Iniesta, Spain's quiet genius
© AFP

A central figure in the six titles picked up by FC Barcelona this calendar year 2009, as well as in Spain’s flawless run of ten wins from ten games in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Andres Iniesta has undoubtedly proved himself a world-class performer and worthy candidate for the FIFA World Player 2009 award.

This year has seen Iniesta’s talent in full bloom, with the versatile schemer’s dribbling, inch-perfect passing and vital goals making him an indispensable cog in the Barça machine. Indeed, having previously been somewhat shot-shy, his stunning and decisive late strike in the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge put those doubts to bed and was one of the highlights of a memorable campaign.

Over his five years in the Azulgrana first-team squad, the diminutive attacking midfielder has picked up an impressive three La Liga titles, three Spanish Super Cups, one Copa del Rey, one UEFA Super Cup, two UEFA Champions League crowns, and most recently, the FIFA Club World Cup.

Spotted by Blaugrana club scouts at a youth tournament at the age of 12, within months Iniesta had made the move to the Catalan giants’ famed youth set-up. There, word quickly began to spread about a shy boy from Fuentealbilla, near the Spanish city of Albacete, with outrageous dribbling ability and a knack for eye-of-the-needle through-balls.

His magic also shone at youth national-team level, where he helped Spain to European U-16 and U-19 titles as well as to the final of the 2003 edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in UAE, his displays at the latter event earning a berth in the tournament’s best XI. Iniesta made his top-flight debut for Barcelona in October 2002, at the age of 18, and since becoming part of the first-team squad in 2004/05 his gifts have been recognised by successive Azulgrana coaches.

Quiet achiever
One of a long line of gifted midfielders to have come off the Culé production line, including the likes of Josep Guardiola, Ivan de la Pena, Xavi and Cesc Fabregas, Iniesta not only shares these iconic players’ extraordinary vision and elegance on the pitch, but their class and discretion off it. Awkward and retiring in his dealings with the media, Iniesta has quietly gone about building a reputation as one of the most decisive and brilliant Spanish players of recent times.

An unfortunate injury denied the 25-year-old the opportunity to represent Spain at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009, at which La Roja claimed third place. However, he has been in fine form during La Selección’s South Africa 2010 qualifying campaign and was a vital ingredient in the attractive short-passing game that guided Spain to glory at UEFA EURO 2008.