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Andres Iniesta, the greatest midfielder in Barcelona history

Andres Iniesta, the greatest midfielder in Barcelona history
Andres Iniesta, the greatest midfielder in Barcelona history
The current incarnation of Barcelona is a team with Lionel Messi at the forefront. He is the best player on the team and, understandably, will be the player...

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The current incarnation of Barcelona is a team with Lionel Messi at the forefront. He is the best player on the team and, understandably, will be the player that fans remember first. 

Before Messi came along, it was Ronaldinho who dominated the headlines, just as Rivaldo and Ronaldo did before him. Oftentimes, midfielders and defenders aren’t recognized as frequently without the fame that comes with scoring goals. In truth, it could be easily argued that Xavi Hernandez and Carles Puyol were more influential and better players at their positions than Ronaldinho, but those who vote on awards always choose offensive flair and output. 

Sitting behind Lionel Messi in the legends queue should take nothing away from a fantastic player like Andres Iniesta, but comparing anyone to the Argentine certainly makes it difficult to evaluate just how influential they have been to the club.
 
A surprising fact for a vast number of Cules is that Iniesta was actually not born in Catalunya. He was born in Albacete, Castilla La Mancha, but moved to La Masia at the age of twelve after impressing in the national youth tournament which is held in Brunete every summer. 

While young Andres struggled to be separated from his parents, the youngster overcame everything to push his way into the first team, making his debut in 2002. In the 2004/2005 season, he appeared in 37 of 38 league games, becoming a regular member of the side. The rest is history.
 
While he will miss the next two or so weeks with an injury, Iniesta will soon make his 600th appearance for the club. He just started in his 594th game against Sevilla in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup, surpassing Puyol’s total of 593. Only Xavi’s club-record 767 matches stand in his way, and at his current pace he could challenge that mark if he were to play another four years. While that is a lofty expectation for a then-36-year-old midfielder, Iniesta has always defied expectation and it would be no surprise if he did so again.
 
With his superior dribbling, passing and vision, the Spanish international has helped lead the Barcelona midfield to trophies year in and year out. Since the 2009/10 season, he has connected on 89.7 percent of his passes. He may have the reputation of not scoring goals, but he has still contributed 54 goals in a Barcelona uniform as well as scoring the most important goal in Spanish national team history in the 2010 World Cup Final.
 
To really see Iniesta’s value, the international stage may be a better barometer. He was considered the top player and the stalwart of three different winning Spanish sides with two Euros and one aforementioned World Cup. Spain is a team without Messi, Neymar or Ronaldinho, yet they proved themselves to be the most extraordinary in the world, particularly in the middle of the park with Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas and of course Iniesta himself. To be the best player on a World-Cup-winning squad certainly brings one’s legacy into better favor.
 
Nevertheless, 18 midfielders have been named FC Barcelona legends officially. Iniesta has already amassed 29 trophies with the club, one more than Xavi and tied with Dani Alves for most in club history. He is already among the pantheon of midfield legends at the club, though not yet on the official list. 

Here is a list of players with wonderful accomplishments at the club, and he arguably stands above them all already.

Xavi Hernández
1998-2015, 28 trophies
Anderson Luis de Souza ‘Deco’
2004-2008, 7 trophies
Pep Guardiola
1990-2001, 19 trophies
Guillermo Amor
1988-1998, 19 trophies
Michael Laudrup
1989-1994, 11 trophies
Jose Mari Bakero
1988-1996, 14 trophies
Bernd Schuster
1980-1988, 8 trophies
Johan Neeskens
1974-1979, 2 trophies
Joan Manuel Asensi
1970-1980, 4 trophies
Joaquim Rifé
1964-1976, 4 trophies
Josep Maria Fusté
1962-1972, 4 trophies
Jesús Maria Pereda
1961-1969, 3 trophies
Luis Suárez
1954-1961, 6 trophies
Ramon Villaverde
1954-1963, 7 trophies
Marià Gonzalvo
1942-1955, 14 trophies
Josep Seguer
1943-1957, 13 trophies
Agusti Sancho
1917-1922, 1923-1928, 14 trophies
Ramon Torralba Larraz
1914-1928, 15 trophies

*All information according to https://www.fcbarcelona.com/club/history/legends
 
Some may try to argue that Iniesta’s trophies have come on the back of Lionel Messi’s greatness. Yet, as is the common cliché, a game is not won by one man alone. 

Undoubtedly, the great Barcelona teams led by Pep Guardiola were not just about giving the ball to Messi to watch him score. Those teams were built on their style, as dictated by the midfielders. Iniesta did that job to perfection next to Xavi, and Barcelona have continued their success without the latter due to the unshakeable influence of the former. 

Barça and Spain wouldn't have achieved their impressive recent success without Iniesta. Their style, which has taken the world’s best strategists years to slow down, has changed the world of football.

Fortunately, opponents have yet to figure out how to slow Iniesta down -- and he will certainly be back to his old tricks once he returns from injury.

By Dan Hilton, columnist at Barcablog. Follow him on Twitter @HiltonD13.