Andrés Iniesta at EPS
Andrés Iniesta is on the cover of this weekend’s EPS, the Sunday magazine produced by El País. Inside, they have a quite lengthy article/interview (10 pages are dedicated to Andrés), as well as a fashion shoot, although I think the results (the styling and the photography) make him look a bit like a vampire, especially in the black and white photo. Anyway, the article/interview is quite interesting, and there is a lot on Andrés’ childhood. So here it is, excluding all the club-related parts, of course, although in some cases it’s unavoidable.
Data from Barcelona’s city hall show that in 1996, 11,028 people settled in the city, 99 of them from Castilla La Mancha. One of those people was Andrés Iniesta Luján, who was 12 years old and wanted to be a footballer. He realized his dream. He was able to allow his father to retire as a construction worker at the age of 40 and he purchased a house for his mother when he signed his first professional contract. Today, at the age of 27, he’s a world champion, he just became a father, his favorite food continues to be chicken with potatoes and off the field he likes to pass by unnoticed, so much so that not long ago, someone thought he was a waiter. However, he still has to fulfill his promise of walking the Camino de Santiago, and when he can, he’d like to go to India to see the Taj Mahal. He says, “I believe in destiny, because things happen because they have to. I also believe in God, but in the right amount. I don’t practice.”
Andrés Iniesta is called Andrés for his paternal grandfather. In Fuentealbilla, there are three Andrés Iniestas: the footballer and two of his cousins, the sons of the older brothers of his father, José Antonio. Coincidentally, his maternal grandfather is also named Andrés. Andrés Luján had a bar in the town, which he managed with his daughter, and it was closed 10 years ago. When Andrés was a kid, his father saved for three months to be able to buy him a pair of Adidas Predator boots. Back then, he played football in “la pista,” which was what the sports center of Fuentealbilla was called, with its cement floor, two futsal goals and two baskets. He played there until he was eight, when he passed the entrance exam to enter the lower categories of Albacete.
Andrés says, “I supported Albacete. Many things have been said, but that’s the reality. My father supported Athletic, and I supported Albacete and Barça, my second team. On weekends, since I had a pass from playing on the alevín team, I would go watch Albacete’s games in the first division. That was a good year, the year in which they moved up. I celebrated with the town. One day I got upset because Barcelona scored seven goals against Albacete.”
He played anonymously at Albacete until he was chosen as the best player of the Brunete tournament, and caught the attention of Barcelona. But there was a problem. At that time, one had to be 14 years old to enter La Masía, and Andrés was only 12. The club explained to his family that they would pay special attention to the kid and would reserve a place for him for three years. However, several weeks later, another kid of the same age named Jorge Troiteiro who had shone in the Brunete was accepted into La Masía, after his father took him there to demand his entrance. The club accepted him and then called Fuentealbilla for Iniesta, because then at least the two of them could keep each other company.
Andrés’ mother had not even considered allowing her son to go to Barcelona, but her husband convinced her that this was the best option for their son’s sporting career. Andrés remembers, “my father told me, ‘sometimes the train only comes by once in life,’ and I told him that I didn’t want to go.” Although his answer was firm, he still thought about what his father had advised him when he was in bed, with a poster of Laudrup and another of Guardiola above his head. Until one day, Andrés told his father, “Papá, call Barcelona.” And his father called them.
The prize for the best player of the Brunete tournament includes a visit to the amusement park Port Aventura in Tarragona, so José Antonio Iniesta took advantage of that trip to visit La Masía, where they spoke with those responsible for the cantera. Andrés says, “they gave us good sensations, so it was difficult to say no. But since I was so young, they also told us that being separated from my family would be very dramatic, but that we could come back next year. The doors would stay open to us and we decided to return home.”
The idea was not to return, at least during that same year, but that phrase about the train only coming by once in life continued to run through the mind of Andrés. Two weeks later, Andrés decided to become one of those 99 manchegos who would go to Cataluña in 1996 to achieve their dream.
The trip there was hell. Andrés, his parents and his maternal grandfather traveled to Barcelona in a dark blue Ford Orion, and Andrés couldn’t stop crying. “We stopped in Tortosa to eat. No one ate. My mother cried, my father wasn’t hungry, my grandfather tried to lift my spirits, but I couldn’t eat either. I didn’t even look at the food… The next day, I went to school, my parents brought me and they told me, ‘we’ll be here waiting for you when you come out.’ When I came out, they had already left. It was the best way to not prolong the agony. After that, I continued crying, but if they had stayed, it would have been much worse.” This happened every 15 days. The parents would arrive on Saturday, see their child, leave him on Sunday night at La Masía and tell him, “tomorrow we’ll come back to take you to school.” And Andrés knew that the next day, he would go to school alone. On weekends that his parents wouldn’t come, he would go to the home of one of the men responsible for the cantera, to watch a movie, a football game or to have a chat, until Sunday night. Then he wold cry again, because he felt alone in a house full of adolescents, including one Víctor Valdés. “Apart from Troiteiro and me, there weren’t any more children. Víctor took care of us and was great with us.”
[I don’t know why they stick these two questions in the middle of the article.]
on the World Cup goal: I knew that it had to be the World Cup of Spain. I was convinced. It had to be this time or it would never be, it had to be for the coach, for the players, for the feelings, because it was our turn. I had a horrible time during the season and I knew there wouldn’t be a better place for me to find myself again. And in the end, I felt like a footballer again, I was happy again. The World Cup freed me from a terrible year on the personal level. I suffered a lot to have those few moments of glory. The goal helped me to change for the better, to gain confidence, to have continuity.
on his personal identity: I’m from Fuentealbilla, I was born in Albacete, but I feel as Catalán as anyone else. I’ve spent more time here than in Albacete, and I identify with both places. I grew up here and I’m a very lucky person: Barcelona and Cataluña have given me and my family everything, and I feel and we feel like we’re from Cataluña. I know where I’m from and where I came from.
Nowadays, the kid who chased his dream to Barcelona has a street named after him in Fuentealbilla and 140 hectares of grapevines. During the first week of September, the Iniesta family will have their first harvest, and it should be a good one, since the grape requires a lot of patience and there’s no one more patient than Andrés. “My father and his brothers work on that and in the field. We bought an estate called the Carril de Iniesta, because the road that goes from Fuentealbilla to Iniesta, a town in Cuenca, passes through there. It’s a coincidence, but what better name would there be for my estate, no? I like it, I’m learning, it’s a whole different world.”
He’s a simple person who lives for football with passion, so much so that he usually watches games on the same night as they’re played. He sits there in front of the television with his friends, among them the two brothers that make up Estopa. He loves listening to “Como Camarón” because it inspires and calms him. He combines football with his physical education studies and English classes. Soon, he’ll give a press conference in Catalán. But right now, his main focus is Valeria, the first child born out of his relationship with Anna.
Iniesta lives in a semi-detached chalet in Sant Just, historically a working class neighborhood of Barcelona, and is neighbors with the brothers David and José Manuel Muñoz, Estopa. He could live in a mansion, on the beach or in the best neighborhood of the city, Pedralbes. In 2000, when he signed his first contract with Barcelona, his father claimed authority and wouldn’t let him buy a house anywhere else. After becoming a father, he’s about to move. But he won’t go very far. “Everyone looks to be happy, and my happiness is this. I’m happy with how I am. I like my own things, to do things quietly and to enjoy them as much as I can. I keep more to myself than I give out, that’s my happiness and my way of being. The image that people have of me is how I am. I don’t like to be the center of attention, although many times I have to be. I like to enjoy my own things. I have so much that I can’t not be happy. Being happy as a person is above any triumph. How you play on the field is a reflection of what your life is like.”
He likes conversation: “I have very educated friends. Sometimes I don’t understand why many things happen. Natural disasters, such as the floods in Australia or the earthquake in Japan, make me sad, I’m sad that horrible things like that continue occurring. But there are also others things… what happened in Egypt, what’s happening with Gaddafi… these things sadden me. I don’t like injustice, when children are abused, when women are mistreated.”
Andrés Iniesta still has the boots that his father saved up for three months to buy for him. When he’s at home and he sees them, he remembers “la pista” and those trips to and from Albacete, the Brunete tournament, the saddest meal of his life in Tortosa, the shelter provided by Valdés… He says, “when I see them, I remember where I come from.”