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Why Andrés Iniesta should win the 2012 Ballon d'Or

Competition for this year's golden ball is tough but surely Andrés Iniesta deserves the title.

David Ramos

6th of May 2009. Stamford Bridge. Andrés Iniesta scores the goal that paves Barcelona's way to the Champions League final. The goal came seconds before the final whistle.

11th of July 2010. Soccer City. Andrés Iniesta scores the goal that secures the World Cup for Spain. The goal came seconds before the final whistle.

28th of May 2011. Wembley Stadium. Andrés Iniesta assisted Messi for the second Barcelona goal as the red and blue outclassed Manchester United for their fourth European Cup.

Euro 2012. Andrés Iniesta is the player of the tournament as Spain break history by becoming the first side to win three major titles in a row.

Every year there is a golden moment for this golden player.

The Barcelona number eight has been described as the situations man. When times are tough you can rely on Iniesta to find a way out of trouble. 2012 was no different.

The year started with Iniesta finishing fourth in the 2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or. Cristiano Ronaldo gained second place sandwiched by Iniesta's teammates Xavi Hernandez and the winner Lionel Messi. The result meant a two place drop from his 2010 finish for Iniesta but by no means should it be taken as a negative.

Iniesta received 6.01% of the votes, just 3.22% shy of Xavi and was included in the FIFA World XI. Combining with Xavi and compatriot Xabi Alonso to create the perfect three man midfield.

Like Iniesta, Xavi and Messi, Barcelona also started the year in good form. The side progressed through the Copa del Rey, beating Real Madrid in the process, while a late charge for the La Liga title looked in full flow.

After recovering from a muscle tear in his left thigh sustained during Barça's 2-2 Copa del Rey draw with Madrid, Iniesta experienced a long run free of injuries. This extended run of playing time saw him demonstrate why he is considered one of the best in the world.

Pep Guardiola described him as "unique." Xavi hailed him as "Spain's most complete player." Cesc Fàbregas described him as a "source of immense confidence." They are all right but in particular Pep.

Iniesta is one of a kind playing in a team that is also one of a kind. Part of "The Barça Holy Trinity" Iniesta represents not just modern day Barcelona but modern day football. The little man taking back the soul of football from the big guy. Never before have we witnessed an era where the diminutive magicians have dominated as much as they do now. Santi Cazorla, Juan Mata, Leo Messi, Xavi, Sergio Agüero and Andrés Iniesta among others have shown that technical brilliance wins over brute force.

A philosophy Barça thrives on. It is no secret that Barcelona are strongest in midfield. The "pivote" of Sergio Busquets, the false 9 of Leo Messi and the pass masters of Xavi and Iniesta regularly dominate games and carve open oppositions. To understand how to beat Barcelona you need to understand how important your midfield is.

Busquets' role is to convert defence to attack as quickly as possible, Messi's role is to convert these attacking chances in to goals and Xavi and Iniesta's role is to control the game. That is what is key to Barcelona's success.

Pinpointing Iniesta's biggest strength is difficult but for me it's his intelligence. He is a 28 year old playing with the head of a 40 year old. The guy thinks at lightning speed and nearly always picks the right decision. Let's start with his off the ball work.

This clip highlights how Iniesta is always thinking. Like Messi, Iniesta regularly pulls defenders away from their comfort zones because of his great positional play. This creates space in between for players such as Pedro and Alexis Sánchez to run in behind and attack goal. Genius work from Barça's number eight.

Unjust criticism is often thrown at Barcelona for their unwillingness of players like Iniesta to shoot from distance. "They don't have the power" and "afraid to shoot" are just some of the hollow accusations thrown towards these great players. It's not that they're afraid to shoot or lack the talent, it's that they see a better option. A killer pass that increases the half chance to a clear cut chance. That is why Iniesta will go down as an all-time great.

FC Barcelona's 2011-12 season and Guardiola's era came to end with a 3-0 triumph in the Copa del Rey final over Athletic Bilbao. Iniesta played the full ninety which was his last competitive game before he donned the red, yellow and blue of Spain for the European Championship.

While Iniesta's form was brilliant for Barcelona, in 2012 Iniesta's best performances came at Spain's successful defense of their European Championship crown. In a team of midfielders, Iniesta was head and shoulders above the rest.

The tournament started with Spain coming from a goal down against eventual finalists Italy. Barça's Cesc Fàbregas scored the equalizer but Iniesta won the man of the match award.

Next was the Republic of Ireland and an impressive 4-0 victory from La Furia Roja. Iniesta played eighty minutes before being replaced by Santo Cazorla. Spain looked strong and talk of a historical third major title in a row outweighed the talk of a "boring" Spain.

Iniesta's next game earned him his next man of the match award. Spain progressed through to the knockout stages as Jesús Navas scored a late winner against Croatia allowing Spain to top the group.

The quarter finals saw a tie against a French side going through transition. Spain coasted to a 2-0 Xabi Alonso inspired win while Iniesta clocked another 84 minutes before being replaced by Santi Cazorla again.

The semi-finals was Spain's toughest test. A tie against neighbours Portugal led by Real Madrid's golden boy Cristiano Ronaldo. The game was tight, Spain were struggling to hit top gear but still had the majority of possession with 57%. Neither side could break the deadlock, five shots on target for Spain, two for Portugal. This game looked destined for penalties even with Spain's extra time charge. 120 minutes came and went and both sides prepared for the shootout.

Moutinho and Alonso both missed the opening penalties. Pepe scored his, Iniesta replied successfully. Nani scored as did Gerard Piqué. Still no Ronaldo, surely destined for the fifth penalty but then disaster for Portugal. Alves missed. Meaning if Fàbregas scored his, Spain would be through. As he did in the Euro 2008 quarter final against Italy, Fàbregas won the shoot out for Spain.

Portugal were out and Spain were heading for a first round replay against Italy. What happened next was absurd. Not only did Spain beat Italy they beat them by four goals. David Silva opened the scoring before the new Barcelona signing Jordi Aba doubled their lead before half time.

Spain's victory was ensured when Chelsea boys Mata and Torres scored. Capping off a remarkable tournament for both Spain and Iniesta.

Man of the match three times and the man of the tournament, Iniesta showed the world why he is one of the greatest. The picture of him worming his way past an Italy defence will be remembered as much as the sight of Casillas lifting the trophy.

The celebrations while joyous had to be cut short as Barcelona were entering a new era. The Tito era. "Pep's gone, the title's gone, is it over for the Dream Team?" and "is Tito not suited for the spotlight?" just some of the questions being asked of this side. There was no doubt there was doubts. But not from within the Barça camp.

The players started the season determined, still hurting from the pain of losing the league title to Madrid. Focusing on winning at grounds they dropped points at last season but most importantly for Vilanova, he has discovered a way of playing Xavi, Fàbregas and Iniesta on the same pitch.

With Iniesta pushed up to the left wing, he, Xavi and Fàbregas now have the chance to attack the goal. While I still feel Iniesta's best position is in the centre, there is evidence to show that the team plays superbly with all three of the La Masia graduates on the field.

Iniesta has made seven appearances from starting in the centre, scoring once and assisting once with an average rating of 7.32 according to Whereas when he has started on the left wing, in just four appearances he has scored once and assisted six times giving him an average rating of 8.36.

If we also look at Cesc Fàbregas, he has started fourteen games from the centre, scoring six time and assisting seven times with an average rating of 7.62. Coupled with Xavi's nineteen appearances, three goals, five assists and average rating of 7.37, it is clear that this new style is working for Barcelona.

Iniesta's highlight of this new season so far has been the away tie against Levante. He was magnificent. From his left wing position he assisted Messi twice and Fàbregas once before getting on the score sheet himself, earning himself a perfect 10 rating. This coming from a ground where Real Madrid had labored to a 2-1 win two weeks earlier.

Iniesta and Barcelona continued to dominate La Liga winning all but one game so far this season. Nine points ahead of Atlético, thirteen points ahead of Real, comfortably through the Copa del Rey and topping their Champions League group. Barça with Iniesta at the helm look almost unbeatable this season.

So why Iniesta should win the 2012 Ballon d'Or? Simply he has been the best this year. Remember the award is not for the best player but for the best player of 2012. That has to be Iniesta. I will leave you with this table as my final argument.

Major Titles Won in 2012

Andrés Iniesta

Lionel Messi

Cristiano Ronaldo

Copa del Rey

Copa del Rey

La Liga

Euro 2012

European Golden Shoe

Supercopa de España

UEFA Best Player in Europe

Pichichi Trophy

UEFA Euro Team of the Tournament

UEFA Euro Best Player of the Tournament

UEFA Euro Team of the Tournament

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