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Andres Iniesta Genius Still Essential for Barcelona Despite Team's New Look

Published by Bleacher Report on Sat, 10 Sep 2016

A story has been doing the rounds, supposedly told by Andres Iniesta about Ronaldinho, set a few days before the November 2005 El Clasico.According to this tale, reproduced by theSun, the Brazilian phoned up his team-mates individually and said he was moving to Real Madrid, but they had to keep it quiet and not speak to anyone about it.The day of the game, he revealed to the squad that he was joking and was trying to test the loyalty among the squad, which hadnt cracked and revealed the plot, showing their unity. Inspired, they went out at the Santiago Bernabeu and won 3-0.Unfortunately, the story isnt from where it purports to be from, which is Iniestas new book, The Artist. There is little evidence to suggest its real.The perplexing thing is why someone needs to make up a fake story about two geniuses who tell such spellbinding ones of their own, written with their feet.One glance at Iniestas book reveals the magic he has wrought. The people who are speaking up for him include one of the greatest coaches and the greatest player football has experienced: Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi.The latter had some special words that highlight the Manchegans influence, as highlighted by El Periodico(h/t Sport).Messi said: "On the pitch I like to have him close, above all if the game is strange, tough or rough. I tell him: 'Come close, stand by my side'. He grabs the team, drives it, looks for me, gives it to me. He's a modest person and as a player is magical, everything he does with the ball is amazing."It has been a rough ride for Iniesta at times, as detailed in an interview with the Guardians Sid Lowe, where he spoke about an intensely distressing year of his life.Between winning the Champions League with Barcelona in 2009 and the FIFA World Cup with Spain in 2010, Iniesta was down. This should have been one of the best periods of his life, but he was at his lowest ebb, stumbling around in the darkness in search of the light that seemed to have deserted him.His friend Dani Jarque, an Espanyol player, died that summer, and Iniesta was cut deeply by it. His celebration after scoring the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final, a volley battered home past Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, saw him rip his shirt off, revealing a dedication."Dani Jarque, always with us," it read. It was closure. And Iniesta has never looked back from there, surging up out of his pit of sorrow and reaching new levels.The incredible thing is his adaptation to the current Barcelona setup. For a while, it looked like he was struggling at the start of Luis Enriques reign.His way of connecting the midfield and attack seemed less relevant as Barcelona launched bullet counter-attacks and played longer passes, sometimes even cutting out the midfield zone to get the ball up front to the brutal attacking trio of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.But if anyone was going to work until he triumphed, it would be Iniesta. The man's professionalism is undoubted. When he was struggling at Barcelona, he sought professional psychological help to get him back on the right path.Even with his book, he had to keep working on it, finding new angles, new people for the authors to talk to, until every alleyway was exhausted. It took them four years to write. And if Iniesta had his way, they would still be writing it. He is meticulous.Ramon Besa and Marcos Lopez appeared on Cadena Ser radio show El Larguero to talk about Iniestas book, with the player, and they joked that the only time they knew they were safe was when Iniesta was at a game or in training. The rest of the time, they would be getting messages about the book.Now Iniesta runs and scraps for the ball when he feels it's necessary. Seeing him commit tactical fouls is one of the most amusing sights in Spanish football today, given his graceful nature and elegance when he's on the ball. But in Lucho's team, the midfield must be more pragmatic than ever.Barcelona 3.0, and even 2.0, have more of the ball than the Asturian's team in the first season, because it took a while for the front three to click. When they did, opposition defences got increasingly more scared and dropped deeper, which meant Barcelona had more of the ball.They didn't have anywhere near as much possession as they did in the Guardiola era, but a bit more than towards the start of Luis Enrique's reign, and that benefits Iniesta.It's no surprise the hardest games for him, and the team as a whole, are when opponents press high up like Athletic Bilbao did in the second week of this LaLiga season. Iniesta was not playing, after suffering an injury in the Spanish Super Cup win over Sevilla, but he has adapted his game to be able to play in that sort of match. He has to cover more ground than in the past, but it's not something he is reluctant to do, despite his age.Iniesta turned 32 in May. History suggests he doesn't have much longer at the top. Few players can continue their form to his age, let alone beyond. But for now, he still dazzles and dances. He enthralls and delights. Even opposition fans, like when the Vicente Calderon stood in unison to applaud him off in May 2015, as Barcelona lifted the title after beating Atletico Madrid.Luis Enrique understands he has raised the physical demands on Iniesta and, as such, is more careful with his minutes. Iniesta has appeared in fewer games in the past two seasons (42 in 2014-15 and 44 in 2015-16) than in any since 2009-10 (42). He has also scored fewer goals in those two seasons (three in each) than since 2009-01 (one).That is not because his finishing is getting worseit was never great, but it didn't stop him from scoring at crucial times for club or countrybut because of his changing role and his changing game.Iniesta has morphed into a hybrid of himself and the man he replaced as captain at the start of last seasonXavi Hernandez.There seemed to be no way Barcelona would not miss their pace-setter, the clock at the teams heart. And they doexcept in emotional terms more than sporting ones. This is in no small part thanks to Iniestas talent as a controlling influence in the centre, playing deeper than ever before.Lowe wrote, in the interview: "At 32, no longer playing alongside Xavi Hernandez and with Barcelona embarking on a stylistic shift, more direct, it might have been natural for Iniestas career to draw towards a close.He might have appeared the natural victim; instead he is enjoying this as never before. He became more central in every sense, a kind of Iniesta and Xavi."Of course Messi wants Iniesta with him when the going gets tough. Any team would. But no team can, apart from Barcelona. And they need to enjoy Iniestas talent for as long as they can.He may not be needed every week. For instance, there is no need to risk him against Alaves if he isn't 100 per cent ready to return, with Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes waiting in the wings. When the big boys roll into town, though, expect Iniesta, hands on hips, ball under his foot, waiting to receive them.The player has turned his hands to other activities, like making his own wine and creating his book, as footballers tend to do when they reach the latter years of their careers. But unlike in some cases, Iniesta isnt doing so because his form is decliningif anything, he has been in one of the richest patches of his career over the past few months.Who needs fabricated stories when you can have the real thing' Rik Sharma is Bleacher Report's lead Barcelona correspondent. All information and quotes obtained firsthand unless specified. Follow him on Twitter here:@riksharma_Read more World Football news on BleacherReport.com
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