Iniesta playing for Spain in the Euro 2012
||Andrés Iniesta Luján
|Date of birth
||11 May 1984 (age 28)
|Place of birth
||1.70 m (5 ft 7 in)
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only and correct as of 21 April 2013.
† Appearances (Goals).
‡ National team caps and goals correct as of 26 March 2013
Andrés Iniesta Luján (Spanish pronunciation: [anˈdɾes iˈnjesta luˈxan], born 11 May 1984) is a Spanish footballer who plays as a central midfielder for La Liga club FC Barcelona and the Spanish national team.
Iniesta came through La Masia, the Barcelona youth academy—after an early emigration from his birthplace and impressed from an early age. He made his first-team debut in 2002, aged 18. He began playing regularly during the 2004–05 season, and has remained in the side ever since. He was an integral part of the Barcelona side in 2009, the only time which a club has achieved six titles in two seasons.
Iniesta played for Spain at Under-16, Under-19 and Under-21 levels, before making his international debut in 2006. He was selected for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, playing one game, as Spain went out in the second round. He helped Spain qualify for Euro 2008, and played an important role in the side as they went on to win the competition, playing every game and being selected in the UEFA Team of the Tournament. Iniesta was selected for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and was a key member of the victorious Spanish side; he scored the winning goal in the final against the Netherlands, also being named Man of the Match, and was selected in the tournament’s All-Star Team.
Iniesta comes from small village named Fuentealbilla in the province of Albacete, Castile–La Mancha. At the age of 12, while playing for Albacete Balompié in a junior seven-a-side tournament in Albacete, he attracted the attention of scouts from many clubs around Spain. His parents knew the FC Barcelona youth team coach, Enrique Orizaola, and he persuaded them to consider sending Iniesta to the Barcelona youth academy. Iniesta travelled there with his parents and visited La Masia, the Spanish farmhouse where the team house their young players; the trip convinced them to enroll Iniesta in the Barcelona youth ranks. Iniesta says he “cried rivers” the day he left for La Masia and struggled being separated from his parents; he was very shy and kept to himself while there. He captained the Barcelona Under-15 team to victory in the Nike Premier Cup of 1999, scoring the winning goal in the last minute of the final, and being named player of the tournament.
In the 2004–05 season Iniesta featured in 37 out of 38 league games—more than any other player—although 25 of these were substitute appearances. He scored twice as Barcelona won La Liga. An injury to fellow midfielder Xavi at the start of the 2005–06 season allowed Iniesta more regular starts in the centre of midfield, and he continued to improve and develop. He played in 11 Champions League games, including a half-time appearance in the 2006 final to replace Edmílson. His contribution to the team was praised by manager Frank Rijkaard as Barcelona won a league and Champions League double.
Andrés Iniesta with Barcelona in 2006
The 2006–07 season saw Iniesta’s profile continue to rise and earned plaudits for his willingness to play in any position for his team. On 22 August 2006, Iniesta lifted the Joan Gamper Trophy as the captain of the team after defeating German side Bayern Munich 4–0. He played for the first time as a left wing-forward for Barcelona in two Champions League matches against Levski Sofia, finding the net twice. In the first knock out stage of the same competition, he played at central midfield against Liverpool. Despite being moved around the pitch by manager Rijkaard, the 2006–07 season remains Iniesta’s highest scoring thus far.
With the departure of Ludovic Giuly over the summer break, Iniesta was able to switch his number 24 shirt for his preferred number 8. On 19 July 2007, the Spanish newspaper Marca linked Iniesta with a move to rivals Real Madrid, who were willing to pay his €60 million release clause. Iniesta responded the same day to deny the rumours, saying: “I’ve been told about that and I’m very surprised. I can’t do anything about it but I’d like to insist once again that I want to stay here. When I say I want to retire in Barça, I say it with all my heart. And my wishes are above everything else.” On 25 January 2008, Iniesta extended his contract to 2014, with his buy-out clause being raised to €150 million.
According to the Spanish football magazine Don Balón, a member of European Sports Magazines, Iniesta has been one of the most consistent performers in the last two seasons of Primera Division, placing fifth in 2006–07, and fourth in 2007–08 on their annual rating system Ranking Don Balón. He also placed 9th in the 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year voting, gaining 37 total points. Barcelona team-mates Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Xavi also featured in the top ten.
Andrés Iniesta warming-up for Barcelona
In September 2008, after the departure of former vice-captain Ronaldinho to Milan, the Barcelona squad decided on its new team captains. Iniesta was named fourth-choice behind, in order of preference, Carles Puyol, Xavi and Víctor Valdés; all four were products of the Barcelona youth system. In mid-November 2008, Iniesta suffered a leg injury and was expected to return to action in six weeks. Iniesta, however, did not want to come back until he was 100 percent and finally returned to action on 3 January 2009 as a 65th minute substitute against RCD Mallorca. After only 10 minutes he scored a crucial goal and completed a Barcelona comeback in front of the Camp Nou. His performances in the 2008–09 season have been highly lauded, receiving standing ovations both in Barcelona at the Camp Nou, as well as from rival supporters in away matches.
On 5 February, Iniesta made his 250th appearance for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey match against Mallorca. Iniesta once again got injured in Barcelona’s home match against Málaga CF, but returned to action for the first leg Champions League quarter-final clash against Bayern Munich, which Barcelona won 4–0.
Former teammate Samuel Eto’o described Iniesta as being “the best player in the world; whenever Iniesta is on the pitch, he creates a spectacle.”
Iniesta scored a vital equaliser from outside the penalty area in the final minute of stoppage time during the second-leg of the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, securing the tie on away goals as the match finished 1–1. In his diary of the season, Un Any Al Paradis, he wrote “I connected with that shot with the outside, not the inside or the tip of my boot, but right from my heart, with all my might.”
“I knew I would play injured and do more damage. For 17 days, all I thought about was the final in Rome and winning, even knowing that I would do more damage. I’d repeat it, for sure. I love this club and my profession and I wanted to win. If we had lost the final that would have been a total disaster.”
Andrés Iniesta, September 2009
This goal sent Barcelona through to the 2009 UEFA Champions League Final in Rome against defending champions Manchester United. Prior to the final, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson said: “I’m not obsessed with Messi, Iniesta is the danger. He’s fantastic. He makes the team work. The way he finds passes, his movement and ability to create space is incredible. He’s so important for Barcelona.” Despite a thigh injury, Iniesta played and was influential in the game, providing the assist for the first goal scored by Samuel Eto’o as his team went on to win 2–0; in his analysis, David Pleat wrote, “In the end the midfield artistry of Iniesta and Xavi, helped by Messi, was the critical factor”. After the game, Wayne Rooney described Iniesta as the best player in the world.
Don Balón rated him as the most consistent performer in the 2008–09 La Liga season, ahead of team-mates Xavi and Lionel Messi.
On 18 October, Iniesta was included in a list of 30 candidates for the prestigious Ballon d’Or, given to the top player of the year in Europe, along with teammates Xavi and Lionel Messi and former teammates Thierry Henry, Yaya Touré, Zlatan Ibrahimović, and current Anzhi Makhachkala striker Samuel Eto’o. Andrés was one of five nominations for the World Player of the Year award alongside teammates Lionel Messi, and Xavi Hernandez. Proud of the nomination, he commented that “the fans of the team who have always been there to support our team-mates also deserve to be recognised”. The ceremony was held in Zürich and teammate Lionel Messi took home the award. Iniesta placed fifth with 134 votes. He scored his first goal for the season against Racing Santander in a 4–0 win. Iniesta’s 2009–10 season was largely disrupted by recurrent injuries. He missed pre-season fitness training due to the thigh tear suffered in the 2009 Champions League final and this meant that despite featuring in almost as many matches as the previous season, he did so mostly as a substitute, starting only 20 games throughout. Nevetheless, Barcelona once again won the La Liga title securing a record 99 points. His season came to an end after he aggravated a previous calf injury during training.
On 27 November 2009, he made a one-year extension to his Barcelona contract which now runs until 2015; his buy-out clause was raised again from €150 million to €200 million.
After being given extended rest by Spain coach Vicente del Bosque following the World Cup, Iniesta returned to Barcelona for a pre-season medical on 9 August 2010. Speaking to FC Barcelona‘s website, he said of the message dedicated to Daniel Jarque revealed during his goal celebration in the World Cup final: “I did it because I felt it deeply. It showed that what is more important than rivalry, your team or your colours is to be human and a good person. I am delighted because it was the most important moment in my career.” Asked about the recurrent injuries that plagued his 2009–10 season, he said: “It was hard, but I will start with more desire than ever.”
Iniesta scored his first goal of the season for Barcelona during the opening La Liga fixture against Racing Santander, lobbing the ball into the net from a distance of 30 yards. He received standing ovations from home fans at El Sardinero and the Vicente Calderón Stadium in appreciation of his World Cup-winning exploits whilst with the Spanish national team. He also had a standing ovation in the home pitch of RCD Espanyol in El Derbi, with the crowd acknowledging his friendship with Daniel Jarque. Barcelona won the match 5–1.
He was one of the three finalists for the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or, alongside Barcelona teammates Xavi and Messi, but came second as Messi won the award.
Iniesta started the 2011–12 season by scoring the opening goal in the second leg of the Supercopa de España against rivals Real Madrid. Barcelona went on to win the match 3–2 and the cup on agg. 5–4.
On 19 October, Iniesta scored one of the best goals in the Uefa Champions League group stage after a good interchange of passes with Lionel Messi. On 17 March 2012, playing against Sevilla FC at Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, Iniesta equaled Emilio Butragueno’s record of 50 matches unbeaten streak in Spanish La Liga. On 24 March 2012, Barcelona defeated RCD Mallorca 2–0, marking Iniesta’s 51st match unbeaten in the league.
After a long goal drought of goals in the Champions League, he scored a vital goal against AC Milan in the quarter final. From there he went on to score in the semi finals against Chelsea FC to make it 2–0, but however Chelsea FC came back and the game ended 2–2. Iniesta was named the “Best Player” of the 2011–12 UEFA Champions League.
On 25 November 2012 Iniesta was named man of the match after scoring one goal and creating three others in a 4–0 win over Levante UD in the league. Four days later, he was named on a three-man shortlist for the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or, along with Cristiano Ronaldo and team-mate Lionel Messi. At the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or he was one of the 11 player in the best squad of the year.
Iniesta burst on to the international scene in 2001, helping Spain win the UEFA European Under-16 Championship, and was in the squad that claimed the UEFA European Under-19 Championship the following year. Since then, he became a regular choice for the then youth coach Juan Santisteban. In 2003 he formed part of the Spanish side that reached the FIFA World Youth Championship final in the United Arab Emirates, and was named in the FIFA all-star team. During his spell with the Spain U21s side, Iniesta was named captain on several occasions.
Originally a fringe player, he was called up to represent Spain at the World Cup 2006 on 15 May 2006, much to the surprise of many. Iniesta won his first cap for Spain when he was brought on at half-time in a friendly against Russia on 27 May 2006.
He scored his first goal for Spain in a friendly against England on 7 February 2007. His long range effort, hitting the underside of the crossbar on the way in, gave Spain the lead on 63 minutes. Iniesta proceeded to play a pivotal part in Spain’s qualification for Euro 2008 by scoring goals against the likes of Sweden and by assisting the strikers. Iniesta usually played in the middle of the pitch, but he was also trusted with roles further up the pitch when Spain was away from home, most notably in the game against Denmark where he was given an advanced left wing position.
Iniesta was selected in Spain’s squad for UEFA Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland. Though a stomach virus somewhat hampered his performances in the group stages, he still played an integral part in the midfield. He played in the first two of Spain’s group stage matches and proved an important part of the team providing a particularly notable pass for David Villa‘s second goal against Russia. He was not rested, unlike most of Spain’s regulars, for the final group game against Greece (which Spain won 2–1 thanks to a fantastic volley from Rubén de la Red and a late winner from Daniel Güiza), and returned for the quarter-final as Spain beat Italy on penalties. Iniesta was substituted before the penalty shoot out itself. In the semi-final against Russia he played the entire 90 minutes and produced a quality cross which Xavi converted to open the scoring. The Technical Study Group named him the Man of the Match. He played the full duration of the final in Spain’s 1–0 win over Germany. Iniesta was named in the Team of the Tournament alongside fellow Spain midfielders Xavi and Marcos Senna and 6 other teammates.
Iniesta did not participate in the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa due to a thigh muscle injury. Spain was eliminated from the Tournament.
He was called for the 2010 World Cup, and scored the second goal in a 2–1 win against Chile. He was also named man of the match. For his excellent performances in helping Spain reach the final of the tournament, Iniesta was shortlisted for the Golden Ball award. During the 2010 World Cup he scored the winning goal in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final In a 1–0 win against Netherlands in the 116th minute, however there was a foul on Eljero Elia in the build up to the goal, he earnt a yellow card for removing his jersey during his celebration to reveal an inscription on his undershirt reading “Dani Jarque: siempre con nosotros”, which translates to “Dani Jarque: always with us,” in tribute of former Spain youth teammate and RCD Espanyol captain Daniel Jarque, who passed away of a heart attack in August 2009. He won the man of the match award for his performance which sent Spain to their first ever World Cup win.
Europa Press reported that Iniesta was the most popular Spanish sportsman on the internet throughout 2010. The study performed by company Vipnet360 examined the web presence on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Iniesta was followed by Iker Casillas, David Villa, Rafael Nadal, and Fernando Alonso rounding the top 5.
In the UEFA Euro 2012, Iniesta was awarded the man of the match award for his performances in three different matches. He was also selected as man of the match in the final against Italy, which Spain won 4–0. By winning the award, Iniesta became the only Spanish player to win the award at least once in each of Spain’s three consecutive successful tournaments. Iniesta was also chosen as the UEFA Euro 2012 Player of the Tournament.
Style of play
Like fellow La Masia graduate Cesc Fàbregas, Iniesta originally started as a defensive midfielder but his balance, ball control and agility allied with his skill on the ball saw him make progress as an attacking midfielder. Beyond his raw talent that was spotted at a young age by FC Barcelona‘s scouts, it was his great versatility, work ethic and inventiveness that allowed him to stake a claim on a first-team place at the age of 18. Vicente del Bosque described him as “the complete footballer. He can attack and defend, he creates and scores,” and Frank Rijkaard said “I played him as a false winger, central midfielder, deep midfielder and just behind the striker and he was always excellent.” He was used initially as a wide-forward in the absence of Juan Roman Riquelme and Ronaldinho by Louis van Gaal and Rijkaard respectively, but made his name as a world-class player in central midfield alongside or in lieu of Xavi, at both club and international level. As FIFA.com says, “It is in this position that his direct style and quick feet can be used to full effect, with the ball seeming glued to his toes as he races into threatening positions. Iniesta is a player known for his passing, dribbling, vision and movement.” Much like other Barcelona youth products such as Guardiola, Xavi and Iván de la Peña, Iniesta relies on exceptional creative passing, intuition and inventiveness to control the midfield and dictate the ebb and flow of play. Iniesta has been praised for his understanding and interplay with Xavi; former Barcelona teammate Giovanni van Bronckhorst saying “They have a special relationship, they always have, they just seem to know where the other one is”. During his maturation as a player, he has gained a reputation for playing a part in important goals for club and country, specifically playing a leading role in the 2006, 2009 and 2011 UEFA Champions League finals, as well as the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final and 2008–09 UEFA Champions League and Euro 2008 semi-finals.
His willingness to play anywhere on the pitch has earned him the sobriquet El Ilusionista (The Illusionist), El Cerebro (The Brain), El Anti-Galáctico (a pun on Real Madrid players’ nickname Los Galácticos), El Caballero Pálido (The Pale Knight) and most recently Don Andrés from the Spanish press. Zidane also praised Iniesta by saying “Iniesta is really impressing me,” the 39-year-old told Spanish radio station Cadena Cope. “He’s got so much influence in Spain’s game. He reminds me of myself, but he is more pale than me.” Chelsea striker and Spain team-mate Fernando Torres said that “we’ve been playing together since we were 15 and I have never, ever seen him play badly.” He is widely regarded as one of the greatest midfielders ever to play for Barcelona.