This marks my 100th blog post!
It is rather fitting that this landmark post is about Andres Iniesta, my most favorite footballer ever. To make it all the more special, today also marks the Spanish legend’s 36th birthday. Having been overwhelmed to tears while reading his biography The Artist: Being Iniesta, I was really looking forward to this documentary produced by Rakuten TV.
Andres Iniesta: The Unexpected Hero is essentially a love letter to the ex-Barcelona player and one of the greatest ever midfielders to grace the beautiful game. It begins with a montage of a plethora of some of football’s biggest names gushing over Andres and comparing his play to a dancer, with overlapping shots of a dancer and Iniesta’s balletic dribbling.
The documentary gives some great insights into his new life in Japan, where he now plies his trade for Vissel Kobe. Considering how Iniesta is ‘extraordinarily ordinary’, his decision to move to Japan is now obvious, as we watch him enjoy the simple things that he wouldn’t have been able to experience back in Spain. “Leaving Barcelona and coming here has given me a lot of freedom in many ways,” says Iniesta, as a video of him fishing is shown in the background, with one of his children enquiring if it would be possible to catch a shark. His wife Anna echoes the feeling. “Just sitting on a bench and watching people is something we’ve never been able to do,” Anna says. “And going for a walk with your kids, brings a lot of peace you haven’t had for many years.”
One surprising anecdote we learn from the film is that Iniesta and David Villa, another of my favorite ex-Barcelona players, both live in the same block in Japan, with their children being close friends. I loved one particular video of them driving to drop their kids at football practice, all the while recollecting their own childhood memories.
Iniesta has always described the day when he first arrived at La Masia, Barca’s famed youth academy, as the worst of his life. The film provides another reminder of how Iniesta’s dream could have ended before it even began. As Iniesta was crying himself to sleep, the film shows how his father was faring no better. His father and grandfather were so close to taking Iniesta out of the academy, but were stopped by his mother, who insisted that Andres should at least be given a chance to try. His later battle with depression, caused by multiple torn-muscle injuries and the death of his friend, Dani Jarque, is also covered in detail.
The story of how Iniesta won over his wife Ana is quite endearing. The summer they had met, Iniesta had gone on tour with Barcelona to Japan. He came back with a gift for Ana. “Here in Japan, at all the airports, the company or brand you see the most is ANA. It reminded me of her a lot,” he describes. So, he brought back a model plane and a gushy letter that he’d written. “When I got the gift and read the letter, I can say I fell in love at that moment,” says Ana.
Iniesta will always be remembered for the two hugely memorable goals he scored during his illustrious career – the goal against Chelsea in the 2009 Champions League semis and the goal in the World Cup final that won the trophy for Spain. It was interesting to know that, while I was futilely trying to cheer up my inconsolable brother, a huge Chelsea fan, Iniesta’s goal had apparently sparked a baby boom back in Spain. The World Cup winning goal was filled with amazing anecdotal stories from his friends and family, but it didn’t move me the way his biography did.
In a fiercely divided footballing community, Iniesta is one of those rare universally adored players, who transcends fandoms and rivalries. He has earned standing ovations even while playing away to Barca’s sworn enemies, Real Madrid and Espanyol. The list of people, including Messi, Neymar, Xavi, Guardiola, Ramos, and Buffon, turning out to heap praise on him is also further proof of how everyone loves Iniesta. Andres Iniesta: The Unexpected Hero may not have never-before-seen footages of Iniesta or Barcelona, but it’s an honest and touching tribute to one of the greatest footballers the world has ever seen.