Among the most popular Spanish footballers ever, Iniesta won nine LaLiga Santander titles at the Camp Nou – only Lionel Messi has more all-time with ten – providing 35 goals and 87 assists in 442 LaLiga Santander games with the blaugrana’s senior side.
The 2010 World Cup winner with Spain says now that he knows he took some wrong turns along the way, but it was important to always be open to trying new things and learning lessons.
“I’ve always been very clear about what I wanted to do, that has always been the most important for me,” Iniesta says. “The principal objective has always been to learn things to become a better player, respect those around me always. That has been my path. Maybe I would have done some things differently, I don’t know. There are things I did well, others not so well, but that’s life. When you make mistakes, you can correct them, and move forward.”
Iniesta was born back in May 1984 in the village of Fuentealbilla near Albacete – a city in Spain’s interior – and joined Barça’s famed La Masia academy aged just 12. He credits his father Jose Antonio as the most important influence on his career, not for his football experience, but for his life advice.
“My father was the most important figure for my career,” Iniesta says. “He was not my coach, not at all, but from very small I was always with him, he was the first who gave me a plastic football out on the patio of our house. I always listened to him, he has given me his advice. Above all he would always tell me that the most important opinion was that of my coach. I had to do what the coach told me, and that has always been very important.”
16 seasons playing for Barça’s senior side brought many memorable moments and countless big games, but Iniesta still maintains that his favourite games are his LaLiga debut at RCD Mallorca in December 2002 and his debut at the Camp Nou game against Recreativo de Huelva a few weeks later.
“I had the opportunity to play for many years, to experience unique moments, winning La Liga titles, winning important games, Clasicos and others,” he says. “There were difficult moments, but in general it was great. To be so long at such a high level, in the best league, was a real source of pride for me. As I like beginnings, my most iconic moment was my LaLiga debut against Mallorca, and then playing at the Camp Nou against Recreativo de Huelva.”
So many years at the highest level had brought him many shared memories with his fellow members of a golden generation of Spanish footballers.
“Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol, David Villa… the good thing about football is that you meet great people and you share many things with them over many years,” he says. “Some of them you stay in touch with, others you don’t, but there are always great memories.”
Current playing for Japanese team Vissel Kobe and recently named a LaLiga ICON, the 35-year-old said he still made sure to find time for some of his other interests outside football.
“You never have that much spare time as a footballer, and even less these days,” Iniesta said. “You try and have some hobbies or past-times, things that fill your time away from the game. The bodega [winery] that our family have since 2010 is a very nice project. There is also the ‘Mikakus’ range of trainers. We try and do different social projects, things that keep you excited and interested.”