The ball lands at Neymar's feet around 40 yards from his own goal and about 10 yards from the touchline. His primer toque is slightly heavy but he quickly brings it under control before Coquelin can steal it off him. He also attracts the roadrunner Bellerin on the outside and the Big F*cking German in front of him like honey attracts bear. He spots the Uruguayan masticator and passes to him, almost nutmegging the diving Mertesacker and continues his run. Suarez is closed down by Koscielny but when Luis can nutmeg even a mermaid, there's not much a human can do! The panna finds Neymar's run and the latest "New Pele" finds himself in acres of space. 

He takes a look to his right, sees D10S and runs into the penalty area. Monreal is the last man and he has no choice but to close down the Brazilian and now La Pulga is all alone smack in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Neymar calmly passes it to Messi who opens his body to shoot and wrong foot the big Czech but it's a "Romario"esque fake touch and the scrambling Cech slips. D10S then nonchalantly slots the ball in the open goal. He breaks his duck against the Czech custodian. Eleven seconds of a breathtaking counterattack, patented by the MSN, settles a game that was on the knife's edge until then. An insurance goal 12 minutes later kills the tie in less than 2 halves out of 4.

This goal would not have been possible without the quick-thinking of the man from Fuentealbilla. A cross from the Gooners' right wing was headed out by Mr. Shakira. The closest Barça player in the vicinity was the former Albacete cantenero. Coquelin, the man who almost dispossessed Neymar, was bearing down on the man presciently described by Guardiola to Xavi as "You're going to retire me. This lad is going to retire us all.". As the ball was in the air, the Barça captain had already spotted Neymar and before Coquelin could press, dive-volleyed it to his Brazilian compadre and the floodgates were opened. Without this "hockey assist" Neymar could not have found Suarez for the give-and-go and the whole move fizzles out even before it began. This, in a nutshell, is the importance of Don Andrés Iniesta Luján in the tiki-taka machinery of Barcelona that dominated world football for the best part of the last decade.

As one of the twin pistons of Blaugrana & La Furia Roja engine, he would come to define tiki-taka with the master of La Pausa, Xavi. In addition to his passing, he could do the one thing that Xavi never could: dribble. No wonder Xavi himself called Iniesta, the most talented Spanish player of all time. Since 2007, Iniesta has just 64 assists and 41 goals for Barcelona. The goal count would have been even less had he not had to play upfront due to various injuries Barça forwards suffered earlier in this decade. The most goals he has ever scored in a season is just 9! Koke in nearly 100 less matches for Atletico has 68 assists. David Silva has 51 goals & 87 assists for Citeh in the same period. Özil had 58 assists for Madrid in just 3 seasons. Cesc Fàbregas has a whopping 122 assists for Arsenal, Barça and Chelsea in the same period. Yet Barça would not swap one midfielder for the brilliant Iniesta in the said period.

For a guy who doesn't score or assist enough, Iniesta has delivered in almost all of the biggest matches for Barcelona and Spain. It was his visionary through ball that Larsson flicked on to Eto'o which led to the equalizer in the 2006 Champions League final. It was his blistering shot at the Bridge in the 93rd minute that sent Los Culés to their 2nd European final in 3 years. It was his sudden burst and assist to Eto'o that completely turned the final after Man U were bossing Barcelona for the first 10 minutes. Six years later in Berlin, there was yet another intelligent run from the deep that resulted in yet another assist in a Champions League final. Last but not least the coup de grâce in Jo'burg which confirmed that Spain's Euro triumph in Vienna was no fluke 2 years earlier.

In the Camp Nou El Clásico of the season that just ended, Busquets was poor and overworked. Gomes was average, Rakitic was sub par. Things were haphazard for the best part of the hour. The moment Iniesta stepped on to the pitch in the 60th minute, a sense of calm returned. Barça midfield regained control. Messi was more involved. Busquets suddenly had much less ground to cover. Even Gomes started to look good. But for a late brain fade, Barcelona looked much better than they had in the weeks Iniesta had missed. If that dive-volley flick on to Neymar showed his ability to seize the (hidden) moment, this match showed his ability to organize and marshal the troops.

Iniesta: Through the years

When the Guardiola era began with a defeat and draw, it was Don Andrés who told him, "Don't worry, míster. We'll win it all. We're on the right path. Carry on like this, OK? We're playing brilliantly, we're enjoying training. Please, don’t change anything." and cleared any and all doubts Guardiola had. When Pep went to Munich, he was able to replace Xavi and Busquets through various combinations of Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Xabi Alonso, Arturo Vidal but he could not never gain the control, vision, flexibility and work rate provided by Iniesta. He tried various funky schemes like Philipp Lahm in midfield, tucking in the full backs but the X-factor of Don Andrés was almost impossible to replicate. 

The upcoming season could be Iniesta's last for Barcelona. It will be his 22nd year at Barcelona. The last few seasons have seen him spend long times in the sidelines. Hopefully, he will remain fit this season to dazzle us at least one more time. From the moment he started in Bruges all the way back in 2002 through Paris, Vienna, Rome, Jo'burg, London, Kiev, Berlin to his last start at Vicente Calderon, it has been a fabulous career of great moments and greater inspiration. 

Iniesta is probably the only man to have been man of the match in a Copa Del Rey final, a Champions League final, a Euro final and a World Cup final. Arguably the greatest pure midfielder of the last 30 years. Gràcies Don Andrés, the master of time and space.


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