Iniesta set to wave goodbye to Barca
Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta cried the first day he joined Barcelona and, 22 years later, he shed tears the day he announced his departure with his next destination still undecided.
In his time at Camp Nou Iniesta won almost everything and he will depart with a remarkable nine La Liga medals, in addition to six Copa del Rey triumphs, seven Spanish Super Cup victories, four Champions League successes, three UEFA Super Cup wins and three Club World Club titles. On two occasions, Iniesta even won the treble, the rare conquering of a La Liga, Copa del Rey and European title in a single season.
Barcelona always had high hopes for the young man from Albacete, a province in Spain’s interior, and made an exception to their rules in order to bring him from his home into their youth set-up in 1996. La Masia, Barcelona’s world-famous youth academy, normally only accepted children aged 14 or older but he was so special that he was welcomed at the age of 12.
Iniesta rose through the youth ranks and made his debut in 2002 at the age of 18 under coach Louis van Gaal, before becoming a regular starter the following years. He formed a formidable partnership with fellow club legend Xavi Hernandez and by the time Pep Guardiola, whose possession-based style of play suited him to a T, took over in 2008 he was already an indispensable member of the squad.
At international level with Spain he won, two European Championships (2008 & 2012) and, most memorably, the 2010 World Cup where he scored the winning goal in extra-time against the Netherlands in the final. So consistently brilliant saw him finishing second in voting for the Ballon d’Or, the award for the best player on the planet, in 2010, while he came third in 2012.
The 34-year-old won’t only be remembered for his awards and trophies but will be remembered for being an elegant midfielder as we’ve seen in decades. Humble and respectful, loved and appreciated by not only Barça fans but by supporters of every club across the country, he is perhaps the only player to be greeted with a standing ovation at every away stadium he plays in, including at the homes of Real Madrid and Espanyol, Barça’s biggest rivals, and even across Europe.
At Espanyol, in particular, they remember his emotional tribute to former Espanyol captain and friend Dani Jarque who tragically died suddenly aged just 26 in 2009 following his World Cup-winning goal in 2010.
“I understand that in the near future I might not be able to give the best of myself in both a physical and mental sense. A legend both on and off the pitch, the mercurially-talented Andres Iniesta is bowing out at the top. He will be sorely missed across LaLiga," Iniesta said.
The midfield maestro’s career at the Camp Nou will come to an end when Barcelona host Real Sociedad this weekend.