Pep Guardiola knew, even back in 1998. He told Xavi about him. In fact, he warned Xavi. “Hey kid, listen. One day, you’re going to retire me. But this kid is going to retire us all.” Guardiola was of course talking about the irrepressible, irresistible, and downright brilliant Andres Iniesta.
2012 was a bit of a disappointment for FC Barcelona, and very nearly was for the Spanish national team too. Derided throughout the European Championships as a boring side by some, their performances were illuminated by Iniesta’s frequent moments of magic as he was named the player of the tournament ahead of Andrea Pirlo. One of the most astonishing images of the whole championships was the one of Iniesta, ball at his feet, literally surrounded by Italian defenders. And you just know he somehow escaped with the ball too.
Rightfully named European football’s best player by UEFA earlier in the year, Iniesta’s performances have proven him as the best attacking midfielder since Zinedine Zidane. Two examples that spring to mind immediately are the first leg of the Spanish Supercup against Real Madrid and the game against Levante in November.
In the first leg against Real Madrid, Iniesta gave one of the absolute great individual performances, teasing and tormenting Madrid defenders relentlessly. And then he went and topped that against Levante, delivering a performance so majestic that it should expect a coronation ceremony any day now. Three assists and a belter of a goal later, and even the Levante fans were applauding him off the pitch.
But beyond that, the hero of Johannesburg, the man so remarkable on the pitch, is so very unremarkable off it. Not once will you see Iniesta in the front pages of a tabloid, let alone hear of him being rebuked for his off field behaviour. For a man who legitimately has every reason to be as arrogant as any footballer who has ever graced the planet with the medals to back it up, he is the epitome of humility. As one of his many nicknames tells you, he is the Ungalactico Galactico.
For an award that is not just necessarily about the best player in the world, but who is valued for their on field and off field contributions as well as who has had the best calendar year, Iniesta deserves another nickname. Ballon d’Or Iniesta.