Ahead of Saturday’s El Clasico, rumours are circling that Andres Iniesta could leave Barcelona after this season. With so much made of Lionel Messi and Barca’s front three in recent seasons, there has seldom been a better time to reflect and admire one the few true gentlemen of football.
There is a select handful of footballers in the world who are respected no matter what ground they grace. Names such as Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Buffon and a small number of others belong to this group who are applauded, usually for their ‘idol’ status within the game and their achievements.
Iniesta is also included in this list for the above reasons, but also for a simple action on the pitch, seven years ago.
After scoring the winning goal in Spain’s 1-0 over Holland in the 2010 World Cup Final, Iniesta would have been forgiven for an extravagant celebration – in other words, doing what everyone else would do and absolutely lose it. Instead, he took off his top to reveal an undershirt paying tribute to Espanyol defender, Dani Jarque, who died of a heart attack in pre-season the year before.
“Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros” – five words which proved Iniesta’s inherent class on and off the pitch and gained the respect of not just Espanyol fans, but fans around the world. To this day there isn’t a stadium, from Espanyol’s RCDE to the Bernabeu, where Iniesta is not applauded.
Well, maybe not Dutch stadiums.
Iniesta this week said that this week’s El Clasico could be his last: “I would not know if it is the last or not, but I hope it is not.
“It is not something you are thinking or feeling. I know I will have to make a decision but it will be when it has to be.”
Whether this hints to retirement or spending his twilight years abroad, similar to his old midfield companion Xavi, remains to be seen. The news comes despite the fact that Iniesta signed a ‘contract for life’ at Barca in October. Should he leave in the near future, it is more than likely a Francesco Totti-esque director role will be waiting for the Spaniard.
The midfielder was a key cog in a period of domination for club and country, forming the original three for Barca, alongside Xavi and Messi. He and Messi have an incredible 30 titles for Barca, with nine La Liga titles, six Copa del Rey’s, and five Champions League.
What Iniesta can also boast, which Messi can’t, is being part of one of the best national sides in football history. Spain’s tiki-taka generation, from around 2008-2012, passed, dribbled and danced their way past everyone to two European Championships and, of course, a World Cup which Iniesta dutifully delivered.
One of the most technically gifted footballers of our generation, Iniesta is undoubtedly one of the most respected. Even Zinedine Zidane once modestly said “he reminds me of myself.” What sets Iniesta apart is he is a true scholar of the game, saying himself he is always thinking two, three passes in advance. It’s no wonder his nicknames include El Illusionista (the illusionist) and El Cerebro (the brain).
It is hard to argue that his midfield powers are waning with age, the stats only back this up. One assist and no goals so far this season despite his team storming the league, still unbeaten. Iniesta himself is part of the Barca brigade that is relentlessly talking up a move for Coutinho, the obvious heir to his role.
He has reportedly rejected a move to China, with teammate Javier Mascherano also being linked to the Chinese league. Mascherano’s case to leave is stronger, having been phased out this season, featuring only six times.
Barca and Madrid face each other again in May, so, if Iniesta is to leave in summer, the ‘good’ news is we hopefully get to see him face Madrid one more time after this week.