Andrés Iniesta took the trophy from the hands of the king, hoisted it over his head and the question we all asked ourselves was: why is he leaving? He remains a formidable player and was instrumental in Barcelona’s crushing victory over Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday. Philippe Coutinho, who Barcelona paid 160 million euros for as a possible future replacement for Iniesta, is a fine player but doesn’t even come close to Iniesta, and that is not a statement that belittles the Brazilian. It is simply that Iniesta is unique and has been recognised as such by fans of every persuasion across the land for some time. But life is life, everything has to come to an end and at least we’ll have the memory of his exhibition on the most colourful day of the Spanish football calendar, played out in front of the entire national fan base.
Iniesta’s recital was the headline news after a game that failed to deliver much tension. Barcelona arrived in single-minded boding. Sevilla decided to hold a retreat in Marbella in the days leading up to the game, while Barça elected to arrive in Madrid on the same day, as if they were not particularly bothered about the match. But they played with maximum attention, pressuring Sevilla from the off and pinning the Andalusian side into their own half to the extent that Vincenzo Montella’s side didn’t get over the halfway until 12 minutes had elapsed. And even then they’ll wish they hadn’t: the ball landed at the feet of Barça keeper Jasper Cillessen, who hammered a perfect 70-yard pass to the feet of Coutinho, who squared for Luis Suárez to clip into an empty net. That opened the floodgates and the remainder of the game was a training exercise for Barça, interrupted every so many minutes by the ball hitting the back of David Soria’s net.
Sevilla started off tentatively and by the time they attempted to open up a little, the door had slammed firmly in their face. When the opposing side is Barça and they play like they did on Saturday there is no shame in losing, although losing by such a margin always stings. Now Sevilla will have to concentrate on hanging on to their European place, which they have the ability to do, but first they will have to erase this result from their minds. Barcelona are a win away from the domestic double and secured the first half of it led by a player who is already a legend here and perhaps feels he needs to move to China to avoid becoming a nuisance. That’s just the way Iniesta is.