The ongoing search for football’s next big star invariably tends to focus on precociously talented youngsters. For any player who slips the wrong side of 30, however, the assumption is that they are facing an inevitable decline, with the increasing intensity, pace and physical demands of the modern game taking their toll on ageing legs.
And yet there is one player who seems able to resist the passage of time: Andres Iniesta. Like a fine wine, such as the ones he makes at his own winery, the Barcelona midfielder just gets better with age.
Iniesta has been a fixture of the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala for the last seven years, forming a seemingly permanent part of the FIFA/FIFPro World XI, his place in the 2015 line-up more than deserved on the basis of his most recent performances. In helping his club to lift five trophies out of a possible six last season, he took his career tally to 29, more than any other Spanish player in the history of the game.
“It’s a very nice statistic,” said the 31-year-old, unable to conceal a broad smile. “It’s very special and it helps me keep my confidence up and to keep on trying to ensure I can add to that total and the team can too, which is the most important thing.”
Following Xavi Hernandez’s departure from Barcelona, Iniesta has had the honour of pulling on the captain’s armband and lifting the last of those two trophies: the FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.
“Some of my responsibilities have changed, things to do with the team and stuff on the outside, but I’ve not changed,” said Iniesta, who is happy with his lot. “It’s a wonderful responsibility to have. I’ve spent virtually my whole life at Barça and it’s great to be first-team captain.”
The midfielder is in typically relaxed mood as he chats to FIFA.com. Over the years he has learned how to handle the media, whose demands are not always easy for someone as shy and reserved as him to deal with. It is a responsibility that has come with the armband.
Given his laid-back character, it is surprising to learn that one of his wines is called “Corazón Loco” (Wild Heart), a name you might not associate with someone as unassuming as Iniesta. Perhaps its origin lies in the delirium his goals usually trigger, some of which have quickened heartbeats across the world, among them the Iniestazo that downed Chelsea in a famous UEFA Champions League semi-final at Stamford Bridge. And then there is the other strike for which he will always be remembered.
If there is one goal that forced Iniesta into the media spotlight, it was the one he scored to give La Roja victory in the Final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Made with the finest grapes from his estate, “Minuto 116” is a wine that pays tribute to that memorable strike, which came four minutes from the end of extra-time.
Fitness permitting, Iniesta will have the task this summer of setting the midfield tempo as Spain go in search of a third consecutive UEFA EURO title in France, where they will look to atone for their disappointingly early exit at Brazil 2014.
“We’re looking forward to having a good European Championship and getting close to that objective,” he said. “I think we’ve got the squad to do it. Like everything else in life, the national team has been through changes. We’re looking to play a positive game and get the fans right behind us again.”
Talented yet modest with it, Iniesta has always had the unequivocal support and appreciation of the fans. Since that historic 116th-minute goal, he has received plaudits wherever he goes, even from opposing supporters. Now into his 30s, his hair greying but as cultured on the ball as he ever was, the kid from Albacete is Spanish football’s very own Gran Reserva.