Spanish Inquisition: Andres Iniesta - The Most Deserving Barcelona Hero

If you could wish on anyone to steal the spotlight and hog the headlines, it would be the pale-faced playmaker from Albacete.'s KS Leong captures the moment that has defined the career so far of Andres Iniesta...

He is known by many nicknames: the 'Choir Boy' and the 'Anti-Galactico' are just two, but after his heroics on Wednesday night for Barcelona against Chelsea, he has earned a few more, most notably ‘San Andres’ and the 'Heartbreaker'.

But in football, it’s usually the extra-terrestrial superstars like Lionel Messi, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka who are bestowed such affectionate names, as a way to compensate for the lack of superlative adjectives in the English language. But make no mistake, Andres Iniesta is just as brilliant as any of those players, although he is a different kind of brilliant.

The 24-year-old from Fuentealbilla, Albacete, is a shy, awkward-looking star with an uncomfortable smile who shrinks away from the cameras. He is almost like the Woody Allen of football; pint-sized and skinny, someone who has remarkable talent and not afraid to show it, but then retires away as soon as the curtains come down on the stage.   

Messi at one point early in his career looked gawky in front of the cameras, too, but as he grew in stature and he realised he had to get rid of his schoolboy personage, he became more comfortable with his role.

And Iniesta is about to be thrusted into that similar god-like status. If Barcelona do romp away to an historic treble in three weeks’ time, Iniesta will become the stuff of legend around the Camp Nou circles and his goal at Stamford Bridge talked about for years to come. And as much as he doesn’t want to be worshipped, he might just have to start learning to deal with it.

And all it took was just one split second of magic. He didn’t have to run past half a dozen players or execute the most anatomically impossible of bicycle kicks. In fact, he barely had to move. With just one swing of the right boot, he rifled Barcelona into the final of the Champions League, sending the whole of Catalunya into delirium.

Iniesta is the kind of secret weapon that Barca need in order to thrive. He doesn’t steal the headlines every week with a rip-roaring performance, but he doesn’t disappoint either, often doing just enough or quietly playing his role amongst an assemblage of megastars. And it’s his low profile that makes him so deadly. Just ask Chelsea.

The Blues had built an impenetrable wall in front of the Blaugrana attackers for 182 minutes of football, but in that one tiny moment when they left little Andres completely unattended less than 20 yards away from goal, he pulled the trigger and sent the Bridge crumbling down.

In a sense, his career so far can really be summed up in this one game on this one night in London. Throughout the 90 minutes, he was the liveliest of the Blaugrana attacking line. With Messi and Samuel Eto’o locked out of the game completely, Xavi being kept on a tight leash and the extra oomph of Thierry Henry missing, it was up to ‘San Andres’ to come to his side’s rescue.

But just like his personality, he didn’t try to force the issue or squeeze his way into the spotlight. Instead, he waited patiently and quietly for his time to explode. Perhaps the only thing he didn’t do right – and indeed the rest of his team-mates as well – was that he neglected, or hesitated, to shoot more often from distance.

With a crowded defence and a wobbly goalkeeper in Petr Cech in front of him, even the wildest attempt could have taken a wicked deflection and end up in the back of the net, and save the team from the suffering they had to go through.

And perhaps that’s the only flaw to his game so far. Watching him play, you can sometimes sense his hesitancy and his self-doubt. He doesn’t quite have the full confidence of a Messi or a Xavi to try the overly-outrageous and not worry about making a fool of himself.

Even when he hit that memorable standing shot in the 92nd minute, you could tell from hid body language that he wasn’t too sure whether or not it was going to go in. He didn’t have that Cristiano Ronaldo swagger in his celebrations, or that grin on his face that said, ‘I could have done that in my sleep’. And that’s a good thing. Football needs unpretentious figures like him, too.

Instead, his reaction was one of pure joy and ecstasy, as he took his kit off and twirled it in celebration. And even then, it was a half-hearted twirl… like a little kid who’s not quite sure if he had broken the law or if he would get into trouble because he removed his shirt. And he looked as though he was about to burst into tears, right before his team-mates swamped and piled on top of him, much the same way Ashley Cole almost broke into tears when the television cameras immediately cut to his forlorn reaction.

This is undoubtedly Iniesta’s moment in the sun, and he could do with a little bit of a tan, lets be honest. But he is such a humble and modest player that you can’t help but want him to succeed, or cringe just a little when a big, burly defender tries to take out his legs. And he is no one-hit wonder either.

He has been performing at this level all season long, quietly consistent, happy to stay away from the limelight, and ready to explode just when you least expect it. Now, let’s see if he can finish the campaign in style. All roads lead to Rome, after all.

KS Leong,

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