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The twelve-year-old boy with a fresh face, green eyes arrived at the Masia. The next morning, he woke up with sore red eyes from having cried during his first night alone. A lot has happened in the meantime for him to become the respected and admired 33-year-old man we know today. He is celebrated as a footballer but also as a father of three, who is in love with his wife and proud of his children; and as a loving son and brother. All of this and more is who Andrés Iniesta Luján is: from Fuentealbilla, an adopted Catalan, and a lifetime blaugrana.
Andrés was away from his family from a young age and this might explain why he has such a strong bond with them all and, especially, with his father. This is why it was so important for Andrés to sign his lifetime contract on the same day as José Antonio Iniesta’s 57th birthday. It was his present to the man who had driven him in the family car, a dark blue Ford Orion, from Fuentealbilla to Barcelona with the hope that his son would grasp the once in a lifetime opportunity.
The whole Iniesta family celebrated Andrés’ new lifetime contract with Barça and José Antonio’s birthday party with a family dinner at the parents’ home. It was a special day, with lots of celebratory messages and phone calls. The day before was also a special one for Andrés and his wife and mother of his children Valeria, Paulo Andrea and Siena, Ana Ortiz, as it was the tenth anniversary of when they first met. “Sometimes the circumstances mean that certain dates are particularly important, and that is why it was a very special day for all of us”, explains Andrés.
The Iniesta family experience moments of happiness, pride and joy. The lifetime contract with Barça ended any professional insecurity for the blaugrana captain whose previous contract finished on 30 June. Now they know he will remain where he is, where he calls home, where he has given his all for 21 years. Andrés felt the Club he has been at all his life gave him everything he wanted: absolute confidence in his values as a person, which both his parents and his other family at the Masia taught him. These values have made him a reference point in global football above and beyond his talent as a footballer.
Andrés believes the contract renewal he signed with Barça recognises “lots of moments, things and situations” and “it is a vote of confidence in me from the Club as a player and a person.” He went on to add: “To offer this kind of contract they had to believe in my honesty to decide when the time is right to stop playing and that isn’t easy to do. In fact, I don’t think this has ever happened so I want to make the most of it, enjoy myself, and hopefully I will be here for a long time...”
Happiness and hope
These days Andrés tends to focus on two different emotions: happiness and hope. Happiness is what he wants for his family and himself, to enjoy the important moments, and to feel comfortable with himself. He was lacking this happiness between 2008 and 2010 which were rollercoaster years for the Barça captain. The injuries, the death of his friend Dani Jarque, the insecurity, the sense of loss only ended when he focused on the World Cup and scored that heroic winner in the final.
Hope is also important as it shapes his professional life now and in the future. He has no end date in his contract, which is linked to whether he feels he can still contribute to Barça’s first team. That isn’t linked to his date of birth but to his performances on the pitch. Therefore, Andrés speaks about the hope to be able to look after himself well, to enjoy every training session and minute on the pitch knowing that time doesn’t stop but that he is able to control proceedings. “The hope you have comes from inside…from your passion for what you do, what you think, and what you want to achieve. That is the most important thing. Without hope it doesn’t make sense to do things and you learn to value it more and more as time passes.”
Andrés and his father have taken some time out of their lives to look back at the past. They started 21 years ago when the story began with that car journey to Barcelona with Jose Antonio, Mari and his grandfather Andrés. This backstory helps us understand where he is today and his contract renewal. Father and son accepted the request from BARÇA MAGAZINE to be interviewed together in a café with no time pressure. What a luxury!
José Antonio Iniesta is a key figure in the story of Andrés and Barça which started in 1996. He was passionate about football and had a twelve-year-old son who was extremely talented and a younger daughter Maribel. The boy was always going to be called Andrés, like both his grandfathers. José Antonio was a construction worker and his wife Mari worked at the Luján family bar in Fuentealbilla.
When young Andrés played for Albacete his dad saved up for three months to buy him some Adidas Predator boots. “They were black with stripes on the side, I still have them at my home in the village”, says Andrés. “They were the ones Koeman wore, which he said helped him strike the ball, they were very expensive!”, remembers the football-loving father. Any sacrifice was worth it.
Conversations in the car
The two Iniestas would travel 86 km each way to go from Fuentealbilla to Albacete for training sessions and matches. “We travelled a lot”, smiles Jose Antonio. Father and son had lots of intimate conversations in the car with Jose Antonio tending to dominate conversations. José Antonio is more outgoing than his son, who is more reserved like his mother. “Even though my mother and father are different I think they have a lot in common. Maybe that is because they have been together a long time. We are an emotional family; my father might speak more and my mother a bit less but they both have a big heart. My sister and I have got this from them”, considers Andrés.
José Antonio has a serious look on him when he remembers the moment when the big decision on Andrés Iniesta’s future needed to be made. The boy was only twelve and the time to make the decision was upon them. “It has been 21 years and it isn’t something you think about every day, but sometimes when I am alone I do think back to how difficult it was as he was so young. He was in the village and we were always together, I had him close to me, took him to training, watched him play on Sunday. I remember thinking how all of that was coming to an end. However, there is always a payoff and for me it was football, which has always been my passion. I exchanged having him with me for him having the opportunity to grow, to be more competitive so he could achieve his goals. That needed to be at Barça. I went from enjoying myself with him to suffering for him but the thought of this being the best place for him helped me.”
“My parents are very emotional, they have a big heart and both me and my sister are similar to them”
When José Antonio speaks, Andrés watches him admiringly, potentially thinking about how his father was brave enough to make that decision and how difficult it would be for him to do the same thing with one of his children. His mother always thought about Andrés more than herself: “She suffered more than I did because I could think about the football. She didn’t impose herself on the situation, she could have stopped her son from leaving but she didn’t do so and always supported the decision. I never made him come”, said José Antonio.
The final decision rested on Andrés and he made up his mind with a clear head and real determination. He was mature for his age. “If I had had the mentality of not wanting to go, even though they made me, I would have lasted two days. After speaking to my dad for a long time I knew what he was saying was best for me. I have always had that clear in my head, even when I was twelve.”
21 years later
With the benefit of hindsight, José Antonio is convinced the success, the fame, the glory hasn’t changed Andrés Iniesta from that boy who got in the car to drive to Barcelona. “My son is a boy like the one in that car just 21 years older. I am proud of who he is. That is the prize from all this, that he has stayed the same, a family man and a good person. In football, you do well, okay or you don’t do so well. There are successes, you enjoy the moment, but then they are over. At the end of the day, the thing that never leaves is who you are. I will always have a good son.”
Andrés believes he hasn’t changed even by 2% since he was young. He has evolved, of course, but he has the same personality. His father knows him as well as anybody does. “He is just as respectful and talented. When he was twelve he didn’t speak much but he took everything in and he is still reserved now. He speaks when he needs to and a lot of us don’t know how to do that.”
He also knows his son’s weaknesses: “He gets in is head a lot when he loses a final or an important match. All the players suffer but Andrés more so. I tell him that is what sport is, you can’t always win, but it weighs on him more than it should. He takes everyone else’s problems on as well as his own and it affects him. He has had to deal with pressure from a young age and he internalises his problems so we don’t worry. He needs to let it all out as otherwise it will kill you.”
"The World Cup changed everything. He lightened up, he was energised, and he exploded into life there enjoying his football and the success followed.”
2008 to 2010 was an especially difficult time for him. He had lots of muscle injuries which hit his confidence. “With the injury before the Champions League final in Rome he was hurting for days. Then that summer the thing with Jarque happened. He was very down. Next summer the World Cup came around and everything changed. He ligtened up, he was energised, and he exploded into life there enjoying his football and the success followed” said José Antonio.
Andrés confirmed this: “Yes, it was a liberating experience for me. Nothing has been the same since.” Did that make him stronger? “I analysed the whole process with the people I needed to and you realise what is important and what isn’t. You need to find out why you are where you are and then you learn to continue moving forwards without punishing yourself. It makes you stronger as you see things differently.”
Seven years have gone by since then and he is now a father of three. First Valeria came along, then Paulo Andrea, and Siena arrived only a few months ago. Andrés continued winning trophies with Barça, took over as captain from Xavi, and he added another magical page in his blaugrana story on 6 October, which has still not finished.
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