La Liga says farewell to two of its icons this weekend
Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta and Atletico Madrid’s Fernando Torres are set for pastures new. It’s unclear where either player will finish their careers.
It’s rare that a club has the services of a truly World Class player for the duration of their career. Barcelona had two in Iniesta and Xavi, both a product of La Masia. Much of Spain and Barca’s recent success were built on the foundations of both Iniesta and Xavi’s midfield prowess. Iniesta, four years younger than Xavi, stamped his authority on the game in such a way that earned him numerous individual accolades.
Iniesta’s international, European and domestic contributions are staggering. During a career spanning almost two decades, the 2003/04 (46) and 2009/10 (44) seasons were the only times that he failed to make 50 or more appearances. According to OptaJose, Iniesta will play his 441st and final game for Barcelona when they face Real Sociedad on Sunday.
Iniesta seldom did he give the ball away, he had the ability to change the tempo of the game at the expense of the opposition. The 2006 Champions League Final highlighted his ability to influence others. Arsenal, skippered by Thierry Henry led the game 1-0 courtesy of Sol Campbell. Barca were struggling and coach Frank Rijkaard brought Iniesta on in the second half. That substitution changed the outcome of the game. Gilberto and Iniesta’s compatriot Cesc Fabregas struggled to control the middle of the park. Fabregas was eventually replaced by Mathieu Flamini. Barca remained on the ascendancy, winning 2-1 to pick up their second European Cup/Champions League title.
Iniesta’s domestic and European success is remarkable, they include nine Spanish League titles, four Champions League titles, three FIFA World Club titles, six Copa del Reys, seven Supercopa de Espana and three UEFA Super Cups.
Iniesta was a pivotal member of the Spanish side the won back-to-back European Championships in 2008 and 2012. A winning goal in the 2010 World Cup Final against Holland tops off a truly awe-inspiring international CV. It might not end there, Iniesta is included in Julen Lopetegui’s squad for this Summer’s World Cup.
Torres came through the ranks of Atletico Madrid’s youth academy. As a teenager, he helped Los Rojiblancos to promotion from the Secunda Division (2001/02 season). Torres was nicknamed El Nino (the kid) and at the age of 19, he was appointed as the captain of his boyhood club. Blessed with pace and an eye for goal, Torres played for five years in La Liga before moving to Liverpool in the Summer of 2007.
It didn’t take long for the Liverpool fans to chant his name. Torres took the Premier League by storm, scoring 24 goals during in the 2007/08 campaign. The Spaniard reached 20 goals in 31 games. That’s quicker than Roger Hunt, John Aldridge, Ian Rush (all 34 games), Robbie Fowler (36 games) Michael Owen (38 games), Kenny Dalglish (38 games) and Luis Suarez (49 games) managed it. Echoes of Fernando Torres Liverpool’s number 9 soon began to ring out around Anfield. In the 2008/09 season, Torres and his Liverpool teammates finished runners-up to bitter rivals Manchester United. Torres didn’t quite look the same player after the departure of Alonso to Real Madrid in 2009. It could have been very different for him during his spell at Anfield.
Torres was sold to Chelsea in January 2011. Despite not being able to find the kind of form that made him popular at Anfield, he helped Chelsea to FA Cup, Champions League and Europa League success. The Chelsea chapter didn’t work out as planned. During the 2014/15 season, Torres had a brief loan move to AC Milan before returning home to Spain.
Torres returned for a second spell at Vicente Calderon, helping Atleti to finished third in La Liga for three consecutive seasons. During the 2015/16 season, Diego Simeone’s side finished three points behind champions Barcelona.
Torres may not go down as a great in the eyes of Chelsea fans but he will always be a hero to those connected with Los Rojiblancos. His time with Atletico Madrid concludes on a high. Winning the Europa League and finishing second ahead of bitter rivals Real Madrid in La Liga isn’t a bad way to say farewell.
Like Iniesta, Torres helped Spain to European Championship success in 2008 and 2012. Not content with scoring the only goal of the game against Germany in the 2008 final, he also scored in the 2012 final when Italy were thrashed 4-0. Although Torres picked up a World Cup winners medal in 2010, he had to be content with an appearance off the bench.
Both Iniesta and Torres have earned respect for what they have achieved on the pitch. It’s going to be a tough challenge to replace them in their respective dressing rooms. Despite contrasting domestic achievements, they can both leave Spanish football on a high. You need to have extraordinary qualities to maintain the exceptional standards set by Iniesta over a long and successful career. As for El Nino, he scored in two European Championship Finals and captained his club at 19 years of age, those achievements will take some beating.