Nowadays the acronym, “AI,” stands for “Artificial Intelligence,” yet there’s nothing artificial about Barça’s outgoing wise little master who goes by those same initials: Andrés Iniesta,
Andrés Iniesta everybody
Very few adjectives are sufficient to articulate the exemplary attitude this man has shown the beautiful game: a captain to his fans, a leader to his men and a king of his game. It is quite remarkable how he read the game as if it were a children’s book, and also how his long-lived career has bridged an entire generation.
The modest Spaniard joined the Barcelona academy from Albacete in 1996 and now boasts silver as the 2nd highest serving player – over 660 matches – for the legendary club. He follows fellow legend and long time friend Xavi in that regard; the latter having once declared Iniesta, “Spain’s most complete player”. Together, they form a luminary duo who, combined, have served the club for almost 46 years.
Having watched this effortless technician on numerous occasions this season and in seasons passed, it is clear his prestige will linger remorselessly in the Catalan Capital. A truly indelible mark on my memory will be the standing ovation at his leave in the Copa del Rey final against Sevilla on the 21st April. He scored a goal of outstanding class and otherwise delivered a performance of the highest calibre such that the day saw Barça’s Puppeteer to yet another Man of the Match in yet another final. He had done as much previously in the World Cup Final of 2010 and the Champions League final of 2013/14 as well.
Now, the entire football world stands to applaud, recognize, and honor Iniesta’s achievements:
— FC Barcelona 🏆🏆 (@FCBarcelona) April 27, 2018
On Sunday (20 May), he will trot out onto the hallowed Camp Nou turf for the last time against Real Sociedad, for what will no doubt be an extremely emotional affair. (Note that, ‘un pañuelo de papel’ means ’tissue’ in Spanish. It will likely be an important term to know for any international fans with tickets to this iconic spectacle.)
Sergio Ramos, a long time player for Barça rivals, Real Madrid, and yet equally as long Iniesta’s fellow Spanish International, has said: “Iniesta is the boyfriend that every mother wants her daughter to have. The figures over his career tell you all you need to know. He is a magical player. There are few players in the world that can compare to him.”
Ramos too is not alone amongst Barça’s rivals to admire his opponent and sometimes team mate. Rivalry is, after all, integral to football. It resides within the very soul of the game. And the most eminent derby in Spanish football is El Clásico. Thus history can name only 3 from the other side to have ever received applause from the passionate fans of Real’s Los Blancos.
Andrés Iniesta is famously one of those 3 Barcelona players to have ever been given a such a tribute by Los Blancos’ faithful in that fixture. That is nothing less than a clear demonstration of the man’s capacity to engender respect and gratitude for the skill and integrity he has spent a career demonstrating on the pitch.