Few players in football past and present could boast the vast array of skills Andres Iniesta possesses and the diminutive Spaniard has made the most of his sublime talent in his typically quiet yet efficient manner. The Barcelona man may have grown accustomed to living in the shadows of fellow La Masia graduates, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi but his maturity has amplified his influence on games and he is finally getting the appreciation he deserves.
Iniesta finds himself in the elite company of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as a fellow nominee for the 2012 Ballon d’Or award and he remains the dark horse in that particular race despite enjoying an exceptional year. Nevertheless, the 28-year old beat his competitors to the UEFA Best Player of the Year award and stakes a fair claim for this prestigious accolade as well. Goal.com lists three reasons why Iniesta deserves to win the award and looks back at some of his best performances in 2012…
An outstanding performance at Euros 2012
Iniesta orchestrated proceedings in the final third of the field for Spain and regularly created chances for the eventual champions. The midfielder seemed to be involved in nearly all of Spain’s attacks. He teased and tormented teams throughout the competition and fully deserved the three Man of the Match awards he won and was also named the Euro 2012 Best Player of the Tournament as the technical team declared that he ‘symbolized’ the tournament.
|"Iniesta really impresses me. He's got so much influence in Spain's game. He reminds me of myself but is more pale than me."
- Zinidine Zidane
From a statistical point of view, Iniesta made only two assists in the competition and never got on the score sheet apart from the penalty shootout against Portugal but his influence in the team and sheer ability on the ball was unquestionable. He was a marked man but always seemed to wriggle away from his opponents regardless of how many he was surrounded by. He led La Roja to the final and delivered another master-class on arrival.
His European triumph gives him the edge over Ronaldo and Messi on the international front and many of the Ballon d’Or voters will be of the belief that winning a major international trophy is a prerequisite for the award’s recipient.
His meager goals tally is of little significance
Iniesta will never come close to matching the goal tallies recorded by Messi and Ronaldo. He has only scored eight goals for club and country in 2012 but in all fairness, that’s not what his game is all about. He is the puppeteer in midfield, pulling the strings in attack and creating chance after chance even when his pass is not the final one before the ball is dispatched into the back of the net.
He managed to register an impressive tally of 27 assists this year but he is responsible for several more goals. His role in the team’s build-up play is critical although it is often overlooked when Messi (in Barcelona’s case) finishes off the move in style.
He is a relatively good finisher and can have a shot from range as well. Perhaps he would get on the score sheet more often if he wasn’t so unselfish. He always has an eye out for players on the move and invariably finds the right pass. When most players would take the easier option and have a shot themselves, Iniesta plays the difficult pass to pick out a player in a better position to score than him.
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He is the complete player
His Ballon d’Or counterparts are phenomenally gifted players but their attributes are almost exclusive to the attacking department of their respective sides. Iniesta has a lot more to him than scoring goals and providing assists. He is extremely versatile and can play anywhere in midfield or attack.
His work ethic has always been a feature of his game but his most admirable quality is perhaps his inventiveness on the ball. In addition to his creative instincts, he is also capable of scoring goals.
|"He is the complete footballer. He can attack and defend, he creates and scores."
- Vincente del Bosque
His midfield collaboration with Xavi will be spoken off long after the two geniuses have hung up their boots. With the duo ever-present in Spain’s and Barcelona’s midfields, both sides monopolize possession with ease. Iniesta’s dribbling ability and attacking endeavour has complimented Xavi over the years to no end.
He is not what you would call a robust player, not by any means, partly because of his slight frame but primarily because he’s a more artistic player. Nevertheless, he is no slouch when it comes to closing down opponents and tracking back while he is competent with his tackling.
Top 5 performances in 2012
1. Spain 4-0 Italy Euro 2012 Final, July 2nd 2012:
After etching his name in Spanish football history when he scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final, Iniesta maintained his hero status in the final of the 2012 European Championship as he proved to be the driving force for La Roja yet again.
He drifted into space effortlessly, danced past several challenges and picked delightful passes. His through-ball to Cesc Fabregas in the build-up to the opening goal summed up his outstanding display.
2. Spain 1-1 Italy Euro 2012 Group Game, June 10th 2012:
Spain’s first game of the tournament and the pressure was on them to deliver as they were clear favourites to lift the trophy. Iniesta was in fine form, he made penetrating runs at the right time and dropped deep when he needed to. Everything Spain produced seemed to go through him.
He was easily the most dangerous player on the field and was involved in the build-up to Spain’s equalizer four minutes after Antonio Di Natale opened the scoring on the hour mark.
3. Barcelona 3-1 AC Milan Champions League quarter-finals 2nd leg, April 3rd 2012:
After the 1st leg ended 0-0 at the San Siro, the pressure was on Barcelona to win at home given that a score draw would see Milan progress on away goals. No one made Iniesta aware of that fact though or if they did, you couldn’t tell.
He was calm and composed on the ball throughout the game and rarely misplaced a pass. In a high-profile encounter, he made it all look deceivingly easy as he sailed through the game. He calmly scored Barcelona’s third goal which put the game to bed and booked their place in the semi-finals.
4. Levante 0-4 Barcelona La Liga, November 26th 2012:
It’s not often that Lionel Messi isn’t the best player in a game in which he scores a brace but that was the case this time around as he was outshone by a sensational Iniesta performance.
With the score 0-0 at half time, Iniesta emerged in the second period and immediately took the game by the scruff of the neck. By the time the clocked ticked onto the 63rd minute of the game, the Spaniard had left everyone in awe as he earned a hat-trick of assists and scored a stunning goal of his own. It was the perfect performance from the midfielder which enabled his side to score four goals in no time.
5. Barcelona 4-1 Atletico Madrid La Liga, December 17th 2012:
The top two in the league squared off in a game touted to be a battle between Radamel Falcao and Messi. Although the two did take center-stage with their goals, Iniesta also enjoyed one of his best performances of the year in an emphatic victory for the hosts.
After a slow start from the Catalans, Iniesta started probing and began to carve the Atletico defense open on a few occasions. He was a constant threat to the visitors and pulled off an exquisite back heel that led to the fourth goal.
Iniesta is a reflection of everything Spanish football stands for and continually seeks to maintain. He is the ideal Barcelona midfielder and a model professional. So often denied the plaudits in favour of Xavi and Messi at Barcelona, the midfielder is sort of a hybrid of the two. His goal-scoring, balance, dribbling and close control is not as good as Messi’s but he is exceptional in all those aspects in his own right. His distribution and vision may not match the quality that Xavi is renowned for but he is more than a capable lieutenant to the midfield general. He is an all-round incredible player and perhaps he finally deserves the recognition he has been starved off purely because he regularly shares a football pitch with the likes of Messi and Xavi.
|Does Iniesta deserve to win the Ballon d'Or? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
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