BARCELONA, (Reuters) – Barcelona’s departing captain Andres Iniesta was hailed as a “real football man” by Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane after the Spain international announced he is leaving the La Liga club after 16 years at the heart of the team’s midfield.
“It’s difficult for me and for anyone who likes football. I don’t see him as a Barcelona player but a football man,” Zidane told a news conference on Friday.
“He is charming, very reserved and I like people like that. I don’t know him well but I only have good words for him and I wish him all the best as a player and as a person.”
Spain coach Julen Lopetegui said Iniesta was still one of the best players around and added not many footballers receive the adoration that the Barca veteran does.
The midfielder was given a standing ovation by both sets of supporters in last week’s King’s Cup final against Sevilla in which he delivered a virtuoso display and scored in Barca’s 5-0 win.
“He is a player who first of all is still at the top of his game. He has been a regular starter for us in every game and I don’t speak about him in the past but in the present,” Lopetegui told reporters.
“Obviously the path that he has had and the recognition he has received on an international level is no coincidence, he has earned it for everything he has achieved and for his personality.”
Iniesta is one of the most loved footballers in Spain after he scored the only goal in the 2010World Cup final when they beat the Netherlands to lift the trophy for the first time.
He also played a key role in Spain winning the 2008 European Championship to snap a 44-year trophy drought and he was named player of the tournament when they defended the title in 2012.
He is set to retire from international football after the World Cup in Russia.
“The manner in which he has won everything and his behaviour after winning has meant that he is given standing ovations in stadiums across Spain and abroad,” added Lopetegui.
“That is something which very few other footballers in history have had.”