PORTLAND, Ore. – Thorns FC midfielder Lindsey Horan took it harder than most. But for any FC Barcelona fan, Saturday’s game was an emotional moment. When midfielder Andrés Iniesta left the field late in Barcelona’s 5-0, Copa del Rey final victory over Sevilla, followers of the Blaugrana saw another part of the club’s golden era begin fading from its landscape.
“Are you trying to make me cry?” Horan joked, when asked about the scene at Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano. The venue was the stage for what’s expected to be Iniesta’s last final with Barcelona. Having hinted at a departure earlier this year, Iniesta’s substitute marked the beginning a potential month-long farewell from Horan’s favorite men’s club.
“I started watching them when I was 13,” the 23-year-old said, when asked about Barça’s influence on her. Legends like Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernández and Iniesta have been part of her soccer life since she got serious about the sport.
“My (Colorado Rush) coach, Tim Schulz, told me I have to watch Barcelona,” she remembers. “Ini. Xavi. Messi. Those were players I was obsessed over. Those are like idols to me.”
If he leaves, Iniesta will be following a path that his former midfield partner, Hernandez, travelled three years ago. Then, Hernández ended his 17-season run in and has since been playing out his final days in Qatar. Iniesta, linked with a move to China, among other places, could yet follow a similar route.
“It’s like an era,” Horan rues. “Once Xavi was out, it was like the next one had to be Ini … it’s so sad.”
Messi is still a part of the club, Horan notes, and his emergence with Barcelona a decade ago was a big reason why Schulz had her study the team’s play. For many, though, the Hernández and Iniesta duo represented something indelible. With Iniesta’s departure, a moment could pass, one that had inspired players like Horan the world over.
“My youth club, the way we play and the way we want to play is like a Barça style, where you’re keeping possession to attack,” Horan says. She still has a presence with the club, going back to play a part with Rush each offseason.
“There’s a reason behind it,” Horan explains, “because you want the ball. There’s a way to win (with that style), and you need the ball at your feet, to be passing. You want to play pretty soccer but also attacking soccer.
“That’s what my club was trying to do. My coach, Tim, said you watch these guys, you watch this club play, and you’re going to learn. This is the standard. This is when Barça was at its all-time high.”
Campeonesssssss!! #BARCA— Lindsey Horan (@Lindseyhoran11) May 17, 2015
Iniesta’s trophy case speaks to that high. Beyond the honors he claimed as a Spanish international, Iniesta won four UEFA Champions Leagues during his time with Barcelona. He has eight La Liga winners’ medals, six Copa del Rey titles, seven Spanish Supercopa honors as well as three Club World Cups. He is one of the most decorated players in soccer history and, having been the most prominent attacking midfielder of Barcelona’s current era, is an iconic figure of world soccer.
That iconography has long fueled a healthy among Barcelona fans who debate the importance of Hernández and Iniesta. Which one was better, the question lingers, eternally, even if Horan has no time for it.
“There shouldn’t even be a debate,” she says, as if triggered by the question itself. “They were both the most incredible players, and people should be so thankful that they were even a part of the club."
Horan’s also skeptical of another debate around Barcelona, the one surrounding the club’s future. As the team has moved farther away from their Pep Guardiola-fueled highs, Barcelona altered elements of its approach, perhaps no more so than during this season. Playing a predominantly 4-4-2 formation under its new coach, Ernesto Valverde, Barcelona sits undefeated on top of the Spanish league. How 4-4-3, Dutch-system luminaries like Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels would feel about the approach is an open question.
To Horan’s mind, though, that change is part of the fun, even if some elements of her favorite club will always be at their core.
“I think that’s what’s cool about the modern day,” she says. “Everything’s changing, and you have to move forward."
It reflects a belief Horan has in her own style, as well as those that will inherit Barcelona’s. She loves midfielder Ivan Rakitiç’s place in the team and is intrigued by what Liverpool import Philipe Coutinho could do with Iniesta’s role. Sergio Busquets can still anchor the midfield, she says, while Sergi Roberto may still have more to show.
Not takes any of the takes sting out of a legend’s departure.
“It’s depressing, and of course, it hurts me inside,” she laments. “I love Iniesta, and I love Xavi. I honestly teared up when I saw Ini coming off. But I think you have to look at as how it is cool for what’s to come, and who’s going to be those next players … I hope that we can keep that Barça style.”