Is the global race for Iniesta worth winning?

The news that Andres Iniesta will be seeking a new home beyond Catalonia has been the catalyst for great sadness in the old world – and a surge of excitement in the new one.

A report from Spanish outlet Sport has claimed that Iniesta has his eyes focused on Australia as his next destination, which sent the local football community into a meltdown.

Hours later, a rival Spanish outlet claimed that J1 League side Vissel Kobe have tabled a blockbuster offer to Iniesta, one that his management might be inclined to accept.

Where is the truth in all this? Right now, it’s hard to tell. And you can bet every Euro you have that Chinese and MLS clubs will be doing the numbers on one of the world’s most iconic free agents.

However, the time has come for the A-League to strike a blow. One that will put the sport back on the map, even if it would take a whole-of-game effort to land a player of this calibre.

Nobody could be more supportive than me of funneling funds back towards grassroots football and improving coaching, but that’s a totally different discussion. This is a figure who could inspire countless youngsters to actually start playing the game.

Let’s suppose that Iniesta is at least open to coming to Australia, as the report suggests. Being able to watch him live, every week, in our own time-zone, against our own players is a truly tantalising idea.

We can talk and talk and talk some more about building a new marketing campaign, but we need to have something to sell beyond the sizzle. He alone would be infinitely more effective than anything dreamed up by an external advertising agency. We’ve seen them miss the mark again and again.

The beauty of Iniesta is that he appeals equally to purists as much he does to casual sports fans. Every football fanatic across the country will want to see him live, even those of “Euro snob” leanings.

And every sports fan will at least be a little bit curious. Every middle-aged sports editor – even those who grew up on a steady white-bread diet of AFL, rugby league or cricket (practically all of them) – will be moved to offer prime coverage.

Every bit as iconic as Alessandro Del Piero, perhaps the only difference between them is that ADP’s popularity seemed to bring the Italian diaspora roaring into the A-League’s bosom.

If there is a drawback, it’s that Iniesta doesn’t have a massive personality – perhaps the defining factor in making Dwight Yorke the best value signing in A-League history. Still, he’s won so many trophies for club and country and is so revered for the way he plays that his talking can be done on the field.

Before anyone gets edgy about his age (he turns 34 on Friday), it’s worth nothing that dominant figures like Bobô, Besart Berisha, Alex Brosque, Carl Valeri and Alex Wilkinson are all roughly in the same age bracket. And Diego Castro is almost two years older.

However, we’d be totally naïve if we were to believe we are in the box seat for Iniesta.

Vissel Kobe have shown their appetite for bringing superstars to Japan, having already acquired former Arsenal and Bayern Munich star Lukas Podolski to the competition whilst still only 31.

Kobe’s ambition to rise to the peak of Asian football is being fuelled by Rakuten, Japan’s largest e-commerce site. They also happen to be the sponsor of FC Barcelona, which makes them perfectly placed to acquire any of the club’s aging stars.

Indeed, Qatar’s link with the La Liga giants paved the way for Xavi to join Al-Sadd when he departed from European football in 2015.

Every MLS franchise seems to have realised that part of their pitch to the public should include a global megastar – and European players love the glitz and glamour that being in the USA brings to their “personal brand”. Not to mention the surging value of their currency.

But just because we now find ourselves competing for talent doesn’t mean we should give up, especially if there’s interest from the player himself.

While it is extremely challenging for the FFA and the clubs to agree on anything right now, here’s one thing that might be worth getting them to the table.

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4 min read
Published 8 May 2018 at 3:58pm
By Sebastian Hassett