Midfield maestro with nothing left to prove
ANDRES INIESTA INTERVIEW:A central figure for the great Spain and Barcelona teams, AndreS Iniesta has reached his goals
They have seen better nights. Quite a lot of them, in fact. In a village in the region of La Mancha, there is a bar. The village is called Fuentealbilla and has a population of just 1,864; the bar is called the Lujan and it is run, as it has been for as long as anyone can remember, by Andres Iniesta’s grandfather. It has become the home of the local pena or supporters’ club, the walls covered with newspaper cuttings and shirts, a mini-museum collected by the Barcelona midfielder. Every time Andres is in action, the bar is packed.
On Wednesday they witnessed another piece of history, it just wasn’t exactly what they had in mind. The evening before, Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi posed for photographs with Celtic’s shirt to mark the club’s 125th anniversary. The following night, the celebrations became even greater when Barcelona were beaten and Rod Stewart cried.
“We have beaten the best team in the world,” said Celtic manager, Neil Lennon. Iniesta scored in the first game against the Scottish champions but not this time. This time, there were shades of Chelsea about it. Chelsea last season, that is.
They have seen better nights, all right. The memorabilia reveals as much. When Iniesta scored the last-minute goal at Stamford Bridge that sent Barcelona through to the 2009 European Cup final, it led to a 40 per cent increase in the birth rate in Catalonia. That night his grandmother was watching from hospital, leaping up and down shouting: “My grandson! My grandson!” Others were in Bar Lujan, just as they have been for European Cup finals, European Championship finals, the World Cup . . .. and that goal in South Africa.
“My grandad opens up for the big Spain or Barcelona games,” Iniesta smiles. “I still have the boots I wore in Rome in 2009. At the Wembley final, I swapped shirts with Paul Scholes. And from the World Cup final . . . ”
He pauses to think. That night at Soccer City when Spain won the 2010 World Cup final, Gerard Pique took his memento when he took a pair of scissors to the net, while the vest Iniesta wore in memory of Dani Jarque, the Espanyol centre-back who died of a heart attack, is on display at the stadium of Barcelona’s city rivals.
Iniesta, who struck the only goal against Holland in extra time, can remember the moment perfectly. He talks about “hearing” the “silence” as he waited for the ball to drop; about knowing that he just needed gravity do its thing or as he puts it “wait for Newton”, then hit it, convinced he would score. But he’s not sure now what booty he left with. “I think,” he finally responds, “that I kept the boots.”
Fuentealbilla is deep in Don Quixote country. Iniesta left there at the age of 12 – he has been at Barcelona so long that he recently admitted that he felt “a bit Catalan too” – but he keeps coming back.