Iniesta is the most clutch player of his generation

No individual player can match Andres Iniesta when it comes to performing in the biggest matches.

Barcelona's Andres Iniesta

Iniesta with the Copa del Rel trophy after Barca's win over Sevilla Source: AAP

A World Cup final, a European Championship final, a UEFA Champions League final and a Copa Del Rey final. For many players the chance to play in these matches would constitute a distinguished career. Not for Iniesta, who claimed man of the match honours in all four. 

When it comes to delivering when it matters most their is no one better than Iniesta.

The 2016 Copa Del Rey final was just another dazzling display from the 32 year-old who has won 31 titles. 

"You will retire me, but Andres will retire us all," Pep Guardiola once told Xavi. 

"I've been playing with him since we were 15 and I have never, ever, seen him play badly. When he has the ball, it's like everything else stops. He's decisive," Fernando Torres said.

No doubt this era in football will be remembered for the sheer unrelenting brilliance of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Nevertheless, neither of them can match Iniesta when it comes to performing in the most important matches. 

In 2006, a then 22 year-old Iniesta came off the bench with Barcelona down 1-0 to Arsenal in the Champions League final. He delivered an inch perfect pass, piercing the Arsenal defence, which Henrik Larrson nudged into the path of Samuel Eto'o who swept home for the equaliser. 

"That final was changed by Iniesta, when he came on in the second half. I could defend Van Bommel, but when Iniesta came in and started to turn around... after an hour I couldn't follow him. Iniesta killed me," Thierry Henry explained. 

It would be the first of four UCL finals that he would play and win in. 

In 2009, Barca were seconds away from being knocked out of Europe by Chelsea in the semi-final. That was until Iniesta hammered a shot with the outside of his foot into the top corner to help his side progress.

That night his grandmother was watching from hospital, leaping up and down shouting: "My grandson! My grandson!" according to Spanish-based football journalist Sid Lowe.

A few weeks later Barca took on Manchester United in the final, with Iniesta in serious doubt to miss it due to injury. 

"I had torn a muscle and I couldn't shoot with my right foot," Iniesta said. 

The doctors had made it clear that he couldn't even take one shot, Guardiola wasn't fazed and took the risk and started him alongside Xavi. 

It paid off as he set up Eto'o after just 10 minutes for the opener and by the end of the match Wayne Rooney declared him "the best player in the world".

In 2010, he cemented his place as a legend of football when he scored Spain's World Cup winning goal deep into extra-time against the Netherlands.

"He talks about "hearing" the "silence" as he waited for the ball to drop; about knowing that he just needed gravity do its thing or as he puts it "wait for Newton", then hit it, convinced he would score." Sid Lowe wrote. 

Iniesta's World Cup winner

Two years later he was once again man of the match in the EURO 2012 final, a tournament in which he won the award for best player.

"He imposes so much respect on the pitch, as a football lover, I am proud to have played with him. He makes the difference and does things that no one else can do," Sergio Ramos said. 

Iniesta v Italy

In 2015, some grumbled that he might be past his best, pointing to statistics that suggested the now 31 year-old was in a decline. But stats have never truly been able to capture Iniesta's brilliance. Take the Copa Del Rey final against Sevilla for example - a masterclass performance, without a single goal or assist.  

Iniesta proved all the doubters wrong with, what else, a man of the match performance in the Champions League final win over Juventus. 

Guardiola described Iniesta's understated genius as the best: "Andres doesn't dye his hair, doesn't wear earrings and hasn't got tattoos. That makes him unattractive to the media but he's the best."

Even his signature move - the "Pausa" as they call it in Spain - won't make for great viral videos. But as Barcelona-based journalist Graham Hunter explained, "It is that magical, quiet moment when frantic play seems to stand still and a footballer of brains, distinction, creativity or class does something special."

And what an honour it has been for us, to see that something special in Paris, Rome, London, Johannesburg, Kiev, Berlin, and this morning once again in Madrid.

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5 min read
Published 23 May 2016 at 4:05pm
By Nick Stoll
Source: SBS