One of the least appealing elements of this profession is telling the truth.
Hold on, hold on, don’t worry.
I don’t mean that the truth isn’t a holy grail, nor do I mean that it’s hard to avoid lies or “fake news”.
No. You learn early it’s the job of reporters to tell the truth as they see it, anticipate it and, above all, fervently believe it to be. No matter how hard or unappetising.
Anyone in this line of work will admit that the first thing they disliked about it was discovering that many at the football club they’d previously loved, in fact, had feet of clay.
Or were downright idiots. And the sound of smashed preconceptions was the only thing which drowned out their sobs of disappointment.
But all of that comes with the territory and it’s our responsibility to try to point out not only what is true but what we anticipate may come true.
For that reason here’s an admission that isn’t a lot of fun for me to write. Andrés Iniesta hasn’t announced that this will be his last World Cup, something his much younger club colleague Gerard Piqué has decided and made public.
The little Spaniard who scored Spain’s winning goal in 2010 is not only at a pensionable age for a footballer of his kind – he’s now off to play in Japan for vast sums. So, de facto, this is his last international tournament.
And it’s my fear, I have to admit, that despite a terrific season where he captained Barça, the club he adores, to the domestic trophy double, Iniesta is on borrowed time.
His vision, technique and experience remain unimpeachable. But I’m a little worried about his energy, physique and ability to sustain brilliance across the six or seven matches it would take him to steer Spain to a repeat World Cup triumph. However, it would be one of the great stories if, indeed, he has another triumph written into his DNA. He’s said his tearful goodbyes to Barcelona and the Camp Nou – this would be the ultimate curtain call.
When he quit the club he’s been at for 21 years it was such an emotional moment for Xavi, his one-time playing partner, that he too cried.
Then he wrote a letter to Iniesta. This is an excerpt.
Xavi: “I still remember the first time I saw Andrés play. I was in the Juvenil category and he was with the younger kids. “Someone in the club says to me, ‘Xavi, there’s a kid coming up who’s going to be brilliant. Everyone’s raving about him! He plays a lot like you.’
“But then I watched him play and I say to myself, ‘He’s nothing like me! He opens play up better than me, he’s better at dribbling, he can play on the wing and he’s got a brilliant change of direction.
“You could immediately see he was going to be exceptional.
“From day one Andres was always so exciting to watch.
“It was all second nature to him. We senior guys used to say, ‘This kid’s four years younger than us and he knows it all already’.
“In my opinion Andrés is the most talented Spanish player of my lifetime. “Fans don’t realise, but there are times in a game when you don’t really want the ball, maybe you’re completely trapped by the opposition and the situation looks impossible. “But Andrés is the kind who’d always demand the ball, no matter what’s happening.
“Passing is my thing and I’ve always needed players like Andrés, Messi and Busquets around me. “These guys are the best team-mates I’ve ever had, always in the right place at the right time no matter where I am.
“But Andrés? He’ll appear from nowhere just when you need him. In more than 10 years of playing together we almost never spoke on the pitch. We didn’t need to. It was all about body language. Just a look would be enough.
“Sometimes, during a game, he’d leave the rest of us stunned, ‘How did he manage that? How did he get away? It’s not humanly possible!’
“But that’s Andrés. A true maestro.
“People used to worry about what they saw as his lack of physical strength. “Total rubbish. The way he uses his body, it’s almost impossible to take the ball off of him. Now, that’s real power.
“Look at his stamina, the number of games he’s played in his career. And his mentality! People don’t understand how tough it can be at times, how much he’s gone through. “However, Andrés definitely has a guardian angel watching over him. “Iker Casillas is the same. Don’t ask me to explain but those two just have something special. “They’re the guys who save you when everything looks grim. They make the save, the golden pass, the vital goal.
“We’ve all seen Andrés do his magic at Barça and with Spain.
“We saw it at Stamford Bridge, in Johannesburg and it’s a fact that Guardiola and I saw it when he was still in infantiles and we were first team players.
“Have a look at that World Cup-wining goal against Holland and you’ll see what I’m talking about. “His guardian angel was definitely looking after him that day. Only Andrés could have scored that goal.
“And they said it would never work, us playing together!
“I hated it when people said that I needed someone a lot more physical beside me.
“For me it’s technical ability before physique. “Obviously you need big, strong players in your team but it’s like Cruyff used to say – it’s mental muscle you need to play football.
“It really bugged us but neither of us ever talked publicly about it.
“We both prefer to do our talking on the pitch.”
So, that’s my greatest Spain player talking about the guy he thinks is so much better than him. Once you read this, and think about what the wee man is capable of, perhaps you think my assessment that Father Time is catching up with Iniesta is rubbish.
I do, fervently, hope that you are right and I am wrong.
The next few weeks will tell us.