Iniesta de mi vida: 20 Years and 600 Games with Don Andrés

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 30: Andres Iniesta of FC Barcelona conducts the ball under a challenge of Juanfran Torres of Club Atletico de Madrid during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on January 30, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Ilusionista. Harry Potter. Maestro. Artist. Puto Crack.

There are any number of superlatives that we could use for Barça’s captain, but none of them would be strong enough to describe the level to which he elevates his team. Even after 20 years and 600 games, it’s sometimes still hard to believe how transcendent a player he is.

On Andrés Iniesta’s first day of training with the first team, Pep Guardiola told Xavi Hernández that, “You are going to retire me. This lad is going to retire us all.”

In 2016, Guardiola is at Manchester City and Xavi is in Qatar. Iniesta, however, remains the heart and soul of the Barça squad. Alongside Leo Messi, he possesses the most trophies of any player to ever wear blaugrana. Last week marked two decades since he started at La Masia — as good a time as any to look back on eight of #8’s finest moments.

1: Heroics in the Nike Premier Cup (1999)

At age 16, Iniesta took his youth team to a dramatic victory with a last second goal to win the title. The sight of Pep Guardiola handing Andrés Iniesta a trophy would become familiar to Barça fans in the years to come.

2: First team debut (2002)

“A spectacular debut,” wrote Mundo Deportivo the morning after Iniesta’s first league appearance for Barcelona. Even as a teenager, viewers described his play at the top level as “comfortable” and praised his connection with his teammates.

(Photo credit: Mundo Deportivo, October 30th, 2002)

(Photo credit: Mundo Deportivo, October 30th, 2002)


3:  First goal (2004)

The opening of an account that now has 55. Iniesta’s first goal came during a round of sixteen Copa del Rey matchup against evante, shown in a series of photos from Mundo Deportivo below.

(Photo credit: Mundo Deportivo, January 15th, 2004).

(Photo credit: Mundo Deportivo, January 15th, 2004).


4:  Respect and gratitude from the Espanyol faithful (2010)

Iniesta has spoken about the emotional upheaval he felt after the death of his friend, Espanyol captain Dani Jarque. He dedicated his World Cup-winning strike against the Netherlands to Jarque’s memory. In Barcelona’s first visit to their city rivals after the tournament, the fans let him know they appreciated it. Bitter rivalries were set aside for a moment of remembrance.

5: Masterful at Wembley (2011)

Many people regard Barcelona’s performance against Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final to be one of the greatest games in the tournament’s history. Iniesta was dominant from the midfield in the stunning attacking display, assisting on Messi’s goal in the 3-1 victory.

6: Ovation at the Bernabéu (2015)

Countries have gone to war with less animosity between them than culés and madridistas. But somehow, the nature of Iniesta’s talent can inspire enough awe to transcend even that kind of loathing. After contributing a goal in the eventual 4-1 triumph, fans stood and applauded his performance when he exited the pitch. Everyone, regardless of allegiance, knew the gravity of the performance they were witnessing.

7: Fourth Champions League title in Berlin (2015)

When Barcelona won its third Champions League title in seven years, it was the fourth of Iniesta’s career, and another excellent individual performance. The victory meant that (along with Xavi,) Andrés joined Clarence Seedorf as the players with the most championships in the tournament’s history.

8: You know what it is (2009)

This was originally meant to be a chronological list, but the wonderstrike against Chelsea always had to be number one. This moment is iconic on every level; the stakes were high, the rivalry was heated, the team was desperate, the goal was beautiful, and the celebrations were fervent. Anything seems possible after watching it. Six years later, and the goosebumps are still there.

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