A few years ago, I made a comment about a soccer player. It was about a player from Barcelona that I felt was one of the best players in soccer. A little midfielder. I’m sure everyone was assuming I was talking about Xavi. But it was the other midfielder that hasn’t been in the limelight until recently: Andres Iniesta.
The first time I saw him play was on TV when Barcelona faced Arsenal in Paris at the UEFA Champions League final in my junior year of college. He comes on as a sub and he was pretty impressive in the limited time he was in the game. He had good technique, good passing, good vision, and just was simply impressive. He left a small impression on me, but it wasn’t until years later where I got to see his amazing talent.
It was a few years later when Barcelona may have had one of the best squads of all time. Thierry Henry, Messi and Eto’o up top was by far one of the scariest and probably most prolific front lines in the history of the modern game. Their combination of pace, technique and power was unmatched. Xavi was there to provide a number of assists for the three of them and it was just a marvel to watch them play. However, it was Iniesta’s play that was overlooked through all of it.
Until that one moment that broke him into the spotlight. There was a few moments left in the semifinal between Chelsea and Barcelona. Chelsea looked to go through on aggregate. But a defensive blunder by Michael Essien allowed Messi to get the ball. He dribbled before passing it to Iniesta. From there, Iniesta takes a shot with his first touch, beating Cech and allowing Barcelona to get through on away goals.
One could credit his national team or his club team for all the silverware that he’s earned. Two European titles, one World Cup, five La Liga titles, two Copa Del Reys, three UCL titles. But what we all overlook is the individual accolades he’s earned during that duration: 2009 La Liga Player of the Year, 2009-2011 UEFA Team of the Year, finalist in numerous Ballon d’Ors and UEFA Player of the Years. And this year, he won 2012 UEFA Euro Player of the Tournament and soon after, UEFA Player of the Year. He was the one that scored the World Cup winning goal against the Netherlands as well.
All we hear about right now is Messi and Ronaldo and who people think is the best in the world of the two. But in truth, it’s Iniesta that really should be in the discussion here. Pep Guardiola had a famous quote about Iniesta, “Xavi might replace me now, but it is Iniesta will replace the both of us.” He might be right. Iniesta’s ability to control a game is so amazing. His flexibility and utility is unseen these days. A central midfielder, attacking midfielder, left winger, behind the striker. He doesn’t complain or criticize the manager’s orders. He just plays. His ability with the ball is simply sublime. His passing is aggressive, yet accurate and effective. His dribbling and going at opposing defenders is a complete joy to watch, as he makes it seem completely effortless. And the various tricks that he can do aren’t flashy, but they’re so effective that you just want to see him do more.
But it’s ultimately his character that makes you want to root for him. He is a humble player. In his speech after he won the UEFA Player of the Year, he wasn’t talking about himself. He thanked his teammates, his managerial staff, everyone around him, but didn’t take credit for himself. How he talks about people and how he talks about his game shows that humbleness, something that isn’t really seen much in soccer (or sports in general) these days. He is never one to attract attention to himself, whether it be in press talks or interviews or on the field. I think that’s what really stands out for a player of such amazing caliber. The only other player with that kind of class is Messi.
Everyone will say Messi or Ronaldo as being the best in the world. But I think otherwise. Until they meet the kind of accolades that Iniesta has, I don’t think it’s even a contest. Iniesta’s sublime play and importance on the development on a game is far more important than the amount of goals that either have scored. Just look at Spain, who practically had no strikers in the majority of their games. It’s not the goals that you score, but rather how you utilize the ball and make the most of it. That’s what Iniesta does.
The only thing you could potentially hold against him is the number of goals or assists he makes… But you cannot quantify brilliance and world-class talent like Iniesta’s.