Claudio Marchisio, Andres Iniesta and football fans’ false memories

This month marked the end of an era for Juventus, with former midfield general Claudio Marchisio ending his 25-year association with the club.

“A thousand thoughts and a thousand images accompanied me throughout the night,” the 32-year-old wrote of his decision to part ways with the club he joined as a child.

Marchisio’s exit might have been overshadowed to a degree by Gianluigi Buffon also leaving Turin this summer, the World Cup winner having opted to see out his career with Paris Saint-Germain, but there’s something a little different about the departure of a man who has known no other home in his professional career.

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As we begin to speak of Marchisio’s Juventus stint in the past tense, memories will blend into one. Marchisio the lynchpin will merge with Marchisio the young upstart in our recollections and the recollections of fans, to the point where the image we cultivate of him is in part what he became, but in part what we wanted him to become.

If you thought this conflation is down to the way the midfielder’s Juve career fizzled out off the back of serious injury, though, you would be wrong. Whenever such an association ends, regardless of the extent of any earlier achievements, anything shy of the perfect exit will lead to the merging of memories. In a summer with plenty of these exits, it’s something we’re seeing a lot.

Take Barcelona and Spain midfielder Andrés Iniesta, whose final season for his club saw them suffer a shock defeat to Roma in the Champions League quarter-finals and whose international swansong ended with a similarly underwhelming penalty shoot-out loss to Russia in the last 16 of a World Cup which plenty fancied La Roja to win.

Had Iniesta ended on a high note before leaving Barça for Vissel Kobe, we’d have been treated to glowing tributes and retrospectives, and rightly so. However, perhaps aware of the possibility of football’s narrative equivalent of a botched landing from the asymmetric bars, we got the embellishments in early. And when it comes to these things, there’s a tendency to eschew fact for whatever sounds better, as if preserving the memory of the higher notes is reason enough to move the order and details around. In essence, here’s a desire to enjoy all the incarnations of Iniesta at once.

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This is surely part of what convinced Pascal Ferré, editor of France Football, to issue a public apology to Iniesta for failing to award him the Ballon d’Or, football’s top individual honour for male players, in 2010.

“Of all the absences on the list of Ballon d’Or winners, his is particularly painful,” Ferré wrote. “We can only hope he has a special campaign at the World Cup in Russia and repair this democratic anomaly.”

The term ‘democratic anomaly’ is an intriguing one, almost suggesting that the error was not in overlooking Iniesta as the best player of 2010, but in failing to simply vote him in as an award winner.

Yes, Iniesta took second place behind club teammate Lionel Messi that year, but even that felt generous: he had come into the World Cup off the back of an injury-ravaged campaign, making just 20 starts in La Liga and a handful more in Europe as Barcelona were eliminated at the semi-final stage.

Mario Götze, who recorded similar appearance numbers for Bayern Munich before also scoring the winning goal in a World Cup final four years later, earned less than 1% of the Ballon d’Or vote in 2014, compared to Iniesta’s 17% in 2010, which raises a few questions: Is a greater overall World Cup contribution alone worth that much of a mark-up? Would Iniesta have still polled as highly if the Netherlands had beaten Spain in the 2010 final? Can the Ballon d’Or ever be a lifetime achievement award in all but name?

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When The Departed won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2006, few claimed it was Martin Scorsese’s finest work, and there were suggestions some voters saw its victory as a way to make up for Raging Bull and Goodfellas missing out in the past. The Iniesta of 2018 is the Scorsese of 2006, but France Football’s memory of 2010 is akin to publicly admitting error in denying Scorsese an award for Casino: the drama is there and you’ve identified the right era, but you’ll need to rely on no one looking too closely.

You’re in luck, though, at least to begin with, as most will find their vision too clouded by the tears they’re shedding over memories of the first Iniesta, the one with whom they developed an initial attachment before he – and they – evolved into something different.

It can go too far the other way, too. Arsène Wenger’s final season at Arsenal – if not his final few seasons – saw his star so diminished that the bad overshadowed the good rather than being subsumed by it.

If Iniesta is Scorsese, Wenger is The Simpsons: an oeuvre whose peaks were so high but troughs so low that his football existence is divided into two selves. What, then, of Marchisio, a man whose highs were often the highs of the team as much as individual triumphs.

Whatever Iniesta does in Japan will have little bearing on his Barcelona reputation, while – as with former teammate Xavi’s move to Qatar – it will not earn him plaudits comparable to those he received when the going was good.

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Similarly, the general longevity of managers (or lack thereof) in 2018 suggests Wenger won’t enjoy – and probably won’t want to enjoy – a spell anywhere outside north London to rival his Arsenal tenure.

Marchisio fans will forever be able to call upon the bustling energy and stylish good looks, even if the mile-a-minute performances have grown fewer and further between while the once-piercing eyes are now those of a man who has been urged to look back, not forward, in acknowledgement of his career’s eventual closure.

The moments which they remember him for might be years apart, alongside teammates ranging from club legend Alessandro Del Piero to Paulo Dybala, a man nearly 20 years Del Piero’s junior.

However, in the moment of his departure, those two Marchisios will be granted the same treatment, even if his exit is prompted by their difference.

Claudio Marchisio, Andres Iniesta and football fans’ false memories
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