When the award for best player in Europe was handed after the Champions League draw last week, pretty much everyone expected Lionel Messi to be the recipient of the award, thus continuing to collect every big individual award under the sun as he has in the past few years. However, in very surprising yet ultimately fair and satisfying fashion, journalists from all over Europe voted Messi’s Barcelona teammate Andrés Iniesta as the best player in Europe for 2012 over Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. It was the first time Iniesta won a big individual award, but few would argue that this was not long overdue.
El Ilusionista (one of his many nicknames) has been playing at a stratospheric level for many years now, playing a key role in the incredible success Barcelona and Spain have been having. His two most memorable moments have been his late goal at Stamford Bridge and especially his World Cup winning goal in South Africa 2010. But there’s more to Iniesta than his memorable goals, far more. In fact, if we look merely at statistics, there’s hardly anything remarkable about Don Andrés at all; but his package of vision, touch, control, dribbling, footwork and composure has no equal in the world. He’s a player you have to actually watch to understand his genius on the pitch, as it is not reflected on the stat sheet. For many years, Andrés drew the greatest plaudits from his managers and teammates but remained underrated by the general public, who always had an easier time recognizing players who end product was reflected by the stats.
This summer’s Euro 2012 seems to have changed that and finally brought Iniesta some of the recognition he deserves as one of the most brilliant players of this generation. He played an extraordinary Euro 2012, leading Spain to the title and being selected as the best player of the tournament in the end. That ultimately led him to win the Best Player in Europe award, also giving him a very good chance at the Ballon d’Or, although Messi must be considered the favorite. The title is all the more significant considering both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had their best ever seasons as far as goalscoring is concerned. That makes the recognition of Iniesta’s great skill and contributions even more satisfying.
Iniesta’s greatest strength is to make everyone around him better, he understands the game like no other; generous off the pitch – he has organized matches with his Facebook/Twitter followers and drawn tickets to the Champions League final in 2011, not to mention saving his local club Albacete from bankruptcy – Iniesta is perhaps even more magnanimous on the pitch. He rarely ever scores goals himself, but he makes everyone around him shine. It is no coincidence that Barcelona’s worst periods in the Pep Guardiola era always came with Iniesta injured/sidelined, as did Spain’s only elimination in the past few years in the 2009 Confederations Cup.
Iniesta’s supreme ball control is often overshadowed in the eyes of the average football fan by the relentless goalscoring brilliance of someone like Lionel Messi, but real knowledgeable fans of the game can appreciate his tremendous skill: Iniesta’s ability to retain possession and dribble in very tight spaces even while surrounded by opposition players is arguably one of the most formidable sights on a football pitch. No matter how tight the space, Iniesta can always make it look bigger with the ball at his feet.
This award was a long overdue recognition of a player whose class and skill are almost unmatched. After narrowly losing the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or, many feared Iniesta would never get a much deserved big individual award, especially since he is in the same team as Lionel Messi, but he finally did. It took longer that it should have, but people finally seem to be recognizing Iniesta as a mercurial talent and a fabulous player and not only as Lionel Messi’s top class teammate. But it still doesn’t make justice to the greatness that Andrés Iniesta personifies, that will only happen if the true leader of Spain’s golden generation that won the last three big international competitions wins the Ballon d’Or later in January.
While Lionel Messi is a once in a generation player, Iniesta’s stunning performances for both club and country make it almost criminal that he never won the award for best player in the world. Let’s hope the UEFA award is just the beginning for the Little Magician as far as individual accolades are concerned and that it spurs him to even greater heights. At only 28 years old, Iniesta’s best years might be yet to come.