Oral Tracey | Iniesta's the man, not Messi
The recent announcement by Spanish midfield maestro AndrÈs Iniesta that he will depart Spanish giants Barcelona at the end of the season has suddenly brought into focus how underrated and indeed disrespected Iniesta has been throughout his career by the connoisseurs of the world game.
In immediate reaction to the announcement by the 33-year-old veteran, France Football, the magazine responsible for the prestigious Ballon d'Or award, issued an apology to Iniesta saying, "Forgive us AndrÈs, he was not just a player, he was the player. He sacrifices so much for the team, ultimately depriving himself greater individual recognition. Of all the Absentees from the list of Ballon D'Or winners he is particularly painful, we can only hope he can have a special World Cup in Russia and repair this democratic anomaly."
NOT GIVEN DUE CREDIT
Andres Iniesta has clearly not been give his due credit and respect, neither by football officialdom nor, the common fans in the streets, as a giant of the modern game. This is a player who was pivotal to both his club and country winning every single major senior football title available. Iniesta's list of achievements is unmatched by any of his contemporaries - eight, soon to be nine, LaLiga titles, six Copa del Rey titles, seven Spanish Super Cup titles, four UEFA Champions League titles, three UEFA Super Cup titles, three FIFA World Club titles, two European Championship titles, and, of course, the big FIFA World Cup title in 2010. Iniesta was the fulcrum and the on-field general in both the Barcelona and Spanish national teams claiming 34 pieces of major silverware. This is not just the greatest Spanish player of all time, this is one of the greatest players the world has ever seen, yet no one anywhere says it.
Iniesta's main problem in this regard has obviously been his much-revered Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi, the darling of football officialdom and the world's fan favourite. Messi's dazzling skills and imperious goal-scoring prowess have simply overshadowed the genius of Iniesta. I have long opined that Lionel Messi is brilliant but overrated in the context of his overall greatness. The fact of the matter is that the little Argentinian, who is widely regarded as the best player of the modern era, has won nothing with the powerful Catalan club without the little Spaniard pulling the strings. Conversely, Iniesta was equally the man dictating the game in the Spanish midfield as Spain lifted the World Cup title in 2010, flanked by back-to-back European Championship titles in 2008 and 2012.
Messi, on the other hand, continues to struggle in the Argentina shirt, where he is out of the comfort zone created by Iniesta and company, still searching for his first senior international football title at the age of 31. There is enough evidence to build a credible case that Andres Iniesta is the engine, while Lionel Messi is simply the driver who takes the car to its destination and ends up getting all the praise.
In 2010, when Iniesta was again pivotal to Barcelona winning all the titles they did, he also went a huge step further by piloting Spain to its first World Cup title in South Africa in 2010, including scoring the winner in the grand final against the Netherlands. There is no way on God's green earth that Messi should have got that Ballon d'Or award in 2010 ahead of Iniesta. If Messi has any class about him, he would hand over that 2010 award to his departing colleague, not just in correcting that 2010 injustice, but in wider recognition of Iniesta consistently and selflessly making Messi appear so great.
Another mitigating factor that might have worked against Iniesta is, ironically, the epic simplicity with which he plays the game, providing that almost inconspicuous backbone and pillar of dependability without which his teams could not succeed. Andres Iniesta represents the epitome of midfield generalship. He was the main man in that Barcelona cast that redefined how the modern game of football is played. He inspired the rewriting of the blueprint of simple passing and movement in ultimately optimising the use of the football. The career and legacy of Andres Iniesta need to be revisited and revised, and upon on doing so, it will become more evident to the true students of the game that Andres Iniesta Lujan belongs right there in that top-five-greatest-ever-players conversation, perhaps ahead of some his overrated contemporaries, such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.