While witnessing Andres Iniesta put in another top performance for Spain in their Euro 2016 opener against the Czech Republic a familiar question arose: Zinedine Zidane or Iniesta – who would make an ultimate eleven. To some it is blasphemous to simply suggest Iniesta is even in the same category as the three time FIFA World Player of the Year but surely the gap is closing if not closed already.
Zidane and Iniesta has always been a fascinating comparison due to their similar skill sets and roles on the field. Both are predominantly attacking midfielders but they have also been used out on the left on occasions. Both have become recognised for their silky skills on the ball, dictation and control of the football game, and their propensity to perform in the big moments. When we analyse their technical skills it is clear that few can claim to be comparable to these two maestros; such is their ability. Differences exist of course; Iniesta has received criticism for his lack of goals and Zidane was the stronger goal threat for sure but Iniesta has the edge in regards to consistently controlling the flow of a game.
In regards to their club careers, Iniesta has convincingly outperformed Zidane. The Frenchman played almost half of his career with Caen and Bordeaux which affects his trophy cabinet. He also played for elites such as Juventus and Real Madrid for ten years yet only has two Serie A’s, one La Liga and one Champions League success to his name. That’s surprisingly low if we are being honest. Iniesta on the other hand has been a pillar of arguably the greatest club team we have laid eyes on. He’s been in the Barcelona first team for fourteen seasons and in that time claimed eight La Liga and four Champions League titles.
International football seems to be what has elevated Zidane to an untouchable level amongst the footballing world however Iniesta has not suffered in that regard. Zidane scored two goals in the 1998 World Cup to give France their first ever hold on the trophy while Iniesta scored the winner for Spain in 2010 to do the same. Euro 2000 saw Zidane at his absolute best as France added that title to their trophy room but Iniesta has done the same in two instalments of the tournament.
In truth the only department Zidane clearly out-performs Iniesta in is individual awards. Zizou won the FIFA World Player of the year award in 1998, 2000, and 2003 and the Balon’ D’or in 1998. The awards have been combined now but with Iniesta competing with demi-gods like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo it’s been near impossible for him to get his hands on that prize.
If, and admittedly it’s a HUGE if, Iniesta was to put on another tournament dominating performance for Spain this summer and lead them to reclaiming the Euros for an unprecedented third time in a row could we finally see Iniesta recognised as the best attacking midfielder of the last 20-30 years? It’s a huge ask but that it’s time we start to recognise that the minority who have already placed Iniesta in front of Zidane may actually have a case worth fighting for.