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Gràcies Iniesta: An appreciation of Barcelona’s midfield genius

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FC Barcelona player Andres Iniesta Press Conference Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Andrés Iniesta’s Barcelona career may be almost over but his legacy will be everlasting.

As the man they call ‘Don’ walked from the pitch at the Wanda Metropolitano in the final of the Copa del Rey you could see the tears welling up in his eyes. He knew the time had come. The crowd on hand stood as one in appreciation, not only for his sublime performance in the destruction of Sevilla, but also for what can only be described as a celestial career.

Barcelona v Sevilla - Spanish Copa del Rey Final Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

In what was to be his last ever final for Barcelona, Iniesta left many of us wondering just why he was leaving. His performance against Sevilla was spellbinding; proof enough that he still has plenty left to give but it’s clear he’s departing on his own terms and with his head held high. Who could begrudge him of that?

As he lifted the cup, there were mixed feelings. For some this was the ultimate way to finish his career for Barça; a goal in the final and the presentation of yet another trophy but for most it was the end of an era. Sadness invariably followed.

Many footballing greats have graced the hallowed ground of the Camp Nou but few have represented the ethos of the club like Iniesta has. When he arrived in Barcelona in 1996 he was just 12 years of age. Uncertainty was undoubtedly at the forefront of his mind but from those early days at La Masia to an amazing 670 games for the first team, Iniesta’s journey represents all that is right with Barcelona football. His DNA is blue and red, pure blaugrana.

Iniesta leaves Barcelona having won everything there is to win, 34 trophies to be exact. However, his career is more than just an enormous collection of silverware, not only has he won with astounding regularity, he’s also earned the respect of fans the world over. Few players in the sport’s history are as beloved as he is.

Juventus v FC Barcelona  - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Such an unassuming and humble nature belies Iniesta’s profound ability and whilst his look was always distinctively plain, his talents were far from austere. Pep Guardiola once said that: “Iniesta doesn’t dye his hair, he doesn’t wear earrings and he hasn’t got any tattoos. Maybe that makes him unattractive to the media but he’s the best.” Pep is never far from the truth with his assessments about football. The best might be a stretch but it’s not exactly a big one.

Looks aside, Iniesta’s ability to turn a game on its head was an art form. Who can forget his performance in 2015 in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain? Iniesta had the ball on a string as he carved up the midfield before slotting a beautiful through ball to Neymar for the opening goal. Such brilliance was commonplace for him.

The first Clasico of 2015 is another indelible Iniesta moment of wizardry. Such was the brilliance of his play that even the crowd on hand at arch-enemy Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stood in unison to applaud his consummate brilliance.

Big games bring out the best in special players and perhaps the most important moment of all for Iniesta was his game-winning goal in the final of the 2010 World Cup.

It was an emotional time in the Barcelona star’s career. Having lost his good friend Dani Jarque the year before, Iniesta’s goal was a poignant ode to his compatriot. When he took off his shirt to reveal the words ‘Dani Jarque – Always with us,’ it was clear how much it meant to him. Iniesta was brilliant on the pitch but he was known to be just as good a person off of it.

Netherlands v Spain: 2010 FIFA World Cup Final Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

For anyone who’s followed the career of ‘Don’ Andrés there’s one thing that often emanates when fans and pundits alike try to explain his greatness: Intelligence.

His was a cerebral style, his footballing I.Q. proven countless times and whilst there will be a sadness that will follow his exit from Barcelona perhaps it’s best to trust that intelligence. Now is the right time. His tenure at the Camp Nou may be over but his legacy will never be in question. Gràcies Iniesta.