There is still a romance to the way Andres Iniesta
enjoys a career that, if it were a video game, would
have been completed several times over.
The 37-year-old has a trophy haul which reflects his
status as one of the great midfielders of his
generation – a World Cup and two European
Championships with Spain, four Champions Leagues
and countless other silverware with Barcelona.
But for the past three years the midfielder has called
Japan his home, adding an Emperor’s Cup and
Japanese Super Cup with Vissel Kobe. He recently
committed to a new deal that will keep him playing
until he is almost 40.
Ask Iniesta how he continues to see the seemingly
impossible pass, or wriggle out of the tightest
situations, and he will take you back three decades
and almost 7,000 miles to the instincts honed on the
makeshift pitches of his hometown of Fuentealbilla.
“I consider myself an intuitive player who reads the
game a few steps ahead,” Iniesta tells BBC Sport.
“In the position I play those are maybe my strengths
and I try to exploit them as much as possible.
“There are things happening, things I am processing
in my head. It’s hard to describe them.
They happen in an automatic way – I could have been
learning them since I was young or through repetition.
“In football, if you start thinking you can go too slow.”
Iniesta calls it an “essence”. He scored the winner in
the 2010 World Cup final and has produced
mesmerising moments on the biggest stage, but the
foundations are “stuff I used to do when I was 10 years old”.
“Those essences come out in training or matches
and I am just led by them,” he explains.
“When I was a kid I was basically playing in the
streets of my hometown or in the school playing yard,
and that environment helps you evolve.
“The connection to that environment and who you are
and what type of person you are brings you to being
a certain type of player.
“Nowadays kids are maybe practising football in
more well-prepared fields. In those environments they
need to try to adapt and gain some skills.
Each environment helps you get better.”
The gifted kid from the outskirts of Albacete grew up
following Michael Laudrup and Pep Guardiola, and
was given the chance to hone his raw talent in their
shadows when he was exposed to Barcelona’s
revered La Masia youth academy at the age of 12,
even if he did “cry buckets” on arrival.
He did not know then the influence the latter would
have on his career.
Guardiola admired the understated up-and-coming
playmaker when captain of the Catalan giants,
famously suggesting fellow midfielder Xavi would
retire him and “this lad Iniesta is going to retire us all”,
before as coach making Iniesta a pivotal part of his
“Barcelona was like an exam every game and you had
to pass that,” says Iniesta.
“That’s the base and each time you have to adapt to
the environment, mould yourself to the style that is
required of you – but always keeping the essence.
“I’ve had different coaches. I started with Louis van
Gaal and then there was Guardiola, Luis Enrique and
All coaches teach you something and you can learn
something from all coaches.
Maybe there are times I played less, but that experience enriched me too.
“It would be hard to point out a coach who has
influenced me the most and that’s the same with the
players I have played with and learned from.
I have been in Barca and Spanish national teams in
very good moments and I have been with the world’s
best players and I have learned from all of them.”
Iniesta pauses for a moment to consider his answer
and then continues: “It’s not only what you have
immediately around you, but an opponent, an
opponent’s system or style of play. I’ve always
thought this motivation to learn is the motor to keep
“You can learn from everything, not only from your
immediate surroundings but from everything
surrounding your football.”
He highlights the relentless energy of Marcelo
Bielsa’s sides and the challenge of breaking down
Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid in El Clasico fixtures.
“I have been lucky to have played a lot of games in
my career and you encounter a lot of teams, a lot of
proponents,” says Iniesta.
“It is not the same in the different competitions that
you play like the Champions League or La Liga or for
the national team.
English teams or Italian teams are very different.
When you played against Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile, that
was a particular team.
“Playing against Real Madrid when Mourinho was
coaching – or Carlo Ancelotti – are experiences which
really enrich you.”
It was Barcelona, though, who inspired coaches
around the world to adopt the principles that made
them so successful – the tiki-taka, the suffocating
press, the focus on technically gifted players at a
time when others were scouting for strong, powerful
“Barca has always been characterised by being a
team that wants the ball and wants to keep the ball,”
says Iniesta. “In the time of Guardiola, the football
itself didn’t change but it was a time where teams
were really looking at us and trying to learn.”
Barcelona have not been crowned European
champions since 2015, when a certain diminutive
Spaniard produced a man-of-the-match performance
in a 3-1 win over Juventus, and the club’s current
financial struggles mean that glorious evening in
Berlin feels like a distant memory.
“I will always see Barcelona in a good way because I
still see a different team,” says Iniesta. “Many things
have changed since then. Naturally the players are
different but there is still an idea, a concept.
“Sometimes there will be good times and sometimes
there will be worse times, like it has always been, but
personally I don’t like comparing too much.”
Iniesta is reluctant to criticise a club he still holds
dear and, once his playing career comes to a close,
the Nou Camp is a place he longs to return to.
“Yes, it is something I wish,” he says. “I would like it to
happen because more than anything it is the club I
spent so many years in.
“You don’t know what will happen in the future, you
don’t know in what way I could return or who will be
the people in charge at a certain moment.
“So there are many factors which make it hard to see
what will really happen, but if you ask me if I would
like to, the answer is yes.”
Whether that is in a coaching capacity remains to be
seen. There are training centres in Japan bearing his
name, the ‘Iniesta’s Methodology’ academies, but the
man himself remains unsure of what path he will
“Sometimes I would like to coach, sometimes I think
my interests go into other directions,” he ponders. “I
know I want to stay in football and when I finish as a
professional I would like to get a coaching licence,
but I don’t know if I will use it in the future.
“There’s nothing where I wake up in the morning and
think ‘I want to do this’, so for now I will enjoy playing,
training and will see what happens in the future.”
A two-year deal signed in the summer means he will
reside in Kobe until at least 2023, a city where Iniesta,
his wife Anna and their four children can enjoy a life
away from the limelight.
“It is very hard in your home to find a place you feel
comfortable or enjoy on a daily basis both
professionally and personally,” says Iniesta.
“But I think we have found that place in Kobe.
“It was a difficult decision to leave Barcelona but
from the beginning the way people treated us has
been very, very nice.”
Iniesta is back playing after recovering from a long-
term hamstring injury and is focused on bringing
more success to Vissel Kobe alongside three other
former Barcelona players in defender Thomas
Vermaelen, midfielder Sergi Samper and forward
“From my side, as long as my body can do it I want to
keep competing,” adds Iniesta. “It is important for me
to keep that good condition so I can keep enjoying
“We’ve won the only two titles in the club’s history and
we want to keep trying to make history here this
“We are in a good position and the objective is to
qualify for the Asian Champions League.
In the years I have left, even though it is not easy, I
would like to win some more titles.”