‘Artist’ Iniesta hangs his boots

Amol Gokhale
Tuesday, 3 July 2018

The way he played on the pitch when he substituted on was like he was playing in his first cap and I want to thank him whole-heartedly. Sometimes the endings are not as one dreams. Like all Spaniards, we had high hopes and dreams and we are sad that we couldn’t do it for Andres and rest of the team.
— Fernando Hierro, 
(Spain coach) 

‘The Artist,’ reads the title of Andres Iniesta’s autobiography in English and how fitting it is for the Barcelona legend, who called time on his glorious international career on Sunday after Spain suffered a heartbreaking 3-4 loss on penalties against  the host nation, Russia.

The 34-year-old Iniesta, after 12 trophy-laden years, called time on his Barcelona career earlier this year to join the Japanese side ‘Vissel Kobe’ and it was long touted that he might hang up his boots for ‘La Roja’ after the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia.

It wasn’t the fitting farewell for the man who scored the 116th-minute winner at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg against the Netherlands to help Spain lift their only World Cup trophy. He is the most decorated player in the Spanish history with 33 titles against his name.

The veteran of 133 caps was left out of the starting XI by the coach Fernando Hierro and came on just past an hour mark. In the 86th minute of the game, the ball perfectly sat up for him to volley it from the edge of the box, but Russian custodian Igor Akinfeev kept the shot out.

As the game went into penalties, he stepped up ahead of all of them and took the first spot kick. He scored, sending Akinfeev the wrong way, putting the ball in the right side of the net.

The legacy of a player who served three years as a Barcelona captain is unparalleled in the modern era. His name was often taken in pair with his midfield partner, Xavi, as Spain wrote their name in the history books.
He was the heartbeat of the Spanish side that won the 2008 Euro, 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro to become the only side to win three back-to-back major titles.

He was named man-of-the-match in the World Cup final against the Netherlands while he not just won the man-of-the-match award against Italy in the 2012 European championship final, he was named the player of the tournament as well.

The 2010 World Cup winning goal is no doubt the highlight of Iniesta’s career, the goal he dedicated to his late friend Dani Jarque. In his book, Iniesta mentions how he carried out his own fitness test on the eve of the 2010 World Cup final after the entire squad had called it a night, running from one of the hotel lobby to the other in South Africa. He sensed he was fit only when he was able to complete his run.

But, the chapter titled ‘On top of the World’ comes 12th in the book, while the very first chapter is called ‘The Abyss’ where the La Masia graduate speaks about the depression he suffered during an injury-plagued 2009 season. It just shows that what the little genius from a small Spanish town Fuentealbilla has gone through on his way to the top. On Sunday night in Moscow, as all hell broke loose he probably must’ve sensed that the curtains were coming down on his ‘La Roja’ days as Koke missed his penalty. 

The former Barcelona skipper could not watch the action anymore, as he turned his back, towards the giant screen up at the other end, but his eyes were fixed on that screen may be at the heavens, beyond that screen.

The Artist had done his job, to score from the spot, but it wasn’t meant to be in the end, probably it was time to call it a day.

 

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