Andres Iniesta has made possible the impossible. Barcelona and Real Madrid fans never agree on anything but none dare to dispute that the 32-year-old maestro is the main custodian of Spain's hopes to revalidate the European Championship 2016.
The Barcelona star is by far the best player in Vicente Del Bosque's current ranks and many, even some Real Madrid fans, would also agree to name him as the best Spaniard ever ahead of the likes of Raul Gonzalez, Xavi Hernandez, Iker Casillas, Carlos Puyol or Luis Suarez, who remains as their unique Ballon D'or. Yet, Iniesta would have probably won the award if he had not played in the same era as his teammate Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
Iniesta made his name in Spain in 1996 as a child through a popular 7-a-side tournament which is annually broadcast in Spain. He then played for his local team Albacete and after being the best player of the tournament Barcelona lured him to the prolific La Masia. During an interview with Spanish TV little Iniesta revealed that he supported Real Madrid.
In the years to follow Barca fans eagerly waited for his breakthrough into the club first-team as news broke about his progress in the youth ranks of both the Barcelona and the Spanish team. Barcelona, after they conquered their first Champions League in 1992 at Wembley, failed to continue the big legacy left by Johan Cruyff. The crowd needed to keep believing and it came in 2002 when Louis van Gaal handed Iniesta his debut with the first team at the age of 18.
Xavi Hernandez, Carlos Puyol and Victor Valdes had also been promoted by the sacked Manchester United boss but it was probably Iniesta, who with Ronaldinho and even before the great Lionel Messi, gave the Catalans the decisive boost to change their fortunes – as he would later do with Spain.
The beginning was not easy, neither for him or a Barcelona ended trophy less in both 2002-2003 and 2003-2004. Iniesta, still young to be a starter in a team in crisis, had to wait for his time while being just a mere super sub for Frank Rijkaard during his start to the life in the first team but demanded a fixed role in the team after his decisive performance in the final of the Champions League against Arsenal in the 2005-2006 campaign. Barcelona went into half-time 1-0 down after Sol Campbell's opener. Then Iniesta came on to replace Edmilson and the story is well known – with the Catalans scoring twice in the last 14 minutes to clinch their second Champions League.
The maestro was instrumental in successive years with Rijkaard and especially with the arrival of Pep Guardiola who, years before, had prophesied Iniesta's successful career during a conversation with Xavi Hernandez. The new Manchester City boss and the former captain were watching a 16-year-old Iniesta in action with the Barcelona youth team and told to his then teammate: "You will retire me but he will retire us both."
And so it was. Iniesta repaid the manager's praise years later by scoring a stoppage time strike in the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea in 2009 to lead Barcelona to final of the Champions League – and eventually to the title, the first for Guardiola and the third for the club.
Many question his scoring stats but his leadership and willingness to step up on the big day is absolute, both for Barcelona and the national team.
Iniesta scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final against the Netherlands to give Spain their only major world tournament to the date and was also voted Player of the Match in the impressive 4-0 victory over Italy in European Championship 2012.
Andres was also the best player in the pitch in the Champions League final victory over Juventus last season and recently received the same individual recognition in the Copa del Rey thrilling victory over Sevilla after arguably one of his most impressive performances ever.
Now without Xavi Puyol, Fernando Torres and David Villa he remains a the key for this inconsistent Spain to have any chance to reach the glory four years later. If he led a side with Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez to win the double of La Liga and Copa del Rey this season why he can't do the same with Del Bosque's side?
Real Madrid and Barcelona fans will join their forces for one month to support that player who 20 years ago revealed his passion for Los Blancos but during more than a decade has been an icon in the best era of the Catalan side.