A Barça without Iniesta seems like a chair missing a leg. It is unusual, out of place but still functional. Club captain Andrés Iniesta is very much part of the furniture at Barcelona having been with the Catalans since 1996. To put that in to context, Marlon Santos, who made his league debut last season, was just one year old.
At 33 years of age, Iniesta is by no means past it as a footballer but there have been question marks over whether he is still able to consistently perform at the level in which Barça require. The Spaniard is heading into the final year of his current contract but it seems the uncertainty of whether to renew has not come from the club but rather from the player himself.
Technical secretary Robert Fernandez spoke in April about how a renewal for both Iniesta and Lionel Messi is coming but it is now June and there has still yet to be anything concrete. Long term midfield partner Xavi has also stated that if Iniesta wanted to renew, Barcelona would do it but it may be from Xavi that Iniesta takes his inspiration.
With any player who stays at a club a long time, there is the potential for an awkward divorce. The player can either accept that they won’t be getting the minutes they used to or they can unceremoniously throw their reputation around which almost inevitably leads to a transfer away. Xavi is of the former who had the maturity to recognise he wasn’t able to perform consistently at the level required for an elite club such as Barcelona.
Iniesta along with new coach Ernesto Valverde will need to discuss about each other’s vision of the player’s future. The situation has similarities to when Luis Enrique took over but there is a crucial difference in that when Luis Enrique first arrived, Xavi had decided to leave. It was the new coach who convinced Xavi to stay one more year, relying on the leadership as well as the playing ability provided by Xavi to win the treble in his first season. Iniesta has not shown any desire to leave as of yet but his influence on the team has been fading.
In the 16/17 season, Iniesta played 1,332 league minutes which is 916 less than the year previous. In fact, this was the season in which Iniesta played the least amount of league minutes since he became a regular in the side. Of course, you have to take into account the number of injuries he has suffered but the increase of injuries is an aspect that does come with age. He has been hit with two knee injuries, muscular problems and adductor problems which has kept him out for a combined 89 days this season. The second knee injury which occurred in October was his longest break since 2010.
Periods of intermittent injuries make it hard for a player to reach his best form. To play three or four games and then pick up another injury does not allow you to get back to your peak playing performance. Yes, you can train every day but there is still a considerable gap between that and being match fit. Iniesta has had a relative quiet season where he has only really shone in a few games and his injuries, which are a natural product of age, must take some blame.
Another disadvantage to Iniesta is the speed at which the modern game is played. La Liga is hailed as a technical league where players are given time on the ball and the overall tempo is lower than elsewhere but this is not something that translates to the Champions League or playing other big teams. These games are often highly charged, frantic affairs where a player is allowed very little time on the ball due to the increased popularity of a high press. While Iniesta has the technical ability to play fast football, he does not always have the physical aspect needed to keep up with a tempo of a game. Take the first leg against PSG for example, Veratti, Matuidi and Rabiot overran the Barça midfield with quick pressing and the speed of their movement.
If Iniesta were to leave, there would no doubt be a long list of suitors. He has by no means lost his technical ability which would be a handy addition to any of the major clubs. But it will ultimately be down to the player or whether he wants to leave and if so, if he could ever face playing against Barça. It is unlikely he will leave this summer but he and Valverde will now need a serious discussion on where they see Iniesta’s future.