Things to Know:
Like fellow La Masia graduate Cesc Fàbregas, Iniesta originally started as a defensive midfielder, but his balance, ball control and agility allied with his skill on the ball saw him make progress as an attacking midfielder. Beyond his raw talent that was spotted at a young age by Barcelona’s scouts, it was his great versatility, work ethic and inventiveness that allowed him to stake a claim on a first-team place at the age of 18. Vicente del Bosque described him as “the complete footballer. He can attack and defend, he creates and scores,” and Frank Rijkaard said, “I played him as a false winger, central midfielder, deep midfielder and just behind the striker and he was always excellent.” He was used initially as a wide-forward in the absence of Juan Román Riquelme and Ronaldinho by Louis van Gaal and Rijkaard respectively, but made his name as a world-class player in central midfield alongside or in lieu of Xavi, at both club and international level. As FIFA.com says, “It is in this position that his direct style and quick feet can be used to full effect, with the ball seeming glued to his toes as he races into threatening positions. Iniesta is a player known for his passing, dribbling, vision and movement. Much like other Barcelona youth products such as Pep Guardiola, Xavi and Iván de la Peña, Iniesta is a playmaker who relies on exceptional creative passing, intuition and inventiveness to control the midfield and dictate the ebb and flow of play. Iniesta has been praised for his understanding and interplay with Xavi; former Barcelona teammate Giovanni van Bronckhorst said of the pair, “They have a special relationship, they always have, they just seem to know where the other one is.” During his maturation as a player, he has gained a reputation for playing a part in important goals for club and country, specifically playing a leading role in the 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2015 UEFA Champions League finals, as well as the 2010 World Cup Final, Euro 2012 final and Euro 2008 semi-final. His willingness to play anywhere on the pitch has earned him the sobriquet El Ilusionista (The Illusionist), El Cerebro (The Brain), El Anti-Galáctico (a pun on Real Madrid players’ nickname Los Galácticos), El Caballero Pálido (The Pale Knight) and most recently Don Andrés from the Spanish press. Zinedine Zidane also praised Iniesta, stating on the Spanish radio station Cadena COPE, “Iniesta really impresses me. He’s got so much influence in Spain’s game. He reminds me of myself.” Fernando Torres, Spain’s striker, said, “We’ve been playing together since we were 15 and I have never, ever seen him play badly.” He is widely regarded as one of the most respected and best midfielders of all time.