstatic with 1/10th of what Iniesta has achieved in the game of football. Now, at 33-years-old, the Spaniard’s career reads: nine league titles, seven Spanish Super Cups, four Champions Leagues, six Copa del Reys, three European Super Cups and three Club World Cups. Let alone what he’s won for his country: two European Championships and a World Cup, which he scored the winning goal in.

Iniesta is one of the good guys in football. A loyal servant at Barcelona for his 18 years at the club in-and-around the first team, as well as the four preceding that in the youth academy. But one thing he did not want to happen was to loiter around the club when his legs had given way - he did not want to become a burden to the club he adores. And so Iniesta knew that the time was right to find pastures new at the end of the season.

That’s not to say that Iniesta has become surplus to requirements at Barcelona. Ernesto Valverde has still used him 40 times this season, and the little Spaniard’s performance against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final was a magisterial display. A totally dominant 88 minutes that ended in a goal and a fitting send off with yet another trophy. It was a testament to the player he is that both sets of fans stood up and applauded the magician as he took his seat on the bench. 

Over the years we have witnessed Iniesta dominate world football, there has been a lot to take away from his illustrious career. He is not the biggest, he’s not the strongest, and he’s certainly not the quickest, but he never let those small indiscretions get in the way of his artistic brilliance. 

There is a strong case to suggest that if Iniesta had grown up through the ranks in England, he might never have made it. Such was his size and lack of a physical presence, he might well have slipped through the net at a younger age. That’s the stark difference in Spain compared to England: they value, appreciate and nurture players who play the purest form of football. It is not until those English players are older that the coaching set-up starts to try to change the way they have learnt the game from an early age. 

The fact that Iniesta could torment other teams for 90 minutes through his intricate passing, eagle eye vision and a wonderful ability to glide as if he was skating on ice with the ball glued to his feet is simply extra terrestrial. 

In an age where fans are obsessed with stats, numbers don’t define Iniesta. If you judged him simply on those, you would think he’s vastly underwhelming; but that, in a way, is the beauty of the Barcelona captain. You have to watch him and not just a two-minute highlights reel. Arguably the most impressive thing about the midfielder is his ability to read the game and maintain a
position where he is always two steps ahead of everyone else - that is the true sign of genius.

Iniesta was the poster boy of Spanish football and how it should be played during the Golden Era of 2008-2012. For both club and country, he was winning major honour after major honour, trailblazing a path for the new generation to come through. Those young Spanish midfielders in La Masia can look at the path Iniesta took and gain vital inspiration and reassurance that you don’t need to be the biggest, strongest or quickest. You just need to be smarter than everyone else. 

There are countless soundbites from a vast collection of football legends around the world, but this quote from teammate Lionel Messi aptly describes Iniesta’s attraction: “Andrés and I are similar in that we both use our bodies a lot, to avoid opponents. But he has something that always amazes me. There’s always a moment when you think you’re going to catch him, when you think you’re going to get the ball off him, but you can’t.” 

Gracis, Andrés.

This article was written by Liam Canning for Soccer Box. Shop witth us for official Barcelona football shirts, Spain kit and other football merchandise.