Barcelona: Andres Iniesta’s departure to China is mystifying
The influential central midfielder is set to end his long association with the Catalan giants this summer but a move to the Far East bemuses many observers.
The final could not have been scripted better for Barcelona and for Andres Iniesta.
The midfielder, who celebrated his 34th birthday next month, was substituted off with two minutes remaining.
He produced a typically classy and assured performance, hammering home the fourth goal in a 5-0 route for the Blaugrana against a hapless Sevilla.
As he made his way from the pitch, the crowd at the Wanda Metropolitano rose as one. Television pictures not only showed fans of the well-beaten Sevilla not only applaud the Spain international from the pitch but individual fans demanding more noise and appreciation from their section.
It shows the appreciation and mutual respect which Iniesta demands – qualities which rarely transfer across clubs in Spanish football.
Bye bye, Andres
The chant of “Iniesta quédate” has come from the stands at the Camp Nou for the past number of weeks but there is a deep-lying acceptance that their captain will confirm this week that he will not be staying.
He will fall just shy of making 700 first-team appearances for the Catalan giants and is likely to depart to the Chinese Super League.
Shortly after he exited Saturday’s final, Iniesta won his 34th trophy with Barcelona and this weekend should bring up his 35th.
Barcelona only require one more point from their five remaining league fixtures, starting with an away trip to relegation-threatened Deportivo La Coruna this season.
On the wane
Despite such a sterling individual performance, Iniesta’s power are undoubtedly waning with fitness issues becoming increasingly evident. His substitution on Saturday ensured he had completed just one match from start to finish all season.
Ernesto Valverde’s side are an ageing one – Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Paulinho, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Paulinho are all aged 29 or older.
Iniesta too will be acutely aware that while Xavi Hernandez departed the Camp Nou three years ago having won a treble, he had become a bit-part player within the squad. His former teammate may well think that the best time to leave is whenever everybody still wants you to stay.
The time is right
Should Iniesta decide to leave this summer it will undoubtedly be met with lots of tears amongst the Barcelona faithful but it should be partly remedied by the knowledge that the timing is right.
After all, Philippe Coutinho – viewed within the club as Iniesta’s long-term successor – has already been signed and the Albacete-native will go out having captained his side to the domestic double.
There is little doubt that Iniesta still has more to give top-level European football but, frustratingly, the timing is right for this legend to exit the stage.
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