There was a moment in Spain’s opening game of the UEFA Euro 2012 finals when Andres Iniesta—who went on to be named as player of the tournament—was surrounded by five Italian players trying to steal the ball from him. There’s a beautiful symmetry to the image, which has become an iconic sports photograph. Iniesta is wearing his blood-red Spain jersey, his five pursuers—who form a near-perfect circle around him—are in the traditional savoy blue of the Azzurri.

“It was like a ‘rondo’ [piggy-in-the-middle training exercise] with Iniesta in the middle surrounded by all these Italians. It captured the anarchy that he unleashes,” says Alfredo Relano, honorary president of Diario AS. “Iniesta represented—along with Xavi maybe—the purest essence of the model of football that gave Spain their successes in two European Championships [2008, 2012] and the World Cup [2010], and Barca the most glorious era in their history.

“He embodied a type of high-quality, very technical football. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t physically imposing—that he didn’t have a big frame or that he hadn’t ferocious speed or he wasn’t great in the air. He was all about football based on touch. It was something different—this notion that you could play the best football in the world with total disregard for physique. In all the years I’ve been reporting football, I never thought it possible you could win this way.

“I remember a phrase that Cesar Luis Menotti [Argentina’s 1978 FIFA World Cup-winning coach] once said: ‘Spain had to decide between being a bull and being a ‘torero’ [bullfighter].’ A torero weighs 70 kilos and a bull 500 kilos. Spain chose to play like the torero and it ended up winning everything with all these short-sized players. It wasn’t only Iniesta—it was David Silva, Juan Mata, David Villa and all these other small players—but it was Iniesta who fundamentally represented that idea. He imposed himself because of science not because of strength.”

Iniesta’s career with Spain and Barcelona—the club he joined as a 12-year-old, ultimately going on to play on the first team for 16 years following his debut under Louis van Gaal in 2002—was extraordinary. It includes nine La Liga titles, four UEFA Champions League winners’ medals and a historic trio of consecutive titles with Spain at international level. He is also immortalised because of two unforgettable goals. COntinue reading…

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