Throwback: The Bernabeu Salutes Andres Iniesta
THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 21ST NOVEMBER, 2016
A standing ovation from the Bernabeu crowd is usually reserved for a member of Real Madrid's first team who has just helped Los Blancos see off another visiting team or a legend not associated with a rival club who the home fans feel the need to show their appreciation for à la Ryan Giggs, Alessandro Del Piero or Francesco Totti.
It is seldom a gesture reserved for anyone associated with FC Barcelona.
On 21st November, 2015, Andres Iniesta joined a club so elite only three other people in the world belonged to it; Diego Maradona, Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi.
These three men have all earned the adulation of the Real Madrid home fans despite being adorned in the Blaugrana kit. Almost 18 months ago, the trio admitted another member when Iniesta orchestrated a 4-0 demolition of Los Blancos in the Spanish capital.
So, to celebrate the Champions League and World Cup winning midfielder signing a new lifetime contract with Barca , we decided it would be worth remembering what many regard as one of his finest ever performances.
The first El Clasico of the 2015/16 season was also the first time Iniesta had worn the Barcelona captain's armband against his club's fiercest rivals and the pint sized genius certainly made the most of the occasion.
Luis Enrique's team went into the match with a not fully fit Lionel Messi sitting eagerly on the bench, just in case didn't go the Catalans' way. As it turned out, the Argentina captain wasn't called upon until the 57th minute and by then, Iniesta had worked his magic, leaving Real's players pleading 'no mas'.
Barca had threatened to put the game out of sight before half-time, with goals from Luis Suarez and Neymar, the latter being laid on by the mercurial Iniesta, asserting the then European Champions' dominance over their shellshocked rivals.
In the second half, Iniesta decided he'd had enough of laying the goals on and thought it'd be an idea to break the monopoly Suarez and Neymar had placed on goal scoring for the Blaugrana in the absence of the injured Messi.
The man who won the 2010 World Cup for Spain received the ball on the tail end of another Barcelona carousel of passes and, spotting the run of Neymar into the Real 18-yard box, played in the Brazilian who returned the favour to an onrushing Iniesta with a back heel so delicate it should have been sealed in bubble wrap. Iniesta's next touch was anything but delicate.
In the 77th minute the Barca captain would make way for Munir El Haddadi and strolled across the Bernabeu turf in a manner akin to a golfer sauntering down the fairway to the 18th green with his name already being inscribed on the Claret Jug at The Open.
Speaking to Canal Plus after the game, Iniesta said, "I want to thank the fans. We feel very good, we played a complete game in every way. We gave them very few chances, we hardly lost the ball. We were very effective."
The great man's words typified his personality. Always focus on the team, always 'we' and never 'I'. What a man, what a player, what a performance.
Featured Image Credit: La Liga