What will Iniesta’s departure mean for Barcelona?
Andres Iniesta is finally to depart FC Barcelona in the summer after two decades with the Catalan giants. During his time at the club, he formed arguably the most potent attacking triumphant in world football. Together with Xavi and Lionel Messi he helped to produce dazzling, intelligent football which swept all of Europe aside. On the international scene, the infrequent goal scorer chipped in with his country’s most significant strike, in 2010 to win them a first World Cup, with victory against The Netherlands. His all round ability, close control and wonderful passing have seen him rightfully revered across La Liga. But what does his departure mean for Barcelona? How much of a hole does he leave?
Between 2008 and 2011 Barcelona won everything. Anyone unfortunate enough to get caught up in their cascade of passes, ceaseless movement and free flowing football will argue that it was the greatest club side ever assembled. Iniesta, along with his all time great central partner Xavi, embodied that style.
“…he’s going to retire us all.”
Pep Guardiola famously said to Xavi, after seeing the then fifteen year old Iniesta play for the first time. After the 2006 Champions League success, he became an established first team fixture, overtaking players like Deco, to become a favourite at the Nou Camp. Such was his influence in the team; it would be fair to say that he had a helping hand in pushing Lionel Messi up to the dizzying heights we’ve all had the pleasure to witness. Surely it would have only benefited the then teenager to line up alongside Iniesta and watch his close control, underrated dribbling ability and wonderful movement.
His departure does leave a massive void in the team; they are losing not only a truly great player but a great pro. How many other talented players can claim to have been influenced by Iniesta’s genius? Yes they still have Messi, Pique and Busquets from that great squad, but you can’t help but feel that their cycle is coming to an end. La Masia is not currently churning out as many home grown greats, and increasingly the club is having to splash out in the transfer market to replenish its ranks. A great signing will always please the fans, but there is nothing like producing one of your own, from your academy. It represents a link to the fans, and although Iniesta is not a Catalan, his devotion to the club and love from the supporters has been total.
One out, a few in?
Barcelona’s defeat to Roma in this season’s Champions League painfully showed up their deficiencies. Too often they’ve been turning to the thirty-three year old veteran of almost seven hundred games, to pick up the slack from midfield and sprinkle some genius on proceedings. Too often in recent years though has the great man been found wanting and Barcelona looked short of ideas as a consequence.
It was no surprise to see the Catalans so desperate to get a deal done for Philipe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele last summer. The writing has been on the wall for a while, and Iniesta was just one of their ageing stars. It will be very interesting to see what the La Liga champions do this summer. Is Coutinho a natural successor to Iniesta? His is not a stylistic copy of the man from Albacete, but he does posses a gifted eye for opening teams up with a perfectly weighted pass. He is more of an attacker though and may be called upon to play more in the number ten role, with Suarez and Messi unable to play their every week as age and injury catch up with the superstars.
Premier League clubs may be braced for a tough summer then, as hungry eyes turn on their star men. Barcelona certainly need to dip into the market at least once, to add more top quality to their side, especially given their recent Champions League failures. It must hurt to see Real Madrid moving ever further into the distance with their European dominance. Losing Iniesta will force their hand and the likes of Eriksen, Gundogan or Fimino would make excellent additions for the Catalans.
They will likely though bump into unwilling sellers and be met with huge transfer fees. They may then distort the market with hijacked bids for Premier League targets, as the likes of Seri or Jorginho would stylistically meet Barca’s criteria. Antoine Griezmann too has been heavily linked, with a bid highly likely in the summer for the French forward. It is clear though that the likes of Paulinho, Gomes and Denis are all very far from being of the desired quality to take Barca forward in the post-Iniesta era and replacements will be forthcoming.
Whatever they do, they will be moving into another season with just three of their class of 2008-2011 remaining in their ranks. Sentiment is a dangerous think in football, but with the league sown up and one more El Classico left, it does allow Barcelona to roll the highlights reel and bud a fond farewell to one of their favourite sons.