Andres Iniesta, the unassuming superstar
World Cup 2010: Johannesburg.
The reluctant superstar has overnight become the one of the most famous sporting faces on the planet.
As Andres Iniesta controlled Cesc Fabregas's pass in the 116th minute of the World Cup final, Spain's destiny lay in the hands of its pocket-sized midfield playmaker. One sweet sweep of his right foot and Iniesta, for so long the quiet prince of Spanish football, was suddenly its king.
No more just the sublimely talented creator who lives in the shadows of supposedly more illustrious team-mates, now it is the boy from Fuentealbilla near Albacete in the east of Spain who reigns supreme.
But just who is the 26-year-old who has now won every major honour in the game?
Iniesta's rise to stardom has not been without a struggle, although sometimes often it seemed that maybe he himself was the biggest obstacle to success.
Painfully shy as a youngster, Iniesta joined Barcelona's youth academy, La Masia, when he was 12. He was often homesick and kept himself to himself, a rare sign of his personality showing through with the posters of Barca captain Pep Guardiola that adorned the wall in his room.
But soon it became clear the Catalan club had a special talent on their hands. Invited to train with the first team one day when he was 16, it has gone down in Barcelona history what Guardiola, now coach of the club, said to midfield colleague Xavi when he first laid eyes on Iniesta: "You're going to retire me," whispered the then 29-year-old, "but this kid's going to retire us all."
Iniesta made his debut under Louis van Gaal in 2002, eventually establishing himself in the first-team squad with Van Gaal's successor, fellow Dutchman Frank Rijkaard. But with the likes of Xavi, Ronaldino, Lionel Messi, Deco and Mark van Bommel around, Iniesta could not bed down a regular place in the team, instead calmly filling in a variety of positions as the club used his versatility to good use.
Left out of the starting XI for the Champions League final in 2006, it seemed as though Iniesta was destined to remain a bit-part player. But, gradually, he became indispensible - not through shouting from the rooftops about how good he was, simply by being so good that people began to start championing his cause.
It was not hard to see why. Playing in a midfield three at Barcelona in tandem with Yaya Toure and his footballing soulmate Xavi, Iniesta's class shone like a beacon. It wasn't just that he could move the ball around with the 'tiki-taki' accuracy and verve of Xavi, it was also that his lightning-quick feet and ability to dribble past people were at times eerily similar to his team-mate further up the pitch, Lionel Messi.
Before long, the fact Iniesta kept himself to himself and shied away from the limelight did not matter. He had plenty of people queueing up and tell the world how good he was.
Xavi reckoned the only thing holding his colleague back was the press. "Iniesta is easily Spain's most complete player. He has everything. Well, nearly everything - he needs media backing," said Xavi. Samuel Eto'o went a step further: "Iniesta is the best player in the world, whenever he's on the pitch he creates a spectacle."
If Iniesta didn't do himself any harm with his assured displays as Spain captured the hearts of a continent by winning Euro 2008, what has happened since has ensured he will go down in the annals of the game he so effortlessly graces.
In fact, you can probably trace the exact moment he shook off the shackles of anonymity and finally announced himself to the world: 2135 BST on Wednesday 6 May 2009, when he set to one side the "receive, pass, offer, receive, pass, offer" Barcelona education he had been schooled in and smashed a 20-yard right-foot shot into the top corner of the Chelsea net to send his team into the Champions League final.
From there on, the praise became deafening. After Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson warned that "Xavi and Iniesta get you on this carousel", the 5ft 6in Iniesta put on a footballing masterclass to help Barca beat the Old Trafford outfit 2-0 in Rome.
Sitting in the vanquished dressing room after the match, Wayne Rooney told his team-mates - including a certain Cristiano Ronaldo - that they had just lost to a team directed "by the best player in the world". He wasn't talking about Xavi or Messi but Iniesta. Eto'o was delighted that he had been proven correct: "When I said Iniesta was the world's best, you laughed. Now you can see I'm right."
Yet coming into the World Cup in South Africa, as the likes of Rooney and Ronaldo decorated posters and billboards all over the country, Iniesta was nowhere to be seen.
The man sometimes called 'El Anti-Galactico' in Spain could hardly be more different to the stereotypical modern footballer, eschewing as he does the partying, tattoos and the usual headlines that are so common among his peers. "Discos are not my thing," he once said.
In the mixed zone at the Camp Nou after Barcelona beat Real Madrid in 'El Clasico' in November, I gathered around as a group of Spanish journalists questioned Iniesta. Wearing jeans and a plain white T-shirt, he immediately stood out from the rest of his team-mates. He also spoke so softly even the guys at the front were straining to hear him.
But the most interesting thing was that Xavi, standing about three feet away from Iniesta, stopped talking twice to his interviewers so he could hear what his 'tiki-taki' twin was saying. He might not say much but when he does people listen.
Before Sunday's World Cup final, Iniesta challenged his Spain colleagues to improve, suggesting the level they reached in the 1-0 semi-final win over Germany would not be good enough to take the trophy. He also gave a hint of the excitement he felt at helping his country to a first appearance in the final: ''We have all dreamed of this moment but we have to finish the dream. The last step is the most difficult and the most beautiful."
How prophetic. In a brutally physical game of football in Johannesburg, Iniesta was left in no doubt as to how the Netherlands were going to try to stop him after Van Bommel clattered into him from behind early on to pick up a booking.
Van Bommel's gamble appeared to pay off as a subdued Iniesta struggled to get into the game, giving the ball away with a regularity that borders on sinful where he comes from. But as the second half wore on and the Dutch began to tire, he began to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
A jinking run into the box was only denied its deserved finish by a super sliding tackle from Wesley Sneijder. Then, in extra-time, it was from Iniesta's cute through ball that Fabregas found the legs of Maarten Stekelenburg instead of the far corner.
But Iniesta was not to be denied his match-winning moment. A few minutes after he was hauled down by John Heitinga following an umpteenth one-two with Xavi - the Dutch defender was sent off as a result - Iniesta's crowning glory arrived as he slammed home.
As the final whistle went, Iniesta slumped to his knees and shook his fists on the turf, more than 700 million people around the world watching this most reserved footballer enjoy a very rare public display of emotion.
Back in the bowels of Soccer City about an hour or so later as he collected his man of the match award, it was business as usual for a man who refuses to acknowledge his own importance. "I simply made a small contribution to my team," he said.
The truth may have been somewhat closer when Fabregas, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique burst into the room moments later shouting "you're the best, you're the best" at the man who saved them from going to penalties.
After Iniesta's goal at Chelsea last year, Guardiola revealed some of his midfielder's frustration. "Andres always moans that he doesn't score enough, as if with everything else he does, he has to get goals, too. Tonight he settled his debt forever."
On Sunday, Iniesta's World Cup winner ensured Spain would be forever in his debt.