The first real soccer match I ever watched was the 2010 World Cup Final. I didn’t know any players names. I didn’t understand tactics or individual players skill sets. I just watched, in all honesty, a dull and dirty affair between Spain and the Netherlands.
And then, in the 116th minute, Andres Iniesta changed all that, slapping one of world football’s most iconic goals past Maartin Steklenberg to give Spain their first World title.
Since that match, and that goal, I became infatuated with Iniesta. I immediately started following Barcelona, who would go on to have one of the greatest club seasons ever.
Iniesta is the sort of player I love. He’s quietly brilliant. He isn’t outspoken, he isn’t a hulking physical beast. But he truly plays the game of football with a level of beauty that is often overlooked.
In Euro 2012, Iniesta won the award for Best Player of the Tournament– a tournament he didn’t score in. He was Man of the Match for the 2015 Champions League Final– he didn’t score in that match either.
He still dominated each match, as he has done for so long in his career. The effortless passing. The elusive dribbling. The ability to take the ball at one spot and pivot so quickly that he leaves four defenders lost in his wake.
Iniesta is referred to as the Illusionista, or the illusionist. When you watch him play, you see why.
Over his career, Iniesta played 16 seasons, and appeared in 669 matches. While he only scored 57 goals, that clearly wasn’t the defining trait of his career.
It was the passing, the dribbling, the football IQ that was a level above the rest he played with. His partnership with Xavi made football look like poetry– the way they literally passed teams off the pitch remains mesmerizing to this day.
But above all– it was the winning.
Iniesta won 31 trophies at Barcelona, including 8 La Liga titles (soon to be 9), 6 Copa del Reys, 4 Champions Leagues, and 3 FIFA Club World Cups. He also won the World Cup and 2 Euro’s with Spain.
Iniesta is often overlooked– only those who truly know football realize his lack of statistical production is in no way indicative of how dominant a player he was.
Iniesta suffered from being on three of the best club teams ever (2009, 2011, and 2015) and the most dominant international team ever (2008-2012 Spain), in the sense that his individual brilliance was overshadowed by that of the team, but Iniesta is the finest midfielder of a generation and a creative inspiration that will never be able to be replaced.