By KS Leong
Despite being hailed as one of the best attacking midfielders of his generation, Andres Iniesta is not a player who scores a lot of goals in comparison to some of his contemporaries. But when he does score, you know that it will be something special. Just ask Chelsea and the Netherlands.
Iniesta has been christened San Andres in some parts. In others he is known as the ‘Heartbreaker’ thanks to his uncanny propensity to score crucial late goals to kill off an opponent, and break rival fans’ hearts. A select group of supporters, and indeed footballers, have felt this agonising effect. The first was Chelsea, who were seconds away from qualifying for the final of the Champions League in 2009 in that infamous semi-final nail-biter. With Barcelona trailing 1-0 in the second leg after a goalless stalemate in the first, Iniesta struck a sublime first-time shot on the edge of the box with the outside of his right boot ... two minutes into injury time.
A year later, he would crush Oranje hearts when he scored the winning goal for Spain in the final of the 2010 World Cup with a clinical volley, four minutes from the end of extra time. The 27-year-old did it again in midweek, albeit in less dramatic circumstances, when he netted Barca’s third goal that effectively extinguished AC Milan’s spirits in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-finals.
San Andres also has a phenomenal statistic that personifies the term “talisman”. Every time he scores, his teams never lose. He has amassed 40 official goals for Barcelona and 11 for Spain so far in his senior career and not one of those matches has ended in defeat. In fact, when he has got his name on the scoresheet for Barca, only four games have even finished in a draw. For his country, meanwhile, 10 of his 11 strikes have resulted in a victory.
||INIESTA'S KEY GOALS FOR CLUB & COUNTRY
Such is Iniesta’s critical importance to the mechanics of the Barcelona and Spain teams that he doesn't need to churn out the goals and rack up the assists to justify his status as one of the top players in the world today. Perhaps his modest numbers on paper played a significant part in denying him the Ballon d’Or and other individual accolades, but he more than makes up for it with his contributions on the field.
Like all the truly extraordinary footballers who separate themselves from merely great players, Iniesta knows how to lift his game on the grandest of stages; he knows when to score or how to play the killer pass. After the 2009 Champions League final, Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney labelled the midfielder the "best player in the world", ahead even of Messi, who did eventually go on to claim the Ballon d’Or for that year.
It is already well known that San Andres’ goal on July 11, 2010 in South Africa changed the course of history for Spanish football as he delivered his country’s first ever World Cup. But Barcelona also owe their current era of dominance and glory to the 27-year-old – as much as, if not more than Messi – as Dani Alves explained how Iniesta’s goal against Chelsea in 2009 set the benchmark for the club.
Barcelona are a brilliant team and in my opinion Andres Iniesta is the best player in the world
- Wayne Rooney after Champions League final loss in 2009
“This memory will never be erased,” said the Brazilian this week. “It’s the goal that led us to the final and thanks to that goal we went all the way and won this [Champions League] title.
"This goal gave us confidence and faith in what we were doing. And it formed the basis of our success in our quest to win trophies.”
Indeed, while Barca and their midfield talisman will happily relive that fateful day when they return to Stamford Bridge for the upcoming Champions League semi-final tie, the nightmares will be flooding back for the Blues whenever they see Iniesta hovering around their goal.
Chelsea’s best hope might not be in denying Messi, but in stopping Iniesta from scoring.