Tears welled up his eyes. As Andres Iniesta walked off the pitch at the Wanda Metropolitano, he stopped to embrace several of his team-mates and was applauded by both sets of supporters after helping Barcelona beat Sevilla 5-0 in the final of the Copa del Rey. It felt like the end.
And if it is indeed the end, it was a fitting finale. Iniesta had produced an exhibition in attacking football, gliding past rivals, linking up with pinpoint passes and even scoring an excellent goal. He always did save them for the big occasion, after all.
After spending the final few minutes on the bench following his substitution, he was then back to lift the trophy, his 31st for Barcelona and a 34th in total. Next week, away to Deportivo La Coruna, he can add another as the Blaugrana look to complete a domestic double. And then in a flash, he will be gone.
“There are a lot of emotions and feelings,” he said after the game. “I’m happy for the image we gave of ourselves and for the title. The fans deserved this after what happened against Roma.”
He deserved it, too. “This week I will make my decision public,” he added. “But we’ll [always] have days like today. I’ll say what my decision is. It’s a bit clear, but well, we’ll see.”
Iniesta has received ovations from fans all over Spain in the past, including at Real Madrid and Espanyol, Barcelona’s two biggest rivals. And on Saturday, Sevilla’s supporters paid tribute to the midfielder – even though their team were 5-0 down when he was withdrawn.
“I burst into tears when I heard the ovation they had given Andres,” the player’s father, Jose Antonio, told Spanish radio after the game. “It was really emotional to hear the ovation for Andres.”
And he added: “If he takes the decision to leave, it must be respected. If he chooses to leave, I think it is a good moment. My son is going to take a tough step.”
Coach Ernesto Valverde would not confirm whether it was indeed goodbye for Iniesta. “Well, we will have to see what happens,” he said. “He played a great game. Watch him, enjoy him. I would have given an arm when I was a player to do the things he does.”
Iniesta’s goal came from a one-two with Lionel Messi, the Argentine assisting his friend for Barca’s fourth goal as the midfielder rounded goalkeeper David Soria and fired into the empty net from a tight angle.
Andres is 34 in May, while Leo will be 31 in June. Together, they have been at the forefront of the best Barcelona era ever and without each other, it would not have been quite so special.
But barring a late change of heart, it is now all over. Iniesta is set on a move to China in the summer, just months after signing a “lifetime” contract with the Catalan club and despite the fact he remains easily good enough to continue at Camp Nou for at least one more season.
Even when he is gone, though, his football will live long in the memory. His artistry is a joy to behold even now and it is sad for all football fans that he is leaving so soon. Don’t go, Andres – you still belong at Barcelona…