In the minds of many in the game, Andres Iniesta is nothing short of the perfect player. Cerebral, elegant and decisive, not only does the versatile midfielder make both Barcelona and Spain tick, he also scored the most important goal in the latter’s history – the firmly struck right-foot shot that sank the Netherlands in the Final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Ten years on from breaking through on the international stage when Spain finished second at the UAE 2003 edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, this native of Fuentealbilla in Albacete is showing no signs of letting up. Indeed, one of the stars of La Selección’s triumph at UEFA EURO 2012 could recently be seen sharing the podium at 7 January’s FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Interviewed by FIFA.com at the event in Zurich, Iniesta spoke about what inspires him, his childhood heroes and upcoming challenges for club and country.
FIFA.com: Andres, you’re now a regular at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala. What goes through your mind at events like these?
Andres Iniesta: Nice thoughts, good sensations. When you think about it in the cold light of day, it makes you really happy to be shortlisted for prizes like these, or to be included in the [FIFA/FIFPro] World XI. It’s lovely when people value what you’re doing. It’s definitely something special.
Plenty of experts have said “Messi might score the goals but it’s Iniesta who makes Barça tick”. What would you say to that?
I think a great team comes about when each person plays to his full potential. Barça are better with Leo in the team and Leo plays better with Barça. Football isn’t an individual sport, it’s a team game in which individuals stand out much more when everyone’s pulling together. I play better when Leo’s there and he’s a better player alongside us and that’s what matters: the fact we all feel we’ve a part to play in doing things right.
The secret lies in the stability I’ve got outside the game, with my wife, my daughter, my family and the people around me.
Well… (laughs) It’s nice of Leo to say so, particularly since he’s a team-mate of mine who I’ve known for a long time and who plays alongside me. It’s very nice of him. Even though we were both on the podium for this award, I didn’t consider him a rival, not for an instant. He’s still my team-mate. I was as happy for Leo to win his fourth Ballon d’Or [as if I’d won it myself].
Looking back over a year in which you were also voted the 2011/12 UEFA Best Player in Europe, what was your most memorable moment?
The EURO, maybe, because of how important that championship was to the team and because no other national side has achieved what we did [in winning the EURO, then the FIFA World Cup then the EURO once more]. And well, it’s like I always say: more than anything else, I most enjoy the good feeling that comes with playing well, feeling happy and improving every day. That for me is what means the most, year after year.
In a recent interview you said your performances on the pitch reflect how you’re feeling off it. Given the way you’re playing, things must be going very well for you outside of football?
The secret lies in the stability I’ve got outside the game, with my wife, my daughter, my family and the people around me. But everybody’s different. There will be players who might not be having the best of times off the field, but once they get on the pitch it’s the ideal place to get everything out their system. But, in my case, I think that the two worlds are very closely linked.
Unusually, going on recent years’ hauls, Barcelona only won one trophy in 2012. Does that feel like scant reward for your performances?
I wouldn’t say that, I’d focus on the fact we won the Copa del Rey and came very close in both La Liga and the Champions League. In sport and at Barça, we’re always expected to fight for every title and that’s what we did. And we’ve gone all the way in other years, even though we fell short this time. In 2012 we were right on the verge of where we needed to be to win things, but we just fell a little short. This year we’ll use that as an incentive to fight for every trophy once more.
I’ve always said that my dream and my ambition would be to hang up my boots at the club I’ve been with since I was 12, a club that’s given me practically everything.
It was a strange year off the field, what with Pep Guardiola’s departure and the health concerns of Eric Abidal and Tito Vilanova. How did such issues affect the close-knit Azulgrana squad?
Guardiola leaving is just something that happens: he and the club reached that agreement and so it’s something normal, natural and which happens a lot at every club. The other two things you mention were very tough to deal with. They were very tough to live through, particularly for them [Abidal and Vilanova] and their families. The only thing we’ve tried to do is be by their sides, try and find strength from somewhere and give them our support, so that little by little they can get well and rejoin the group again. Part of why the squad’s so vibrant and so determined to do well is down to those difficult blows we’ve had to overcome.
Could you see yourself ever pulling on another club’s shirt?
I’ve always said that my dream and my ambition would be to hang up my boots at the club I’ve been with since I was 12, a club that’s given me practically everything. So obviously, leaving doesn’t even cross my mind right now because I’m in the best place I could ever be. That said, it’ll be my performances that decide how long I carry on. The day that I don’t feel I can give 100 per cent [I’ll stop], because I wouldn’t want to cheat the club. That’s only logical.
Turning to the national team and the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013: is the squad doubly determined to win the trophy after slipping up at South Africa 2009?
Yes, yes... in football you often get the chance to win something again, or win something that you’d previously lost. So, this year will give us the opportunity to do that and that’ll be our goal when we go over there. But we won’t forget we’ll be up against other national teams that want to win too. There’ll be the host nation, former world champions and on top of that it’ll be in Brazil, which should provide a very special backdrop. It’ll be great.
When I was little I always used to watch [Pep] Guardiola and [Michael] Laudrup really closely. They were the two players I most wanted to be like.
What’s your verdict on Spain’s hopes of reaching Brazil 2014? The home draw with France made the qualifying group that much tighter, didn’t it?
Yes, it’s true. Even though we always say it, it’s true that nowadays it’s very difficult to win games, whichever national team you’re playing against. And when it comes to France, even more so. When you’re not quite on top of your game, the opposition can beat you or hold you to a draw, and that’s what happened against France. But we’re fully confident that we’re capable of staying top, seeing our games through and, why not, going and winning in France [on 26 March]. The squad’s got what it takes to do that.
You’re currently an idol to many youngsters, but who did you look up to when you were a boy?
When I was little I always used to watch [Pep] Guardiola and [Michael] Laudrup really closely. They were the two players I most wanted to be like, and I’d try to do the things they did. Then, as time goes by and when everything goes well, the lads who are the age you were back then are now watching you. That means that you’re doing the right things.
It’s a lot of responsibility too, particularly given the media interest in every aspect of players’ lives. How do you handle it?
Well, of course, there are two sides to the coin aren’t there? Both the good and bad sides are taken to extremes. But you have to take it in your stride, as it’s part of the job. You have to remember that we’re not just football players, that we’ve got a lot of people watching us, who want to be like us and try to do what we do. It’s a big responsibility.
One last question, Andres: when you made a toast with your loved ones on New Year’s Eve, what did you wish for 2013 to bring?
Good health. If I can train and play well, that’s what’s most important. As for the rest, things will go better or worse, depending on what fate has in store. But, more than anything, I want to stay healthy so I can enjoy what I do on and off the pitch.