Andres Iniesta (born 11 May 1984) is a Spanish professional footballer who plays for FC Barcelonaand the Spain national team as a central midfielder Iniesta came through La Masia, the Barcelona youth academy, after an early emigration from his birthplace, and impressed from an early age. He made his first-team debut in 2002, aged 18. He began
playing regularly during the2004–05 season and has remained in the side ever since. He was an integral part of the Barcelona side in 2009, the only time a club has achieved six titles in one season. He is considered one of the greatest players of his generation.
Iniesta played for Spain at the Under-16, Under-19 and Under-21 levels before making his international debut in 2006. He was selected in the team for the2006 FIFA World Cup. He helped Spain win Euro 2008, playing every game and being selected in the UEFA Team of the Tournament. Iniesta was also chosen for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and was a key member of the victorious Spanish side; he scored the winning goal in the final against the Netherlandsand was named the Man of the Match, and was also selected to the tournament's All-Star Team. At Euro 2012, Iniesta steered Spain to their second consecutive continental crown, being chosen as the Best Player of the Tournament and winning 3 Man of the Match awards. 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. He was runner-up to Lionel Messi for the 2010 FIFA Ballon d'Or and achieved third place in 2012. He was named by IFFHS as the World's Best Playmaker in 2012 and 2013, and won the La Liga Spanish Player of the Year award in 2009. Iniesta has been chosen in the UEFA Team of the Year four times (2009 To 2012), and has been voted into the FIFA World XI on six occasions: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. In recognition of his outstanding performances with club and country, as well as his individual and team achievements, Iniesta received the Marca Legend Award in 2011. In 2014 he received the Golden Foot Award.
Iniesta burst on to the international scene in 2001, helping Spain win the UEFA European Under-16 Championship, and was in the squad that claimed the UEFA European Under-19 Championship the following year. Since then, he became a regular choice for youth coach Juan Santisteban. In 2003, he formed part of the Spanish side that reached the FIFA World Youth Championship final in the United Arab Emirates, and was named in the FIFA all-star team. During his spell with the Spain U21 side, Iniesta was named captain on several occasions.He was called up to represent Spain at the 2006 FIFA World Cup on 15 May 2006,
much to the surprise of many. Iniesta won his first cap for La Furia Rojahe was brought on at half-time in a friendly against Russia on 27 May 2006. He scored his first goal for Spain in a friendly against England on 7 February 2007. His long range effort, hitting the underside of the crossbar on the way in, gave Spain the lead on 63 minutes. Iniesta played a pivotal part in Spain's qualification for UEFA Euro 2008 by scoring goals against Sweden and by assisting the strikers. He was selected for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and scored the second goal in a 2–1 group stage win against Chile. He was also named man of the match. For his excellent performances in helping Spain reach the final of the tournament, Iniesta was shortlisted for the Golden Ball award. During the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final, he scored the winning goal in the 116th minute of a 1–0 win against Netherlands. He earned a yellow card for removing his jersey during his celebration to reveal an inscription on his undershirt reading "Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros", which translates to "Dani Jarque: always with us," in tribute of former Spain youth teammate and RCD Espanyolcaptain Daniel Jarque, who died of a heart attack in August 2009. He won the man of the match award for his performance, which sent Spain to their first ever World Cup win. Iniesta was selected in Spain's squad for UEFA Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland. Though a stomach ailment somewhat hampered his performances in the group stages, he still played an integral part in the midfield. He played in the first two of Spain's group stage matches and proved an important part of the team, providing a particularly notable pass for David Villa's second goal against Russia. He was not rested, unlike most of Spain's regulars, for the final group game against Greece (which Spain won 2–1 thanks to a fantastic volley from Ruben de la Red and a late winner from Daniel Guiza), and returned for the quarter-final as Spain beat Italy on penalties. Iniesta was substituted before the penalty shootout itself. In the semi-final against Russia he played the entire 90 minutes and produced a quality cross which Xavi converted to open the scoring. The Technical Study Group named him the Man of the Match. He played the duration of the final in Spain's 1–0 win over Germany. Iniesta was named in the Team of the Tournament alongside fellow Spain midfielders Xavi, Marcos Senna, and six other teammates. Iniesta did not participate in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa due to a thigh muscle injury. Spain was eliminated from the tournament at the semi-final stage. Iniesta was followed by Iker Casillas, David Villa, Rafael Nadal, and Fernando Alonso rounding the top five. Iniesta was named in the six man shortlist for the 2011 Laureus World Sportsman of the Year, and was selected in the FIFA World XI. At UEFA Euro 2012, Iniesta was awarded the man of the match award for his performances in three different matches. He was also selected as man of the match in the final against Italy, which Spain won 4–0. By winning the award, Iniesta became the only Spanish player to win the award at least once in each of Spain's three consecutive successful tournaments. Iniesta was also chosen as the UEFA Euro 2012 Player of the Tournament. At the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, Iniesta was named in the Team of the Tournament and awarded the Silver Ball for the second best player in the competition, as Spain finished runner-up to host nation Brazil.
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 byFC 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," andFrank 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 ofJuan 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."
His willingness to play anywhere on the pitch has earned him the sobriquet El Ilusionista El Cerebro, El Anti-Galactico (a pun on Real Madrid players' nickname Los Galacticos), El Caballero Palido (The Pale Knight) and most recently Don Andres from the Spanish press.Zinedine Zidane also praised Iniesta by saying to 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, but he is paler than me." Chelsea striker and Spain team-mate Fernando Torres said that "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 best midfielders of all time.Much like other Barcelona youth products such as Guardiola, Xavi, and Ivan de la Pena, 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 saying "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 and 2011 UEFA Champions League finals, as well as the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final and2008–09 UEFA Champions League and Euro 2008 semi-finals.
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