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, Andres Iniesta is showing no signs of letting up. In an interviewed with FIFA.com he spoke about what inspires him, his childhood heroes and upcoming challenges for club.
Andres, you’re now a regular at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala. What goes through your mind at events like these?
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.
Messi, for his part, said you would also have been a worthy winner of the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2012…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.