Fondly known as El Cerebro, the 36-year-old is adored by fans all over the world.

There is no sport in the world that is as dearly loved as football. The ‘Beautiful Game’ transcends the confines of international borders and humane differences. Everything else gets forgotten when the ball starts rolling on the pitch. Footballers also rarely lead one-dimensional lives, as they are always looked upon as heroes and demigods by the people. Andres Iniesta is one of them and at 36 years of age, he continues to enthral fans with his heroics with the ball.

If you take a look at Spain’s footballing rise in the 2000s and 2010s, Iniesta can be seen as one of the most prominent figures spearheading this revolution. Irrespective of whether he was playing for the national team or his club FC Barcelona, he always managed to create an impact. This is also probably one of the reasons why no footballer is as warmly welcomed in the country as him. 

He could go to Cornella, the home of Barca’s neighbours Espanyol, where home fans who would otherwise hate Barca gave him an ovation after their team had been defeated 1-5. Former Spain boss Vicente del Bosque uses that example in ‘Andres Iniesta: The Unexpected Hero’, a new feature documentary on the player that is streaming on Discovery Plus in India.

The documentary takes us through the life and times of one of the greatest footballers ever and it includes quotes from various people who he has worked with. In one instance, Pep Guardiola narrates what it is like to watch Iniesta on the pitch, as he says, “He didn’t touch the ball; he followed it,” while Xavi Hernandez feels that his former midfield partner and close friend is the ‘greatest talent in Spanish football.’

“That time-space relationship, when a player’s expecting him to come where the opponent isn’t covering, that’s just wonderful and he even waits for you until the end,” he says. “He waits for you and says, ‘I’m going to get you,’ and then he does.” Luis Enrique then chimes in, “He didn’t have two eyes, he had four. He was like Harry Potter with his magic wand.”

Of course, there’s Lionel Messi. “Special. I think Andres is a special person. As a player and as a person, too.” That, by all means, is probably the most accurate description of the 36-year-old, who is one among only three Barca footballers to receive a standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabeu, the home ground of their arch-rivals Real Madrid. 

WATCH: Andres Iniesta on his life and incredible career

Iniesta joined the elite company of Diego Maradona and Ronaldinho in 2015 and considering how very special the Argentine and Brazilian greats are, the word is an accurate description of Iniesta as well. Several other footballers also make their appearances in the documentary and use superlatives to describe the phenomenon that he was on the pitch. 

In addition, we can also hear his own mother talk about her son – but when she does, she speaks about the pride she feels and not about him winning all of 35 trophies, including four Champions Leagues and a World Cup, but that compatriots in Seville, Valencia and Madrid applaud her son. She comes from a humble family close to Albacete, where her son, by the age of five, was “at the level of a 12 to 14-year-old player” according to his coaches.

All Spanish clubs wanted the youngster, but he chose Barcelona and a new life far from home at the age of 12. It was difficult, she remembers – “he wept silently” – and life continued to be so sometimes while he continued to make it as one of the world’s best footballers. She also remembered something much more important, as she described how the midfielder took on depression and secured probably his biggest victory in life when he finally managed to overcome it. This happened in 2009, a year on from the success of Euro 2008 and a year before their World Cup win in South Africa.

Iniesta didn’t tell his teammates much, but he sought professional help. His psychologist discusses his illness on screen, likening it to postnatal depression after the high of childbirth. She talks about how he never missed an appointment to see her and would arrive early week after week, as he struggled to get out of what she considered his “bottomless pit.” In the documentary, his former teammates at Barca and Spain reveal that they wish he had told them about it.

His problems suddenly took a turn for the worse that summer, following the sudden death of his friend Dani Jarque, the captain of Espanyol. But, within a year, Iniesta would stage a glorious comeback, scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final via a 116th minute strike against Holland. His celebration of lifting his shirt to reveal a T-shirt with the words “Dani Jarque, siempre con nosotros” (“always with us”) is well known. That tribute won him the love of Espanyol fans, while the rest of Spain celebrates him most as the man who scored the goal that won his country’s first and only World Cup so far.

The documentary is hence essentially a cinematic love letter to the former Barcelona star and one of the greatest midfielders the sport has ever seen. The story arc was compiled by Spanish journalists Marcos Lopez and Ramon Besa, who also wrote Iniesta’s biography “The Artist: Being Iniesta,” which took four years to produce. The duo’s involvement in the film has resulted in it achieving a level of humanity that one seldom associates with sports documentaries.

The presence of star power that contributes graciously to the content of the film only adds to its charm – and most importantly, we have Iniesta himself speaking throughout and giving access to his life not only in Spain, but also in Japan, where he currently plies his trade at Vissel Kobe, a J1.League club. 

Related Topics: World Football | LaLiga | FC Barcelona

For the family man that he is, life is about enjoying its simplicity and based on his own words and those of wife Anna Ortiz, that became one of the few reasons why he decided to move away from his home country and his beloved club Barcelona. In what would be the twilight of his career, he wanted to enjoy the values which he couldn’t always relish back in Spain.

“Am I a celebrity? Maybe, and it’s welcomed, I’m glad. But, I have always tried to be a normal person within what is a special world that I live in,” he himself says at one point.

In the end, ‘Andres Iniesta: The Unexpected Hero’, may not blow minds with never-seen-before footage or its cinematography. However, the documentary is a touching tribute to one of the greatest players ever, with a focus on his life beyond the confines of the football pitch – a family man, a caring husband, a father and a friend.

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