Manos Staramopoulos presents the letter sent by Xavi to his friend Iniesta for his departure from Barcelona FC.
An open letter to my friend, Andres Iniesta
By Xavi Hernandez
The first time I saw Andres play will always stay in my memory. Someone from the club said: ‘Xavi, in the youth team there is a player who will be incredible. They say he is outstanding. Andres is very similar to you.’ Then, when I saw him play, I said to myself: this player is different. He doesn’t play like me, he dribbles and gets past people, and can play in numerous positions. Since he was a kid he had the air of an artist for the way in which he used his body before receiving the ball, using both feet equally well. The most surprising thing was his way of positioning the ball with his body, without even the necessity to touch the ball. To watch him play was spectacular. What you imagined outside of the pitch, he did on it. It seemed at times as though he could hear your thoughts. Later he did it with such ease that it gave the impression he didn’t even need to think. Andres always connected well with other players, played with the head held high and did not lose balls.
Concepts which we took years to work on with Joan Vila, he had built into his body from the start. He was four years younger than us, but he had it in him naturally. For me Andres is the most talented player in the history of Spain. He has a spectacular amount of talent. If we talk about the person, I wouldn’t know where to start. He is admirable in all senses, an example for others and the personification of a team player. He is a leader on the pitch, who always wants the ball. Do you know the importance of that? When many don’t want the ball anywhere near them because there is no way out, he asks for it. Andres always wants the ball. He is a blessing for his team-mates. This is what it means to have personality, to be a real leader. A quiet leader, but an authentic leader. As a natural pass-maker all my life, I needed players like Andres, like Leo, like Busquets. They have been the best partners imaginable, always giving me an option even if the situation looked difficult. I don’t know how, but Andres always appeared to me in the right moment. Look I’m here! But he didn’t tell it to me by speaking.
We never spoke much on the pitch in over 10 years playing together. It wasn’t necessary. We understood each other with a look. His body language was always the best means of communicating. Sometimes in games we stood astonished and looked at him – how on earth did he get out of that situation? It was impossible. I had the impression that nothing was impossible for him when he had the ball. Dribbling, final pass, acceleration, one-two, he is as happy playing in midfield as he is on the wing. A true maestro, in every sense of the word. People thought Andres was not strong. But when he put his body into it, no one was able to take the ball from him. He has been strong mentally as well, especially in those moments which not many know about. He passed a difficult time away from his family when he came to La Masia, and if you ask him now I’m sure he will tell you it was worth the sacrifice. But who would have known that it would come to this? That strong mentality of his has made him come all this way. In the end, Andres is a guy who has a guardian angel. He is like Iker Casillas. The rest don’t have that something special, but they do; to play that winning pass, make that vital save, score the goal that wins the title. We have experienced it with Andres in Barcelona, and in the national team.
At Stamford Bridge, in Johannesburg. If you watch the final in South Africa again, the whole game, there is only one person who logically could have scored the winning goal: Andres. And to remember now that they said we couldn’t play together! I always knew that I needed people to connect with by my side. I connect best with those who have technical quality, not the physical players. Even in the most difficult moments which Andres has passed through with injuries, with the help of his family he was able to turn it around, thanks to that incredible mentality which he has. Sometimes, I have the impression that you cannot explain in words what Andres represents as a player. He does everything with such ease that you think anyone can do it. But no one can do it like him. On the pitch, he is transformed. That’s where his real personality appears. He is in his natural habitat. If he doesn’t touch the ball, he isn’t happy.
Now that I am a little away from elite football, I realise what Andres is and what he represents. When he leaves Barcelona, he will understand what I mean. He has won everything, played in an incredible way, and is respected in the whole world. He is leaving in the way he deserves, because he never had a bad word or gesture for anyone. Look at how he is loved across the world. Soon you will really know and appreciate what you have done for football, my friend, Andres.