It takes a special player, and a certain type of person, to be given a standing ovation by your fiercest rivals.
Andres Iniesta is both.
From 1996 to 2018, the diminutive genius was a personification of Barcelona football club.
And yet, when a Catalan derby was played at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat, Espanyol fans stood and applauded when Iniesta’s name was read out over the speakers.
For the reason why, we must to go back to Spanish football’s greatest ever moment…
115 goalless minutes have been played in Johannesburg and nerves are jangling.
Holland’s rough tactics have disrupted Spain’s free-flowing passing and after having Johnny Heitinga sent off in the 109th minute, Bert van Marwijk’s troops are prepared to let the penalty gods decide who lifts the trophy.
Not Iniesta though.
With minutes remaining of the month-long tournament, the purist of playmakers finds a pocket of space in the box and fires past Maarten Stekelenburg to win the game.
Scoring the winner in a World Cup final is something only a minute fraction of humans have experienced.
Nobody would deny those individuals their right to indulge in the moment and celebrate the achievement — if there’s ever a time for narcissism, this is it.
One second after the ball hits the net, Iniesta whips off his top to reveal a message dedicated to Dani Jarque written on his undershirt.
The message reads: Dani Jarque, siempre con nosotros — Dani Jarque, always with us.
Jarque was captain of Espanyol when he tragically died of a heart attack at the age of 26.
Despite the fact they were figureheads for Catalonia’s rival clubs, he and Iniesta were close friends.
Jarque’s sudden death in 2009 unhinged Iniesta so much so that his grief, along with injury troubles, led to speculation that the Barcelona midfielder would not be named in Spain’s World Cup squad for South Africa.
Vicente del Bosque decided that a player of Iniesta’s ability was worth taking a risk on and included him in the squad — wise move.
Great goalscorers are selfish; great playmakers are selfless.
Selflessness has been one of Iniesta’s top attributes as a player and his tribute to Jarque at a time when adrenaline and euphoria would have overwhelmed his body prove that it’s a trait he possesses in all areas of life.
From 2010 onward, Espanyol fans thanked Iniesta for his gesture, and the many other tributes he’s paid to Jarque, by giving him a standing ovation.
They boo Lionel Messi, they produce offensive banners about Gerard Pique, but for Iniesta they will have eternal respect.
There’s an iconic image of some Espanyol fans holding up their club’s shirt with Iniesta’s name on the back and the No21, the number retired by the club in honour of Jarque, that says more about his impact on the sport and this world than any stat or trophy cabinet ever could.
Iniesta was treated to standing ovations at opposition grounds all over the country the season after Spain’s World Cup triumph.
But it wasn’t until 2015 he was applauded by Real Madrid fans.
El Clasico is the most high-profile derby in world football but when Iniesta was substituted off after a masterclass that had helped Barca to a 4-0 lead, the Bernabeu faithful couldn’t help but congratulate him.
Madrid fans have only ever applauded two other Barcelona players in the same way — Diego Maradona and Ronaldinho.
Iniesta is loved and respected the world over, but he has his critics in those who believe stats don’t lie.
After all, he’s scored fewer career goals than John Terry and his assist numbers have dropped in his latter years.
But his true worth is intangible.
At first he was a product of Barcelona’s philosophy, but over time he’s become the philosopher.
Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola are often credited with the invention of tika-taka but Iniesta and Xavi perfected it in practice.
And what good is an idea if it can’t be realised?
Nine league titles, six Copa del Reys, four Champions Leagues, two European Championships, one World Cup, and many more vases, cups and shields have put his trophy cabinet under serious strain.
Ask anyone who has shared a training ground with Iniesta and they’ll scoff at the notion he’s overrated.
Stats simply don’t do some players justice.
Like Xavi, he will spend his final playing days gracing a distant land — the Vissel Kobe fans adore the ground he walks upon.
The only man to have been Man of the Match in a Euro final, Champions League final, and a World Cup final, it’s fitting Iniesta capped his last final with Barca with a virtuoso performance and goal.
He played like a 25-year-old against Sevilla in the 2018 Copa del Rey final and so, once again, he left the pitch to a standing ovation from rival fans.
Here’s to you, Andres, you may never make a sound about your genius, but we hear it.
Loud and clear.
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