Last Sunday marked the end of an era for Spanish football. Fernando Torres and Andrés Iniesta played their last games for their respective clubs. Torres said goodbye to his beloved Atlético fans in the only way he knows: Scoring two goals against Eibar in the beautiful new home of Los Colchoneros, the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
Iniesta received his last homages at the Camp Nou, after announcing that he was leaving Barça a month ago already, and prompting the whole football planet to cry and thank the eternal midfielder from Albacete.
The recent years of Spanish history have been somehow connected to the lives of those two great players.
Torres made his debut on the 27th of May 2001 against Leganés, when Atlético Madrid was struggling in the Segunda División. The next season, Atlético were promoted, and started to slowly improve and return to the place where they belonged. Numbers don’t lie: With 10 Ligas, 10 Copas del Rey, 3 Europa leagues and 1 European Cup Winners Cup, Atlético is the 3rd winning club in Spain.
In 2007, due to the financial situation, Atlético’s President Enrique Cerezo was forced to sell his biggest star to Liverpool on a 20-million-pound transfer – the most paid player in the history of the Reds back then. Fernando Torres joined coach Spanish Rafael Benitez at Anfield Road, performed an astonishing first season, and scored 24 goals in the Premier League – which will turn out to be his career best.
Four seasons later, El Nino decided to join Chelsea with a very controversial move, a 40-million-pound deal which made him the most expensive Spanish player as of 2011.
In the meantime, Barcelona had signed Andrés Iniesta in 1996, when he was only 12 years old, playing for his hometown club Albacete. In 2002, he made his first-team debut at 18 under the command of Louis Van Gaal. He soon made a massive impact on the team, and became a regular lineup player in two years later.
Under another Dutch coach, Frank Rijkaard, Iniesta won his first Champions League in 2006, in a team that lined up players like Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o. But it was with the arrival of Pep Guardiola as a head coach that Iniesta reached his highest level.
Those were the years of tiki-taka: The term was first used by Spanish journalist Andrés Montes, to describe a style of play, usually performed by short players, based on keeping possession of the ball and making quick, short, one-touch passes to cross the enemy lines.
Barcelona dominated the world of football in those years applying the tiki-taka, which made them the only club to have ever won El Sextete, six titles in a single season (Champions League, La Liga, Copa del Rey, European Super Cup, Spanish Super Cup and Fifa Club World Cup), a feat performed in 2009.
One year earlier, both Iniesta and Torres were in the list of Spanish coach Luis Aragonés for the European Championship taking place in Austria and Switzerland. That was the year of the worst financial crisis in the last century, which affected most countries, but especially the South European ones, and Spain in particular.
As a national team, Spain had been always known for having great players and playing some beautiful football, but never winning anything. When the crucial games arrived, the Team inevitably collapsed. Many explanations were given for such failures: Lack of experience, of leadership, of charisma… My opinion as a Spanish is that it was just a psychological issue, affecting not only to football. Every aspect of our society had to do with it.
However, thanks to that new generation of players – Iniesta, Torres, but also Iker Casillas, Xavi, Carles Puyol, David Silva, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, David Villa and many more – that mindset was changed forever.
After dominating the group stage at Euro 2008, Spain were forced to face all their worst fears at once: Playing with Italy, a team la Roja had not defeated in the last 60 years, in a Quarter Final round, the stage where they were usually sent home on penalty shootouts.
It ended as expected – on penalties, and the whole country held their breath as Cesc Fabregas prepared to kick the decisive one. That precise moment was the turning point for the country: Fabregas scored, and we eventually made it to the Final where a lone goal by Fernando Torres gave us the European Championship.
That title was followed by a World Cup win in 2010, with the magician Iniesta scoring the decisive goal in the heart of Johannesburg during the extra time of the Final versus The Netherlands. A second European Championship was won in 2012, completing an unprecedented 3-major-title-in-a-row streak.
While the economy of Spain continued to struggle dramatically, reaching the highest rate of unemployment in the European Union at 25%, football kept the country united and made it stronger. Some even say that it is thanks to the great success of La Furia Roja during those years, that the crisis didn´t get worse.
As for their two key players, Torres returned to the club of his life after a short stint with Milan, winning his first and only title with Atlético – the Europa League – just few days ago. Iniesta ended his career in Barcelona winning a doblete (two titles, La Liga and the Spanish Cup) on his last season with the Catalan club.
I am neither a politician, nor an economist, but I can assure you that Iniesta and Torres provided me with some of the happiest moments of my life as a football fan. For that reason, I think I speak on the name of millions of Spaniards when I say: Gracias, Gracias, Gracias. And hasta siempre, campeones!