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Still a spectacular and impressive figure in the Barcelona midfield, and often standing head and shoulders above the rest, Andrés Iniesta took centre stage for Spain once again in June, winning his second European Championship title and being named as the best player, not only of the final, but also of the entire tournament. As if that were not enough, he recently received the UEFA Best Player in Europe award, ahead of Messi and Ronaldo, from UEFA President Michel Platini.
“I don’t play the game to be number one,” Andres Iniesta once said, “I play to be happy.” So adept is the Barcelona and Spain midfielder with the ball at his feet, however, that it is only natural his name should feature high on the shortlist for any individual award.
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. One of a long line of gifted midfielders to have come off the Culé production line, by the age of 18 the youngster had broken into the club’s first team, where his telepathic understanding with fellow Can Barça graduate Xavi has continued to grow and flourish. Indeed, the duo’s on-the-pitch chemistry has been one of the key ingredients of the phenomenal success achieved by both Barcelona and Spain in recent years.
The diminutive wizard is still warmly applauded wherever he goes in Spain, national appreciation for his FIFA World Cup™-winning goal at South Africa 2010 remaining as high as ever. While others may be bigger, faster and stronger than Iniesta, his strengths have always come from a combination of his delightful creativity and his innate understanding of how a game ebbs and flows.
Former Argentina captain Roman Riquelme, an adept reader of the game himself, said last year of the Spaniard: "The one who plays this game the best is Iniesta: he knows exactly when to go forward and when to drop back. He picks the right moment to do everything: when to dribble, when to speed things up and when to slow things down. And I think that’s the only thing that can’t be taught or bought."
With the mix of cognitive brilliance, quick feet and cutting edge, it's no wonder that Iniesta challenges for supremacy in every team, game and tournament he is involved in, and consistently provides the inspiration that simultaneously leads sides to victory and leads supporters rise to their feet to applaud his efforts.