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Guillem Balague debates whether Barcelona star Andres Iniesta is better than former Real Madrid man Zinedine Zidane

Guillem Balague - Guillem Balague Posted 18th February 2013 view comments

Is Andres Iniesta a better player than Zinedine Zidane?

Revista de la Liga pundit Guillem Balague thinks so and reveals why that is in the paragraphs below.

Check out Guillem's thoughts and whether you agree with him or not, let us know YOUR views by filling in the feedback form at the bottom of the page...

Iniesta or Zidane?

The first point to make is that, while we all love to compare players, one of these players has now retired (Zidane) and the other is still playing (Iniesta). In truth, players are always looked upon with a greater reverence once they have retired than they are when they are playing. The phrase: "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone" applies in football just as much as it does in life

Iniesta: Guillem thinks the Barca maestro is better than Zidane - but do you?

Iniesta: Guillem thinks the Barca maestro is better than Zidane - but do you?

Once they have stopped playing we tend to forget the missed chances, the bad games they played, the moments of petulance that often caused problems for the team they were playing for, rather than against. But what we do have is a mass of statistics, and while stats may not tell the whole story, they certainly go some way to painting a picture as to who actually was/is the best.

Of course while Zidane's stats are now set in stone, Iniesta's are constantly changing. The fact that we are already discussing whether he is, or is not, a better player than Zidane while he is still playing and more than a year shy of his 30th birthday is probably a reasonable pointer to the fact that even if he is not yet up to the Frenchman's standards, and personally I think he is, he almost certainly will be by the time he hangs up his boots. Or not? Let me put my case...

Honours won with clubs

In terms of trophies and honours won, the achievements of Iniesta put Zidane in the shade. The Frenchman, who played for Cannes, Bordeaux, Juventus and Real Madrid, won two Serie A league titles in 1996-97 and 1997-98; one La Liga in 2002-03; and one Champions League in 2001-02. Zidane was on the losing side in Champions League finals with Juventus against Borussia Dortmund in 1997 (1-3) and Real Madrid 1998 (0-1)

Iniesta, on the other hand, has only ever played as a senior for Barcelona. Since making his debut in 2002, he has won five La Liga titles (probably soon to be six this year) and these five have been won in the last seven years: 2004-05, 2005-6, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11. In Europe he has won three Champions League titles - 2005-6, 2008-9, 2010-11 - and has never been on the losing side in a Champions League final

International honours won

Internationally the records of the two players are equally impressive. Both made their full international debuts aged 22. In the 12 years Zidane played for France he notched 108 caps and 31 goals. Iniesta has played for the full international side 78 times over the past seven years during which time he has scored 11 goals. Both players have won the World Cup with their countries, Zidane in 1998 and Iniesta in 2010. Both players have scored in the World Cup final, Zidane heading two of France's goals against Brazil and Iniesta hitting the winner against the Netherlands.

Both players have won the European Championship, too, Zidane in 2000 and Iniesta in 2008 and 2012. The victory in 2012 made Spain the only side ever to retain the European Football Championship. Iniesta, injury permitting will almost certainly go on to equal if not better the number of international caps won by Zidane. But in addition to his senior caps it should be mentioned that Iniesta has represented his country no fewer than 123 times since 2000 at Under 15, 17, 19, 20, 21 as well as at full international level, winning the Under-17 European Championship in 2001 and Under-19 European Championship in 2002.

International awards

Zidane has received more international award than Iniesta winning the FIFA World Player of the Year three times, in 1998, 2000 and 2003, and the Ballon D'Or in 1998. The two awards were amalgamated in 2010. Iniesta took the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award in 2012. The Barcelona midfielder, three times in the top four of the FIFA Ballon d'Or, hasn't won as many personal awards as Zidane but Zidane did not have the likes of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo around at the time

Iniesta's individual awards:

UEFA Euro Team of the Tournament (2): 2008, 2012

UEFA Euro 2008 Man Of The Match: Semi-final vs. Russia

La Liga Spanish Player of the Year: 2009

La Liga's Best Attacking Midfielder (3): 2009, 2011, 2012

Trofeo Alfredo di Stéfano: 2nd best player in La Liga 2008-09, 3rd 2011-12.

FIFA/FIFPro World XI (4): 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

UEFA Team of the Year (4): 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Ballon d'Or: 4th Place 2009

FIFA Puskás Award: Second place 2009

2010 FIFA World Cup All-Star Team

2010 FIFA World Cup Man Of The Match vs. Chile, Paraguay and Final vs Netherlands

Prince of Asturias Awards: 2010

FIFA Ballon d'Or: 2nd place 2010, 4th Place 2011, 3rd Place 2012

ESM Team of the Year: 2011

UEFA Champions League Best Player: 2011-2012

UEFA Euro 2012 Man Of The Match vs. Italy, Croatia, Final vs Italy

UFA Euro Player of the Tournament: 2012

UEFA Best Player in Europe Award: 2012

IFFHS World's Best Playmaker 2012

Zidane's individual awards:

Golden Ball: 1998

FIFA World Footballer of the Year: 1998, 2000, 2004

UEFA Most Valuable Player of 2001/02: 2002

Playing companions

Much has been made of the fact that Iniesta is not as great as Zidane because of the players he has played with. Certainly Iniesta is playing for arguably the greatest club side in the history of the game, and precisely one of the reasons they are such a great side is because Iniesta not only plays for them but is one of the leading lights of this great Barcelona side. Much is made of the fact that Iniesta has the likes of Messi to feed with assists.

But it is also worth noting that Zidane only ever won one La Liga title and one Champions League despite playing alongside players like, Spain's captain Fernando Hierro, the Brazilian Ronaldo, Luis Figo and arguably the greatest legend in the history of Spanish football, Raul. At Juventus he played with following players during his stay: World Cup winners Alessandro Del Piero, Didier Deschamps, Felipe Inzaghi, Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet. Antonio Conte (Champions League and five-time Serie A winner), Edgar Davids (Champions League and three-time Serie A winner).

Plus, I wouldn't say the France team that won the 1998 World Cup was bad and that Zidane did everything for the side, as it featured the likes of Patrick Vieira, Laurent Blanc, Bixente Lizarazu, Youri Djorkaeff, Deschamps, Robert Pires, Henry, Lilian Thuram and Trezeguet.

Other players' comments

In 2009, after Barcelona had beaten Manchester United in the Champions League final, Wayne Rooney said, "Forget Messi, Iniesta is the best player in the world." And since that date, Iniesta has only got better.

Robert Pires said only last week: "For me Iniesta is the best player at Barca. We always talk about Messi, but without Iniesta, Barcelona area different team. He is the master of the team. He's the one who sets the pace for the whole team."

Juan Roman Riquelme: "I watch Iniesta and realise that even at my age I could be learning new things."

David Silva: "The press often ask me about whether Messi or Ronaldo is the best, but for me something is very clear. Andres Iniesta is the number one.

Sergio Ramos: "He is the enlightened one. Someone touched by a magic wand. He commands so much respect on the pitch. As a football lover I am proud to have played with him. He makes the difference and does things that no one else can do."

Fernando Torres: "When he has the ball, it's like everything else stops - like the camera going in slow motion. I've been playing with him since we were 15 and I have never, ever seen him play badly."

CONCLUSION

Someone once said that in football average to good players are normally strong against the weak but sometimes weak against the strong. What defines great players is that they are, almost without exception, strong against both the weak and the strong.

That in a nutshell is Andres Iniesta. The little genius for the enormous occasions. Fernando Torres sums it up perfectly. "I've been playing with him since I was 15," he says, "And I have never seen him play badly."

Think of the last-gasp dagger to the heart of Chelsea that earned Barcelona a place in the 2009 Champions League final; or the stunning pass that put Samuel Eto'o through to score in the final against Manchester United; or perhaps the winning strike that earned Spain their first World Cup against the Dutch in 2010. Big-time games call for big-time players, and there's no-one bigger than Iniesta.

Tito Vilanova asked Iniesta what lessons he learnt the previous season. Clearly Andrés had felt that by staying on the wing, where Pep Guardiola often placed him, he was not helping the team as much as he thought he could. Tito told him not to worry.

The arrival of Jordi Alba was going to give the wing to the full back and Tito told Iniesta to pretty much do whatever he wanted - and now he is playing in freer role in midfield from where his silvery, seemingly effortless skills can terrorize defences, much like he does in the red of Spain. He is becoming even greater.

But why is he not given the credit he deserves? Well probably for a very similar reason to why Zidane has been feted as the greatest midfielder ever - primarily because he stood head and shoulders above the vast majority of players he played with. His absence from the 2002 World Cup from the French side stood out like a sore thumb.

Iniesta is a genius who just happens to have played all his life for what is arguably the greatest club side in the history of the game, who also have in Lionel Messi , probably the greatest player ever and also for a country that stands, at the moment, above any other footballing nation.

Iniesta controls games with an economy of effort, a skill and a guile that combines the passing genius of Xavi and the dribbling wizadry of Messi. While Messi is at Barcelona, Iniesta will never receive the credit he deserves, yet ironically it can be argued that without mercurial input of Iniesta, Messi would not be quite the force he is now.

But perhaps another of the reasons that he doesn't get the credit he deserves is because he doesn't have the ego of so many of the pretenders to his throne. His arrogance is reserved to his performances on the field and not his antics off it. He has never been sent off in the 10+ years he has been playing in the Barcelona first team, or while playing for his country.

Zidane's volatile nature earned him 12 red cards, the last one coming in the 2006 final for a flying butt on Materazzi that meant the Frenchman could not take a penalty in the shoot-out that followed and that France subsequently lost. On that note Zidane quit professional football. When Iniesta finally decides that enough is enough, it will almost certainly be a more appropriate departure. I know that doesn't qualify one as better than the other, but I think the rest (stats and impressions) does.

I remember saying that Gareth Bale was at his age as good as Ronaldo at his and many people dismissed the idea, which is now being mentioned by many. Or that an 18-year-old Messi was going to become one of the top three players in the world. But I also said that Reyes was better than Cristiano Ronaldo at the time (which he was) but Ronaldo since then has become a force of nature.

Saying that Iniesta is better than Zidane is as bold a statement as any of those (and perhaps impossible to demonstrate, even though I think there is enough evidence in this piece). We might not agree but I would love to hear those that disagree (and give me your reasons) and those that feel brave enough to agree.

What would football be without a good argument!

Comments (115)

Carlos Mendoza (Port Vale fan) says...

Iniesta is a fabulous talent, without question one of the top 10 players in the world today. Zidane, however, WAS the best player of his generation, without doubt. When he played, he was untouchable. At the age of 38, he played in a world cup final (and would've won it but for the most unforgettable red card in history) , carrying his country to what should've been victory. His incredible touch, grace and awareness were qualities seldom found in a single player. I've been watching the beautiful game for almost 40 years and were I to pick the 10 best players I'd seen in my lifetime, Zidane would be in there ..... Iniesta, sadly, would not.

Posted 11:36 9th April 2013

Jim Smith (Barcelona fan) says...

Michael Laudrup is better than both. Argument over.

Posted 19:51 8th April 2013

Dan Tugwell (Chelsea fan) says...

Of course this ridiculous article has no bias in it whatsoever? It's like me as an Englishman comparing Rooney to Van Basten. As a kid, all I remember from watching tournaments is the likes of Zidane, Ronaldo, Figo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Shearer, Batistuta, Del Piero, Inzaghi, Davids, Seedorf do the business. When I saw Zidane grace a football pitch some of the things I saw him do chilled me. Pure brilliance, wizardry, class, inspiration. That bald head was the lynchpin of those France teams. As well as his strength, dribbling, first touch, heading, passing, vision, grace, what is very overlooked is he was such a good leader of men. He inspired people. Some of the goals this man scored were outrageous. Do you see Iniesta scoring goals like this? As others have said, you could put Zidane into the Spain team as Iniesta's replacement and the results would the same. Put Iniesta in Zidane's place in the French tean and Iniesta would not be anywhere near Zidane. Spain and Barcelona are great teams. They are all top, top players. As a team too, they are a top top team. Zidane's French team mates were not as revered and world class as the likes of Iniesta's Spain team mates. Zidane used to carry the French team at times. He used to win games on his own. Barcelona and Spain have a team full of players that can do that. My opinion is, and I think every single person who is not Spanish will agree... Zidane is by far superior to Iniesta.

Posted 11:54 19th February 2013

Joel Lord (Real Madrid fan) says...

i think zidane is miles better because he had pure class and incredible passing ability , with all respect to incredible iniesta but zidane is better

Posted 11:13 19th February 2013

Michael Griffin (Arsenal fan) says...

I disagree, and you contradict yourself. You say that Zidane won more individual awards, but didn't have the likes of Messi or Ronaldo to contend with. Then later you go on to say "But it is also worth noting that Zidane only ever won one La Liga title and one Champions League despite playing alongside players like, Spain's captain Fernando Hierro, the Brazilian Ronaldo, Luis Figo and arguably the greatest legend in the history of Spanish football, Raul. At Juventus he played with following players during his stay: World Cup winners Alessandro Del Piero, Didier Deschamps, Felipe Inzaghi, Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet. Antonio Conte (Champions League and five-time Serie A winner), Edgar Davids (Champions League and three-time Serie A winner)" So which one is it?

Posted 10:13 19th February 2013

Khurram Ahmad (Arsenal fan) says...

Where is the evidence man!! the piece is all about iniesta.. i biased account for all to see.. even the list of accomplishments is incomplete for Zidane (Man of Match of 1998 Final) HELLOO.. biased journalism at its worst.. tarnish the name of a great just to c ur compatriots being halied as the greatest ever!!

Posted 10:06 19th February 2013

Dwight Hlungwana (Chelsea fan) says...

I agree with most of the article's assertion but as amazing Iniesta is he's been one place, one country, one club, one system...the team team is built for him, around him or at least to better he's performance and potential since childhood...I think all the great have changed clubs and cultures to test their Greatness...Messi too...so I believe Messi, Xavi and Iniest have not been tested enough to warrant too much compliments. Try a new country, culture, club and system.

Posted 09:49 19th February 2013

Karthik Krishnan (Real Madrid fan) says...

As always - an article that everybody can understand and relate to...but, if you are talking about any of the lead player from Barcelona, it is tough to compare & appreciate their individual contribution. Messi, Villa, Iniesta are all part of this ecosystem that has transformed the game and taken it to the next level. Barcelona or Spain = team play. If you take Zidane - the French team were in no comparison to Spain...similarly he played for Real Madrid that was a collection of individual genius, but cannot compare to the team play promoted by Barca...cannot believe this is coming from a RM fan :) I still believe Zidane is superior for singularly taking France to its pinnacle and likewise controlling the midfield of Real Madrid filled with Galácticos.

Posted 09:18 19th February 2013

Dimba Jan (Newcastle United fan) says...

This article is blatantly bias! Zidane is one of the best players to play the game. Iniesta is very good but not quite the same quality. Oh and what happened to Zidane's Fifa player of the decade award? Biased!

Posted 07:45 19th February 2013

Stephen Agwet (Arsenal fan) says...

hello Guillem Balague,am a big fan of your artticles and your level of understanding of this beautifull game especially your spanish analysis of the game.However i beg to differ with you on your comparison of phenominal zizou and unbelieveable iniesta. The two players are absolutely on top of the game but on different levels.Zidane understanding and interpretation of the game in matches was crazy,his dribbling skills out this world and his abilities phenominal. Andreas level of maturity and interpretation is also out this world.He is a little assasin in today's modern game and not messi as percieved by many. For me iniesta is a cut above his peers but not at the same level as the great magician ''Zizou''

Posted 06:42 19th February 2013

Kal .. (Liverpool fan) says...

Guillem although I wouldn't say he is better than zizou I'd say by the end of his career he may just be, to be honest some of the points are valid whilst others are inaccurate, fact is zidane was playing in a greater era, defences were a lot better. On the big stage zidane lifted his game but as a club player he wasn't actually ever the main man at his club. At juventus del piero was the main man, at Madrid he had the Brazilian ronaldo who in his own opinion was miles the best player in the world. So he wasn't actually as pivotal at club level as he was on the international stage.

Posted 05:52 19th February 2013

Scott Brown (Leeds United fan) says...

I have to echo most peoples comments here in that Zizou was, for me, the better player and certainly the best player I have ever seen. For me he deserves to be held up against the Pele's, Maradona's, Messi's etc as one of the greatest of all time. I'm not sure that the comparison is the right one to make however, maybe i'm missing something but I don't see them as similar players. For that matter, i'm not sure there is a player on the world stage at present who is similar to Zidane?! The trend at the moment seems to be more directed towards the "tika taka" style of play which Iniesta and co have mastered so well. Zidane was a lot more direct and the closest player to him in recent times for me was probably a peak Kaka. Interesting read though and has sparked some good debate...

Posted 00:31 19th February 2013

Steve Dennis (Liverpool fan) says...

You might as well put on the awards list how many kick ups Iniesta can do or how many times he megged his mates in school..Ballon D'Or is where it counts. Zidane every time, no player has come close to his style of play, presence on the pitch and ability. Favourite player to watch, ever.

Posted 23:40 18th February 2013

Paul Marks (Liverpool fan) says...

I believe Iniesta is a player that has been fortunate to be surrounded by the same players at club and international level for ten years. His ability i think only shines as he combines with other players, especially those known to him, where as Zidane has transistioned from several teams, still being a key man and dominating matches. Zidane for me doesn't only contest the best midfielder title of all time, but is undoubtly regarded as a one of the three best players of all time. Something i don't believe Iniesta will be remembered for.

Posted 23:26 18th February 2013

Andy Martins (Real Madrid fan) says...

Come on guys... Next we'll be dicussing if Barcelona is a better team than Cosmos... Get real!!! there is no doubt that Barcelona is undoubtedly one of the best teams, although we forget that this team has played together for the last 15 years, meaning, they would be able to play blind folded. Iniesta is great.... like a porsche 911 turbo. this is a great car one of the best. Zidane is like a Bugatti veron.... out of this world. I rest my case.

Posted 22:42 18th February 2013

Tim Merricks (Manchester United fan) says...

I don't like your use of honours won as a marker. Football is a team game so it really has no relevance. Take George Best, does the fact he won nothing with Wales make him bad?

Posted 22:08 18th February 2013

Andy W (Arsenal fan) says...

Hi Guillem, I'm only commenting because I respect you as a journalist but in this case, I truly believe you are wrong. 1950 characters isn't really enough. Andres Iniesta is a great player. I recall watching him live for the first time in 2006 against Villarreal and he was the best player on the pitch (regardless of Ronaldinho's overhead kick). His technical ability and speed when dribbling round the corner of opponents was nothing like anything I had seen. It took a while for the English media to become accustomed to him but Euro 2008 and the Man Utd CL final saw to that. The World Cup only confirmed him as great. I actually thought he was well below his own high standards last summer (he looked jaded to me) but was still lauded as one of the players of the tournament. So anyway, what happens when he loses his speed? Will he still be as effective as say, Paul Scholes, who is a master of the profession and learned to adapt? Sure, he will still cope, but I'm positive that he won't be able perform the same kinds of feat that Zidane did in his final games. In terms of pure technical ability, only Maradona was better than Zinedine Zidane (in my opinion of course). He was also much more of a leader. Thierry Henry is considered one of the greatest players to feature in England yet he was just one of Zizou's soldiers on their route to the 2006 World Cup Final. In terms of Zidane not having a 'Messi or C.Ronaldo' in his day... Ronaldo, Shevchenko, Rivaldo, and Figo weren't bad players, were they? I know that you are quite pro-Barca (with the Pep book) but my view isn't that of a Madridista (who even they love Iniesta!). I'm just an Arsenal fan who grew up watching Rocastle, Merson, Bergkamp, Henry. Just a fan of the beautiful side of the game. Thanks.

Posted 22:07 18th February 2013

Asad Sajid (Manchester United fan) says...

Zidane is a different midfielder to A. Iniesta full of skill and trickery, his all round game makes him the greatest midfielder to ever take to the field! A. Iniesta does have a wonderful passing game full of quality but did not pose the goal threat that Zidane has become legendary for. Zidane could score from free-kicks, edge of the box, curlers, tap in's, crazy penalties in pressure-cooker environments, enough said. Zidane too had a range of passing and awareness as good as A. Iniesta, both are equally matched in their creativity. Although when analysing flair and style Zidane oozes class and is definitely ahead in my view. Internationally Messi has not won a world cup yet he could be the greatest player of all time by the time he's hung up his boots, so the analysis between the two internationally is pretty much equal in my eyes. Anyway this debate is to do with player vs player not which team honours they won! Based on pure ability I would rate Zidane 19/20, and A. Iniesta 17/20. Just as a side argument I would rate Messi 20/20 and C. Ronaldo 19.5/20 (Man Utd - Real Madrid supporter). Thanks for reading my views !

Posted 21:56 18th February 2013

James Mabaudi (Arsenal fan) says...

I disagree on the basis that Zidane proved himself in 3 different countries and the galatico era of Zidane's time was a team full of ego's and not as utd as the great Barca team of today. The brazil squad that France beat in 98 was stronger than both the Holland and Italy squad that Spain faced in the last 2 final's Euro's and World Cup.With that said there is no denying Iniesta is one of the best midfielder's to play the game ever, but i would have to say Zidane edges it for me. At club level Iniesta has the benefit of playing with not only the worlds best player in Messi but playing in the world's best club squad ever to be assembled. At international level no disrespect to any other nation but the competition is not quite what it used to be and Spain for me are hands down a class above the rest. Zidane at club level for Madrid was the stand out player in a team of talented individuals that never truely acheived the success expected of them. At international level Zidane had more competition from rival nations i fell the Brazilians, Italians, Dutch were a lot stringer than the competition Iniesta faces. So to sum it up i think Zidane just edges it for me.

Posted 21:25 18th February 2013

Kenny Okoye (Arsenal fan) says...

Zizou is amongst the greatest midfielders of all time. I said this about a year ago and I was shocked I said it, I agree Guillem Iniesta is better! I have never seen a player with Iniesta's vision, close control, passing and ability to dictate a game. I watch Barca games and have to rewind some of his touches over and over to truly appreciate what I've just seen. You just marvel when you see him close to the touchline and how he moves the ball from his left foot to right foot or vice versa with absolute ease. Watching Zizou you are left speechless, but watching Iniesta you simply cannot contemplate what you have just seen its breathtaking! For me is is the best player in world and I know that sounds strange but my case for this is Messi without Iniesta is brilliant, with Iniesta is a phenomenon. Iniesta is that difference! Messi is a forward so he will always get the praise, but without Messi and Ronaldo we would be able to truly appreciate Iniesta. Zizou played in a fantastic generation but none of those players where Messi! If Zizou played today Messi would still of won all the Ballon D'or's. Zizou was the greatest of his generation but for me Iniesta edges it!

Posted 21:21 18th February 2013

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