“Llevaré siempre en el corazón la estima que me han dado los aficionados a lo largo de mi carrera (I will always carry in my heart the esteem that fans have given me throughout my career).” –Andrés Iniesta
Last Friday evening (Philippine local time), a mobile notification chimed signaling FC Barcelona was holding a live press conference for an announcement by midfielder Andrés Iniesta. Nearing the end of his 22nd year with the club, starting as a member of the youth team to one of the stars of the first team, there were already rumblings suggesting he was ready to enter a new stage of life – whether it were retirement or moving to another club.
The press conference started and, immediately, the living legend was given the microphone. Tears in his eyes and a quiver in his voice, he affirmed what the football world had been speculating, this 2017-2018 season would be final season with Barça.
After an illustrious career growing up with one of the greatest football clubs in the entire world – six Copa del Rey titles, four UEFA Champions League trophies, three FIFA Club World Cups, three UEFA Super Cups, and eight La Liga titles (or nine by the time this column is published) – the man has more than made a name for himself. Whether the rumors are true and he pursues a lucrative contract with a Chinese football club or he retires entirely, he has earned the respect of all football fans.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, who also began his youth career Barcelona, back in 1984, playing for the club until 2001 and moving on to managing the club’s first team from 2008 to 2012, where he won three La Liga titles, two Copa del Reys titles, two FIFA Club World Cups, two UEFA Super Cups, and two UEFA Champions League titles, had nothing but praises for the midfielder – like many others who have chimed in since the announcement.
“People think managers help the players but he helped me understand the game better, just watching how he plays the game,” he said. “The pleasure of seeing him train, how everything was easy; I think the most impressive thing about him [was] how naturally he played.”
“That is very difficult to find in a football player,” Guardiola added.
Sports writer Sid Lowe wrote a blog for ESPN where he recounted the 2010 World Cup, where Iniesta scored the winning goal against the Netherlands during extra time in the final match – yet another accomplishment still sought after by some of the current world’s best.
“He didn’t want to linger, bid farewell from the bench, or ever feel like he wasn’t good enough anymore,” Lowe wrote. “He sensed that, two weeks from his 34th birthday, this moment might be close.”
He also quoted Iniesta, noting, “My only objective was to succeed here; and I have.”
Have made trips to Barcelona four times, with one of the main draws being FC Barcelona; watched two matches live at the Camp Nou and walked through the FC Barcelona museum twice (which happens to include a section recognizing Ilonggo talent Paulino Alcántara, the namesake of the inaugural Philippine Football League cup who played for the club in the early 20th century).
During those “early days,” it was a marvel to watch Iniesta alongside other talents produced by La Masia, Barcelona’s youth academy, including Gerard Piqué, Xavi, Carles Puyol, Víctor Valdés, Bojan Krkić, Pedro, Sergio Busquets, and (of course) Lionel Messi. Growing in fandom, it was more than evident the triumvirate of Messi, Iniesta, and Xavi was the key to Barça’s massive success – the three were even shortlisted for the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or, a rare instance for the top three players in the world to be playing for the same professional club.
The first tearful exit was seeing the consummate leader, Puyol, leave the game. There has since been no other leader like him, giving everything he has in every match. Then it was Xavi, who left and took an opportunity to play out the rest of his career in the Middle East. Now, it’s Iniesta, and it’s just as painful to see him leave.
Iniesta, who displayed unrivaled skill and finesse on the pitch, was also, to the general public, very reserved – a balance rarely seen among high-profile footballers. This was something Zinedine Zidane, coach of FCB’s archrival Real Madrid, noted about the midfielder.
“I like the people who show everything on the field and outside they are calmer,” he said. “I only have good words towards him and admiration for his football.”
The Frenchman added, “He deserved the Ballon d’Or.”
He truly brought so much to the game, not just for Barcelona, but football in general.
In reference to the “reserved” nature topic, something that stood out among Puyol, Xavi, and Iniesta is the humility all three exhibited. Admired by many around the world and lauded by commentators, yet they all exuded a humble attitude; a rarity among their contemporaries, especially with so many regularly flaunting their wealth every which way. While there is no doubt they are all financially well-off, unlike many players at other clubs, they’re personal luxuries were never brandished for the rest of the world.
Beyond the talent, the accolades, and entertainment he offered fans, the down-to-earth attitude only makes footballers like Andrés Iniesta all the more admirable./WDJ