Shortly before midnight last Sunday, the man they called El Illusionista (The Dreamer), El Anti-Galactico (The Anti-Galactico) and Cerebro (The Brain) was the greatest man on Earth, deciding the greatest show on Earth. The unassuming superstar reached the pinnacle of his career that night and for several years now, he has been reaching constantly to do so.
It was never going to be easy when you looked at the beginning of his Barca years but the most under-rated player in the world (until Sunday night) scored the most important goal in Spanish history and did so with conviction.
His long road to being one of football’s best players started off when his parents enrolled him in La Masia, the famous Barcelona academy. Several of his coaches back then, recall the young Iniesta as being incredibly shy but even more talented. It was the current Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, who said about Xavi and Iniesta when seeing them at the academy:
“This man (Xavi) will force me to retire! But this kid here (Iniesta) will make us all retire”
After spending 2 seasons with the Barcelona B team, he moved onto the team where he would showcase his talents to the Camp Nou faithful. Being only 18, at the time of his debut during the 2003-04 season, he was so impressive some Barca fans were calling for him to start ahead of the under-performing Riquelme. However, for the remainder of that season, he would only be a deputy to Ronaldinho.
Next season, he finally established himself in the team and the following season, he helped capture La Liga and the Champions League. But such was the competetition for places in the team that he didn’t even start the Cheampions League final. Instead of sulking during this frustrating period of his career like we would see Deco and Ronaldinho do in a few years time during their fall from grace, he got his head down and worked hard at his football.
The next season, his stock began to rise again despite Barca relinquishing the league to Real Madrid. And in the 2007-08 season, he ranked 9th in the Ballon D’or awards. The stage was set for his best season yet in a Barcelona jersey.
The 2008-09 season for Barcelona was one of the greatest of any club side ever. While Messi, Eto’o and Henry were receiving all the praise it was the graft and genius of Iniesta which made this team tick. Yes, Xavi was another vital cog in this Barcelona machine but Iniesta was the glue which brought attack and midfield together.
A deceiving goals tally of 5 doesn’t show a lack of end product but more for an unbelievable unselfishness. Iniesta once said after teeing up Messi for a tap-in when he was 1v1 himself:
“Leo hadn’t scored for 3 games so I wanted him to score instead”
One memorable time that season he did shoot, he scored. And it was the crucial 93rd minute goal which put Barca into the Champions League final at Chelsea’s expense. It was an all-or-nothing shot and it found it’s way to the top right corner from 25 yards out. Iniesta wheeled away as he ripped off his jersey in delight.
In spite of being a doubt for the final with a thigh injury he started anyway and became the catalyst for one of the most one-sided cup finals in living memory. In the 8th minute, he manouvered his way past half the Manchetser United team after beginning his dazzling run from midfield and then set up Eto’o.
For the remainder of that night, he made a mockery of Manchester United and after the game Wayne Rooney hailed him as the ‘best player in the world’.
It was to be the World Cup final however, where Andres Iniesta would at last get the acclaim he has been so rightfully deserving of throughout his career. A night of relentless probing of the brutal Dutch defence eventually came to fruition as he rifled in the 116th minute winner.
When he did score the deciding goal, he again tore off his jersey and revealed a touching tribute to his close friend, the late Espanyol captain, Daniel Jarque González. On a t-shirt underneath he revelaed the words ”Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros” which translates to ”Dani Jargue, always with us”.
For me, this sums up the caring and sensitive nature that Iniesta always has. The greatest show in Earth belonged to the shyest person on Earth and the Iniesta clan back in Catalonia will never forget such an unforgettable Sunday.