Barcelona have lived through a period of incredible success since the 2009 season, yet even before Pep Guardiola’s arrival as coach, the club won trophies with Andres Iniesta a present and valuable part of the first team.
This era is set to come to an end at the climax of the current campaign, with it expected that the 33-year-old will depart the club he joined as a youth player way back in 1996.
Despite having signed a ‘contract for life’ back in October, Iniesta will not retire at the Camp Nou, it’s thought that such a deal was only announced as a way to bring positive PR the Blaugrana’s way after the nightmare that was Neymar’s world record transfer to Paris-Saint Germain.
It can be argued that Guardiola’s arrival truly brought out the best in the midfielder, although he achieved success at both domestic and international level prior to that.
He was part of Spain’s incredible Euro 2008 triumph, whilst he also won the Champions League in the 2005/06 season.
As Los Cules and La Rioja then went onto dominate their respective competitive scenes, Iniesta was at the forefront of both. He was the perfect foil to Xavi Hernandez, providing a more forward positioned passing dynamic to the two teams and producing a style of football that has gone onto reshape the sport in the years since.
One of his best performances came in the 2009 Champions League final in Rome, Barcelona eased to a 2-0 victory over the defending champions, Manchester United, and Iniesta was superb.
He controlled the match from midfield, he moved into pockets of space that United’s defence simply couldn’t deal with, which in turn took the focus away from Lionel Messi. It was the perfect display of a footballer that excelled by using his brain with Iniesta never having been known for his physical assets.
Rather like Ryan Giggs did as his Manchester United career drew to a close, Iniesta is afforded the professional respect of everyone in Spanish football. No matter the stadium, he’s given a standing ovation by home supporters when he leaves the pitch, what he’s given to Spanish football will never be forgotten.
The reasoning for the playmaker’s expected departure isn’t yet clear, he’s still performing to a high level for the most part, although he struggled in the 3-0 defeat to Roma, as well as during the weekend clash with Valencia, he looked tired at times. The issue is that Barcelona have already signed players to replace him, Philippe Coutinho occupies the exact same position in the team and the Brazilian will be eligible to play in the Champions League next season too.
On the occasion Ernesto Valverde has tried to play the pair together since January, they’ve often ended up occupying each other’s space and not performing well.
Arthur is another midfielder who will likely arrive in the summer, although Los Cules will have to free up a non-EU slot to confirm the deal. An agreement has been reached with Gremio for the Spanish giants to sign the playmaker for an initial £26 million in the month of July.
This further impacts Iniesta’s place in the team with it clear the club are looking to move forward into a new era.
For the Spanish international, he’s facing an emotional few months with the 2018 World Cup in Russia set to be his international swansong too. Despite forming a key part of Julen Lopetegui’s team since the former Porto coach took charge, the veteran will retire after the tournament.
Just where next for Iniesta is not officially known, although early signs suggest he will join former teammate, Javier Mascherano, in China.
It will be a move that will benefit him financially and allow him to leave Barcelona whilst still close to the top of his game, it’s not too dissimilar to how Xavi left for Al-Sadd in 2015.
The remaining matches of the season will act as a farewell tour for Iniesta, it’s likely he’ll announce his decision to leave the club after Saturday’s Copa del Rey final, and barring a complete collapse, he will leave Catalonia as a LaLiga champion, his ninth domestic league title as a professional.