When one thinks of Andrés Iniesta, two specific moments come to mind: his epic goal at Stamford Bridge and his equally epic World Cup-winning goal earlier this year in South Africa. These two career-defining moments make Iniesta arguably the most clutch player in the game and the latter makes him, at the eyes of many, the main candidate to the Fifa Ballon d'Or award this year. There is, however, a lot more about Iniesta than these two goals.
At 26 years old, Iniesta has already won everything there is to win in football, but, just like his Barcelona teammates, he's still the same simple, humble, nice, generous, self-effacing boy he was when he played in Barcelona's youth teams. All these qualities have led the Spanish press to call him "El Anti-Galatico". This is the story of a player who, by his own merits and with no media hype surrounding him, became one of the best players in the world.
El Ilusionista has always been a very skilled and complete midfielder, but his big breakthrough only came at the Euro 2008, where Luis Aragonés partnered him with Xavi in the midfield. The decision proved to be genius as Xavi and Iniesta showed a telepatic understanding on the pitch and led Spain to the European title. Xavi was considered the best player of the tournament, but Iniesta was no less impressive. The technique, vision and amazing dribbling skills that he showed during the tournament proved that he was one of the best midfielders in the world at 24.
In the 2008/2009 season, under Pep Guardiola, Xavi and Iniesta took their partnership to a whole new level. Xavi pulled the strings and the Little Magician took on defenders and sent through balls to the forwards. Lionel Messi and Eto'o scored the goals, but Xavi and Iniesta were arguably the real leaders of one of the best club teams in history, who played the most beautiful football seen in a long time.
Iniesta doesn't score many goals, but he does it at the most crucial moments. His epic goal at Stamford Bridge sent Barcelona to the Champions League final, where he performed at an absolutely exceptional level and helped Barcelona win it. On the receiving end of the Iniesta show, Wayne Rooney hailed Don Andrés as the best football player in the world, and so did his teammate Samuel Eto'o. FIFA thought differently, though, and Iniesta was only fourth in the 2009 FIFA Player of the Year award, behind teammates Messi and Xavi, and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo.
In the hearts of Barcelona fans, though, Iniesta was a hero. Without his fabulous performances and his goal at Stamford Bridge, there would have been no sextuple. Iniesta oozes class in every touch of the ball and he's one of those players that no football fan minds paying to watch.
In 2009/2010, he was injured during a significant part of the club season and his absence cost Barcelona the Champions League final. Fortunately, he recovered in time for the World Cup, where he showed all this class once again. Along with his football twin Xavi Hernandez, he led Spain to the World Cup final, where he scored the winning goal and was considered Man of the Match.
That goal instantly made him a legend of Spanish football and one of the favorites to FIFA Ballon d'Or award, an honour that he most certainly deserves.
The other candidates are his teammates Xavi and Messi, and also Wesley Sneijder (it's almost certain that, for the second year in a row, Barcelona will have three players among the first four), but many believe that Iniesta's goal at the World Cup final gives him an edge.
Since 1982, the winner of this award has always belonged to the World Cup winners, which would make it a race between Xavi and Iniesta. However, that tradition might be broken this year as Sneijder was the playmaker and leader of Inter's treble-winning side and the Dutch national team who reached the final of the World Cup, and Messi was...well, Messi.
But is Iniesta really the best player in the world?
He's definitely the best at his position—the best attacking midfielder in the world. The award would definitely suit him, but it'd also suit Xavi (who's probably more deserving of it this year, due to his consistency) and Sneijder. And of course Messi, but the Little Argentine has a lot of years ahead of him to build a Golden Ball collection.
To answer my initial question: Iniesta the best football player in the world? It definitely sounds like it, doesn't it?
Come January, it might actually be official.
This article was previously featured on http://www.barcablaugranes.com/, where Manuel Traquete is a Featured Blogger and Senior Editor. Please do check it out.