It’s only really beginning to sink in but Sunday was a personal farewell to Andrés Iniesta.
I think we all intuited that once he’d said, pre-tournament, this was his last World Cup it would also likely be Iniesta’s last appearance in a glorious Spain career.
So it has proven. By happenstance, not by some sort of special relationship with him, I was the first person to whom Iniesta publicly stated it was all over.
Part of my work at the World Cup has been to step on to the pitch at full-time, accompanied by that Perspex sponsors wall you see when the coach or man of the match does what’s called a “superflash” interview.
Let me tell you, when you’re asking Sergio Ramos, towering over me, skin like the Bayeux tapestry and almost perpetually oozing a sense of menace, about a horrendous World Cup exit to a team of muppets like the Russians … you can feel anything but “superflash”.
I’m only having fun, of course, because Ramos is one of those who can speak honestly and eloquently about defeat and isn’t afraid to do that.
He may not be everyone’s cup of tea because, frankly, he’s completely ruthless about the job of winning. But he is mine.
That job finished it was time to wait for Spain’s failed coach Fernando Hierro.
Because King Felipe had gone down from the main stand to the dressing room in the Luzhniki Stadium to commiserate with (or perhaps scold) La Roja’s players about being booted out of this tournament despite not losing a match (how we revelled in that stat in 1974, remember?).
Hierro was a long time coming back to the pitch to complete his interview which Spain’s television rights holders hadn’t turned up for.
Thus, as with Ramos, it became my job.
Hierro spoke, at length, about his pride in his team’s efforts, about how he took the blame and about how the least important thing now was whether he would continue or not. He said, and this was echoed by the few players who spoke, that he truly regretted this was the way Gerard Piqué and, he feared, Iniesta would say goodbye to the national team.
Hierro proved not to have been the equal of what Julen Lopetegui would have brought to this World Cup – elegant, naturally a leader but not a coach who knew how to pick the right XI for tests where teams wanted to pack their defence like a Guinness Book of Records attempt on “how many people can you cram into a phonebox?”
It didn’t feel impertinent to ask him whether he’d now quit – but it’s not a particularly enjoyable task. You feel like a vulture.
Anyway, onwards to Iniesta. He was first out of the dressing room, changed into the strange round-necked jumper which was part of the Spain team’s wardrobe but looked like a reject from 1983 Burtons.
I’d specified to Paloma, Spain’s press chief, and to the Fifa media officer, a tall, elegant Bosnian lady, that I wanted Iniesta to speak.
It would constitute a third interview of the tournament with this brilliant Barcelona legend and, deep down, I wondered whether that would mean him saying – “not today, thanks, too disappointed”. But, instead, they made a beeline for me and my cameraman.
Two questions in I repeated the “is this the end for you and Spain?” question and his eyes brimmed.
A couple of times in his answer he faltered. This is a guy whose emotions run as freely as his talent on the ball. But he said: “Yes, it’s all over. It’s a personal cycle which has lasted a long time but it’s finished now. All things have a beginning and an end and I know not all ‘goodbyes’ can be as you’d imagine them or wish them to be.
“Some time in the future I’ll look back on it all, what we did, but that’s too complicated now on this difficult day. But this is the time to finish.”
Now look, I hope I don’t give the impression that this column is about me.
I’m only your representative out there. But, like you, I’m going to miss him dreadfully. It sinks in, little by little, that I witnessed his debut for Barcelona, that I’ve been present at all of his great moments, and that he’s lit up my life. Not my career, my life.
Had it not been for Iniesta’s brilliance happening along at the same time as Xavi, Puyol, Pique, Guardiola for Barcelona or Alonso, Casillas, Villa and Silva for Spain then would I definitively have stayed in this country for nearly 17 years now?
Would Sky have kept on buying up La Liga and allowing me airtime on Revista de la Liga?
Would life have been as much fun? Would I have travelled for weeks on end around South Africa, Austria, Brazil, Russia, Poland, Ukraine?
The answer is “no”. Iniesta was paraphrasing both the Bible and, let’s not forget, the Byrds when he pointed out that “To everything (Turn, Turn, Turn) there is a season …” His harvest has been rich. He’s come through tests both physical and psychological, which would have broken lesser men or women. And now he’s rich, a happy family man, eulogised as perhaps Spain’s greatest ever player and only two or three footballers, ever, have more trophies than him.
I called him the Solutions Man in my book about Barça a few years ago but here’s something I wish he could find a solution for.
I’m interested in the future, stimulated by watching it unfold. But living so close to men like this, meeting them, earning their respect, enjoying their personal fulfilment and thrilling to their talents makes you selfish. I freely admit it.
I’m not ready to Turn, Turn, Turn, I’m not ready for a new season when I’ll not see him play for Barcelona or Spain.
I could pay off with a cheap joke about learning Japanese because Andrés is moving to Kobe to continue the autumn of his career.
But I’ll return to the Byrds song. “A time to dance, a time to mourn …”
Until the sadness goes I’ll be doing both, dancing to his memory, mourning the end of his “season”.