Andrés Iniesta to leave Barcelona: his greatness explained

Four-time UEFA Champions League winner Andrés Iniesta has announced he is leaving Barcelona; here is why we will miss him.

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From academy graduate to midfield metronome in the all-conquering Barcelona and Spain sides, a tearful Andrés Iniesta on Friday announced he would be leaving the club with which he has won 29 trophies. UEFA.com celebrates the 33-year-old's brilliance.

On leaving

"This is my last season here. I have thought my decision through for a long time. For me, Barça is the best club in the world. This club has given me everything."

"I spoke to a lot of people – players, coaches – and I know what they want, but I tried to be honest with myself and the club."

"I have said I will never play against Barça, so I won't play in Europe."

What they say

"He does everything well, with simplicity. At times, it may look like he's not doing anything, but in fact he's doing it all. Everything is different with Andrés. The hardest thing to do in football is to make it look like everything is easy, effortless, and that's Andrés."
Lionel Messi, Barcelona forward

"Over the last 20 years I can't remember players as good or complete as Iniesta. It's incredible, he never messes up play, he's the most complete in the world. Maybe he misplaces just one pass in the whole game."
Dino Baggio, former Italy midfielder

Andrés Iniesta and Neymar at Barcelona
Andrés Iniesta and Neymar at Barcelona©Getty Images

"He's the best midfielder I've ever seen play. For his quality, for everything. For being a good guy, for being a legend, he doesn't need a Ballon d'Or. He's incomparable because he's very different. He has an elegance and incredible class that makes him different to everyone else."
Neymar, former Barcelona team-mate

"He's the absolute business as a player. He never talks about himself, never demands anything, but people who think he's satisfied just to play are wrong."
Josep Guardiola, former Barcelona coach

"I don't think Xavi [Hernández] and Iniesta have ever given the ball away in their lives. They get you on that carousel and they can leave you dizzy.
Sir Alex Ferguson, former Manchester United manager

"From 2004 until now, Iniesta has been the most important player we have had because he has been in every coach's project since [Frank] Rijkaard."
Josep María Bartomeu, Barcelona president

Current tally

International caps: 125 appearances, 13 goals
UEFA club competition: 138 appearances, 11 goals
Domestic competition: 525 appearances, 46 goals

Trophies

Iniesta with an old friend
Iniesta with an old friend©Sportsfile

UEFA Champions League (4): 2006, 2009, 2011, 2015
UEFA Super Cup (2): 2011, 2015
FIFA Club World Cup (3): 2009, 2011, 2015
Spanish Liga (8): 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016
Copa del Rey (6): 2009, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018
Spanish Super Cup (6): 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016
FIFA World Cup (1): 2010
UEFA EURO (2): 2008, 2012
U19 EURO (1): 2002
U16 EURO (1): 2001
UEFA Best Player in Europe (1):2012
UEFA EURO Player of the Tournament (1): 2012
UEFA.com Fans' Team of the Year (6): 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016

Claims to fame

Highlights: Barcelona’s 2006 final win over Arsenal
Highlights: Barcelona’s 2006 final win over Arsenal

Barcelona
• Joined Barcelona at the age of 12 after catching the eye of scouts for local club Albacete. He says he "cried rivers" the day he left for La Masia and struggled being separated from his parents.

• His childhood idol Pep Guardiola witnessed a 15-year-old Iniesta playing for Barça's youth teams. Stood next to Xavi Hernández on the sidelines, Guardiola said: "You will retire me, but this kid will retire us both."

Iniesta making his Barcelona debut in 2002
Iniesta making his Barcelona debut in 2002©Getty Images

• After rising through the ranks, he made his first-team debut in the UEFA Champions League against Club Brugge in October 2002 under Louis van Gaal. That was the beginning of a special relationship with the competition for Iniesta, who has won the UEFA Champions League a joint-record four times.

• He also has eight Liga crowns, six Copa del Rey and three FIFA Club World Cup titles.

• Iniesta won the UEFA Best Player in Europe award in 2012, and was also chosen as the Best Player of the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League.

• Iniesta has been chosen in the UEFA.com users' Team of the Year six times (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016), the most selections ever in midfield.

He is sixth in the list of all-time UEFA Champions League appearance-makers (group stage to final) with 130.

Andrés Iniesta with the EURO trophy
Andrés Iniesta with the EURO trophy©Getty Images

Spain
• Played at every level for Spain's junior sides from U16 to U21.

• Won the UEFA European Under-16 Championship in 2001 before helping La Rojita lift the U19 title 12 months later.

• A mainstay in the national team, he was pivotal as Spain won a historic treble of titles, with their UEFA EURO 2008 and 2012 triumphs being sandwiched by the 2010 FIFA World Cup win.

• In 2008 he was selected in the team of the tournament, playing every game as Spain went on to defeat Germany 1-0 in the final. He went one better at UEFA EURO 2012 as he was named player of the tournament.

• In 2010 he scored the winner in extra time as Spain beat the Netherlands 1-0 to claim their first World Cup. In celebration he ripped off his shirt with the message "Dani Jarque, siempre con nosotros" (Dani Jarque, always with us) as a tribute to his friend, the former Espanyol player who sadly passed away a year earlier.

What you might not know

Iniesta and his hero Xavi
Iniesta and his hero Xavi©Getty Images

• Despite becoming a national hero in 2010, Iniesta almost missed the World Cup through injury. How different things might have been had Vicente del Bosque not gone with his instincts.

• Despite being Barcelona club captain, there is footage of a young Iniesta bashfully admitting to TV cameras he grew up a Real Madrid fan.

• A big cinema fan, Iniesta had a cameo role in Spanish film 'Quien mató a Bambi' (Who killed Bambi – while it sounds nasty, we are assured it's a comedy) in which he is pictured on the football pitch – where else?

• Made his Spain debut at the ground of Albacete; his first club.

• While Iniesta himself is regarded as one of the best midfielders of all time, he has never hidden his admiration for former team-mate Xavi: "There's not enough words of praise for Xavi. I can't find high enough praise to explain what he represents as a player and person."

He says

"Me a hero? No! I feel very loved, obviously. The fans show their support all the time. But a hero is someone who has to fight against a disease or has to emigrate in order to feed their children. I'm privileged to be able to play football and sometimes I'm lucky enough to make people happy."

"If I had to choose just one moment? There's been so many great ones - trophies and successes, but the most significant moment for me was making my Barça debut."

"My only aim was to be a success at this club and I have done that."

What he might achieve yet

• This season he has already made it to 29 club trophies (which might have been more had he not missed the 2009 Spanish and UEFA Super Cups through injury) and with Barcelona looking good in the Liga, he can make it 30.

• Win his second World Cup with Spain – he may be in line for a place in Russia. A third European title at UEFA EURO 2020 is not beyond the realms of possibility.

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