Andres Iniesta is better than ever. The Barcelona player played more minutes in official competitions this season, scored seven goals in the League and is a foundation of Pep Guardiola’s ensemble of devastating midfield setup. His mental strength enabled him to overcome the injuries he suffered last season, and 2011 started off with the same finesse with which he ended the 2010.
Are you starting to have the itch to play the match that could give the first title of the season after the team have all but secured its place in the Copa final?
We all want to be in the final again. We have done well and are on track to qualify but there’s still the match at Almeria and we have to do a good job in the next 90 minutes to be in the final. If so, then we can enjoy another Copa final. I missed the 2009 final [due to injury] but we were champions and that’s much more important.
Do you have a thorn for having missed that game?
I just got injured then and it was just impossible for me to recover in time for the match in Valencia. We focussed on what’s best, recovering for the Rome final. We hope that there are no setbacks this time and we are all good and quiet.
Seeing how the team played in the competition so far, it seems the Copa have not been taken that lightly…
All titles are great. After each one, it’s important that you want more. The Copa is very nice, its final is a special moment with two passionate crowds spread across the stadium they could move a city, a great atmosphere… Playing in a final is not something to joke about. We play to win titles.
And if you play against Real Madrid, it will be the climax.
If we get Barcelona-Madrid, that would a nice, interesting and special final.
Especially since it took 20 years for the two teams to repeat such feat?
If the two teams are there it’s because we and they deserve it, and you need to do well to win the title.
A final between Barcelona and Madrid does give more prestige to the competition.
The prestige is given by each and every team. We have always gone for the Copa, a lot, this year, last year as well as in the previous one. It’s one more title. If we win it will be remembered, it would be another addition to the many that the club have. It’s a nice title.
Against Hercules: do you confront this match with the extra motivation as if against a nemesis?
We don’t see it as such, but as a difficult and complicated game. The Hercules does well at home, is strong and has given a lot of problems for top sides. We must give weight to what they have, go out with a winning mentality, and maintain our lead.
Is getting one over the Alicante side a new challenge for this team?
The challenge is to keep on winning, adding victories and keep our distance from the second placed team [Madrid].
PEP GUARDIOLA’S FUTURE
Pep said you are the best new signing of this year: would Guardiola’s renewal be the best signing for next season for the team?
We all wish for it. Not only do we want him to renew but be here for as long and as many years as he wants. Everyone thinks he is the key to the successes of this team. Hopefully it will be for many years as it would send a very good signal [to the team].
Guardiola said the players are sucking up to him when asking for his renewal and it gives the impression that [if he renews] it was because of them.
Everyone has their own opinion. In this case, it is a unanimous feeling of respect towards our coach.
Is this respect earned for the way he always defended the team?
He knows us all well and knows what we can give, but we should also look at the work done by everyone involved since he took over the team. They are many people within the staff that cares for and helps us. They are essential too.
THE BEST MOMENTS OF HIS LIFE
Much has been made of the change you’ve experienced from one year to another, is it that much [difference]?
Yes, there really were a lot of changes happening to me. It has nothing in common from one year to the other but very few people knew how I spent them, how the months went by. I don’t want to speak much of it as I don’t want to be seen as a martyr. There are moments in life that one must live through. A little of what I’ve lived through last year serves to guide me today.
Do you believe your hard times were exaggerated because you are a football player and too many myths about you were created?
No, there were no myths. What happens is that people notice what you do on the pitch and it affects them when you’re not well, if you’re not at ease or not at a level they expected of you. It is normal that they would be saying, ‘what’s up with him?’ But behind that there are many things that are not known by them.
Is it not true, therefore, the premise that says that a player forgets everything when he jumps onto the pitch?
There are situations for everything. When you feel good it influences everything that you do. In every job, whatever it is, when you’re happy, you do it with pleasure, do it well and enjoy yourself. In football it’s the same.
Is Leo [Messi] in the prime of his life now?
Currently yes, he’s the best. Hopefully next year we can again say that he is the best, meaning that he’ll keep on growing as a player and person. That’s my thinking. That’s all he can do of course, improving himself with each year. To make your peers and people around you feel good about you and proud of what you’re doing.
To feel good like that must be great?
We are really enjoying ourselves. When everything goes as planned it feels phenomenal. People recognising the work we do make us feel good about ourselves. It’s pretty special. It is what we’re aiming for: Seeing to it that the good times last as long as possible.
The best thing must have been the affections coming from the fans?
I always think of the love and respect people have for me, especially my fans. I felt this way since from the beginning. It makes me happy and more so over time. It makes me feel very special.
Is the Ballon d’Or experience bitter for you?
I dream of winning it just like everybody else. I was one of the three finalists and had a real chance of winning it. It would have been tremendous and it seems plausible to me, my family and the people around me, but it’s all right. A teammate won it and I appreciate the fact that I was there.
At another point in your life, would it affect you more?
You never know, but it’s not like you’re being victimised. It was not like it is an award for team effort but I was of the impression the three of us won it.
Can you accept the statements made by your uncle, criticising Leo Messi’s choice?
We talked about it and I felt bad the hype [about my predicted win] generated, everybody went to Fuentealbilla and the moment I was not announced as the winner, the microphones were thrusted in my family’s face… These people are my family, only wishing that I won it and has no experience speaking to the media as we have. The truth is it bothered me a little. Please excuse my uncle about what he said, but it is what they all felt then.
There have been accusations…
Everyone is free to speak his mind but I don’t think he meant to offend anyone. Everyone has a way of showing their feelings. At that time, the people in my village wanted me to win.
Following that controversy, a lot was said about the friction in the Barcelona dressing room by the Madrid media…
I try not to watch all the talk shows. The problem is that it was on almost every hour… It’s hard to follow everything as you can go mad because of it, as there are a hundred thousand opinions out there but everyone has to do their job.