FIFA Ballon d’Or 2012 Special: Andrés Iniesta, the ultimate player

FIFA Ballon d’Or 2012 Special: Andrés Iniesta, the ultimate player

In a special five part series, totalBarça will feature each of the FC Barcelona nominees from the 23-man shortlist for the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or. Over the next week, a different contributor will present a nominee and argue for why he should win this year’s prestigious award before the announcement of the final three contenders on November 29th. On Friday, Amanda emphasized Gerard Piqué’s strong showing for Spain over the summer. Today, Alexandra examines a man of many nicknames and infinite football skill, Andrés Iniesta.

He is known by many names: The solutions man, Illusionista, Da Viniesta, Don Andrés, Andresito, Pale Knight, San Andrés, El héroe de Johannesburgo, Heartbreaker, Choir Boy, El genio de La Mancha, El mago de Fuentealbilla, El Caballero Blanco, El Fantasmita, El Cerebrito, Dulce Iniesta, El Mago Iniesta, El Sabio, Gasparin, El dios del futbol, Anguila Eléctrica, El Anti-Galactico, Humble Genius.

In Swedish we often use the phrase “Kärt barn har många namn”. Translated it means something like ‘a loved child has many names’. In other words, we have many names for the things we love. This is also a good way to describe Andrés Iniesta. I’m not sure if there is another football player that has as many nicknames as Andrés Iniesta. I’m also not sure if there is a more beloved player than Andrés Iniesta.

In order to explain why Andrés deserves the 2012 Ballon d’Or as the best football player of the year, I’ve decided to do so through his nicknames. His nicknames fall into three categories: those that describe his football, the ones that describe his appearance, and others that describe his personality.

Football

Illusionista, The solutions man, Da Viniesta, El Mago Iniesta, El Sabio, El genio de La Mancha, El Cerebrito, Anguila Eléctric. These are some of the nicknames that describe the way Iniesta plays. On the pitch Iniesta is wise, he sees what no one else sees, he can solve every problem and he floats around the field. It’s magical when Andrés Iniesta plays football, almost unreal in a way. He makes the hardest things look easy. It’s wonderful to watch him on the pitch, it always looks like Iniesta is floating across the pitch rather than running, floating through the rival’s defense. Then that instant comes when he makes an inch perfect pass.

Andrés Iniesta has suffered a lot of injuries in the last few season, and every time he is out injured I somehow forget how fantastic he is. When he returns, it feels like I’m seeing his magic for the first time. It’s almost unbelievable. That is the way Andrés Iniesta plays football. If there was a prize given to the player best able to overcome his injuries and continue winning, that prize would be awarded to Iniesta almost every year. He knows what it’s like to be injured but he also knows how to come back and take over the world. He can bring the world to a standstill, change an outcome, score a goal more decisive than the last.

This brings us to some of the other nicknames that have been given to him: San Andrés, Don Andrés, El dios del futbol, El héroe de Johannesburgo. When it seems like the opportunity is gone, time is running out, Andrés Iniesta is there to save the day. You can always count on him because he is one who will never give up. He has had hard times, but he always comes back for his team. There are many examples:  Camp Nou on the 21th of July in 1999, the 6th May in 2009 at Stamford Bridge, and on July 11th in 2010 at Soccer City stadium.

Appearance

Pale Knight, El Caballero Blanco, El Fantasmita, Gasparin. There are quite a few nicknames based on the fact that Andrés is rather pale, almost ghost-like. His pigmentation disease has left him so pale that the running joke on Catalan TV is that he’s a glow worm. It might make him unattractive to some, but it has never been a problem for Andrés, who seems to have no enemies. A large part of that is due to his personality, our next category.

Personality

Andresito, El mago de Fuentealbilla, Dulce Iniesta, El Anti-Galactico, Humble Genius. These are nicknames that show what kind of a person Andrés Iniesta is. No matter how much success he achieves, he always stays grounded, humble, sweet and quiet. Iniesta has always been an incredible football player, but it took a long time for the media and the public to notice him. Even though Iniesta has won nineteen senior trophies with Barça, as well as two European Championships and one World Cup with Spain, he is still the same boy that arrived at La Masia at the age of 12. Whatever comes Andrés Iniesta’s way, he won’t change the way he is, even if it at times it was felt that he did need to change.

During Frank Rijkaard’s time in charge of Barça, Iniesta’s quietness in a dressing room full of egos caused the midfielder some problems. Far too often he would be played out of position or left on the bench. Some felt that Iniesta needed to be more vocal, while others felt he needed more media backing. But a boy like Andrés wasn’t what the media was looking for – quiet and humble don’t usually fit their profile. 

When Guardiola arrived, he saw something more positive in Iniesta’s attitude: “[Iniesta] is so good he deserves to play so, so much, and yet he never complains.” Suddenly Iniesta’s lack of ego had become a virtue. Under Guardiola, the midfielder proved to be so good on the pitch that his discretion couldn’t  hide his talent anymore. His personality, once a problem, had now made him even more of a star, a hero, and a much loved figure. As Sid Lowe put it in one of his columns, “Being underrated so long has helped him be even more highly rated now; his lack of a selling point has become his selling point; the absence of charm, his charm.

Why the Ballon d’Or

Before I start with my argument for why Andrés Iniesta deserves this year’s Ballon d’Or, I’d like to take you through what the judges are asked to consider when casting their votes. First and foremost, they are to consider the achievements of the player during the year, in this case 2012. If they then find the players’ achievements difficult to separate, they are asked to consider “class (talent and fair play), personality (charisma) and career (length of career)”.

Therefore we will start with the past year, what Andrés Iniesta has done that makes him deserving of this award. To start with, he has been better on the pitch than every before. Sure, Barcelona failed to win anything besides the Copa del Rey and that might be held against him. Cristiano Ronaldo’s achievement of winning the league title might stand higher, or teammate Lionel Messi becoming the top scorer in the Champions League and La Liga as well as winning the Golden Boot might be a stronger argument for the Argentine. But what Andrés did do was to win the European Cup for the second time, carrying his team on his shoulders.

It’s been said that Spain, like Barça, is a team that doesn’t rely on one single player. If they succeed or not is down to how they work together. No one stands out but everyone stands out together. This has pretty much been true, until this past summer’s European Championship, when something felt wrong with Spain. There wasn’t the same spirit, and it felt like a different team than the one that had won the World Cup. Puyol and Villa were out injured and others had failed to impress. It was then that Andrés Iniesta stepped up and carried his team to the trophy. The 2012 European Championship was Iniesta’s tournament from beginning to end.

If we then look at the other criteria for the award, all that I’ve already written about Iniesta provides ample reason for him to lift the 2012 Ballon d’Or.

Class: Andrés Iniesta is pure class, he doesn’t cheat, he doesn’t complain. He isn’t the player you’d see end up in a fight. Everyone loves him, players and fans alike, no matter what team they are from or support. Andrés Iniesta embodies fair play.

Personality: What is there to add that I haven’t already mentioned? Iniesta has a fantastic personality: he is humble, he cares about others, he is every mother-in-law’s dream, and no one could hate him.

Career: Some weeks ago, Andrés Iniesta celebrated 10 years with the Barcelona first team. In those ten years, he has won nineteen major trophies with his club, and with Spain he has won the Euro twice as well as the World Cup. Considering the number of epic moments from his career already mentioned in this post, it seems that he has this category checked as well.

When all things are considered, it’s simple. Andrés Iniesta is not just a typical football player, he is the ultimate one.

Images: David Ramos/Getty Images, Mike Hewitt/Getty Images, Angel Martinez/Getty Images