Original article can be found @ elpais.com on 11 January 2011.
‘The best in the world is Messi, no comparison’
By: Luis Martin
The two were still children when they enrolled at La Masia and were mere teenagers at their Barcelona first team debut, but Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta fought for a dream and fully achieved it. With FC Barcelona they have won everything a top footballer can win, and with Spain’s national team, have joined the ranks of a few elite players to have won the World Cup – and something else: the respect of their peers, both professionals and amateurs.
Both were in Zurich on Monday as the finalists for the FIFA Ballon d’Or along with the eventual winner, their friend and teammate, Lionel Messi. While it was them that got the mentions, they all knew the road to achieving that recognition were never theirs alone. In this long drawn-out chit-chat cum interview, initially held at the Ciutat Esportivo on Thursday [last week] and ended yesterday [10/1/2011] in Zurich, the two talked about everything including the unsung heroes who helped them get to where they are today: on top of the footballing world. Along with Leo Messi, they are a unique and definitive product of the seemingly inexhaustible Barcelona talents reserve. They were also representing an entire generation of Spanish players, who by 2010, were crowned the best in the world.
El Pais. The two of you insist that this award is for Barca, not the three of you, and it goes beyond that.
Xavi. The fact is that is the truth. It’s an award for the philosophy implemented by Barca for we are the students of this school and we are proud to have lived these moments. While we are the three nominees, a lot of people are behind this award, people who work and had worked to give substance to this way of understanding the game. Coaches, trainers…
Iniesta. This award belongs to everyone, from our teammates, the people who helped us to grow up, the ladies who used to feed us, our peers, former coaches…
Xavi. Just the other day I was thinking: I had Asensi, Niko Milenkovic, Vila for five years, Gonzalvo, Benaiges… They taught me a lot! I had more time with Vila. He once told me a lot of players were going to earn a living in the Primera, but that to play for Barca was another thing. Vila taught me to move from playing the long passing game to only playing a short one. I remembered that we were doing ball control training when he told us: “You will see when you get in to the Primera, you will not have the time to think.” That first day I trained with him is the best that I can remember of him. How right was he!
Iniesta. The fact is everyone must be thinking: How is it possible that they all play the same way? They have educated us this way! As footballers and as individuals. Of course, each one brings with them a trait they are born with, but in Barca they help you to improve on them. If you fail to improve each day, they’ll pull you aside or take you out back. This is its biggest merit. One way of playing, but then there is also a lot of the coaching – how to interpret a game, to know where you have to pass… I had Ursicinio Lopez, Pedraza, Rojo, Costa, Alomar Gonzalvo… They made me who I am now.
But I also never forget all the people from La Masia – the cooks, who have always looked after me… There are just so many people who pitched in so we can be here today!
Xavi. As a child everyone has a unique way of playing and they help you give sense to everything. Sometimes, I think we still play as when we were kids. For me, it was like playing in the Progres Plaza [Terrassa, Spain] as a kid, doing things that I am doing now, but if they had not helped me I might not have the World Cup. I had trees for obstacles in the square!
Iniesta. With trees?
Xavi. Yes, but the problem is that bastard of a tree was not always returning it to me… (laughing). That’s why this award is for the club’s philosophy and all those who have made this possible since Cruyff. For 30 years we wanted to play this way. The football has evolved with a coach who is the host, and now, we’re reaping the fruits. This Ballon d’Or is for this philosophy. The award is for an idea. We are the children of a system, a philosophy. For the second time in history the first three are from the same team. They’ve already given it to Sacchi’s Milan, now they are going to give it to Guardiola’s Barca.
Iniesta. I have very few memories of that team, only from what I saw on TV…
Xavi. I remember the 5-0 at Madrid [UCL 19/04/1989]. I liked them when I was a kid… hehehe. That was a great side. A force! Gullit, van Basten, Rijkaard: they were powerful but they also got great quality. I liked Donadoni, Ancelotti, Baresi. They gave it to three Dutchmen, just as we now have Puyol, Pique, Pedrito… I’m very happy that three Barca players are on the podium.
Iniesta. The truth is the criteria [for selecting the best] are not very clear. The best in the world is Leo. There’s no comparison… come on. He is the best by far.
Xavi. He’s just amazing. Before, four out of [the opposition team's] ten will be out to stop him, now he is in top form and nothing is going to stop him. He scores goals, give assists…
Iniesta. He opts to get better every time.
Xavi. Pep has a lot to do with that… with Leo and with everyone. He has everything to be the best, but he knows how to get there and Pep worked with him on that a lot. This award is just unfair. It is based on equal voting rights for countries like Senegal or Fiji to those of France, England or Germany. The information they’re getting is not the same. So, I don’t know, everything is just relative.
The other day, I saw a report of those who have not won the Ballon d’Or and I flipped out at its level [of selection]. Baresi does not have it!
Iniesta. The truth… it is all too relative. The only certainty is that the best has to be Leo. Individual award in a team sport is always unfair. They would have to give them according to positions played. I’m pleased with that… But are you? He has tremendous merit. He demonstrated it in the 550 matches that he played for Barca. That is impressive. It is not a question of playing how many, it is at what level have you played them. Could they not just give three awards to us?
Xavi. More minor awards.
Iniesta. But it’s the truth. We are here because we play in Barca and have won the World cup with Spain…
Xavi. The year of the World Cup is evidently going to count a lot. And you played at a spectacular level, and putting in goals… The one in the final, you blast it, instinctive. On the pitch everyone can see you were playing very well, as I know you, when you’re relaxed. Besides, you were everywhere… But after watching it on TV, do you know how you played that day? You were fighting for the ball in the middle, in all places. You didn’t even lose a ball.
Iniesta. We were comfortable… no, that’s obvious. I got it when you told me: “You deserved the goal.”
Xavi. We all have had our bad moments. Only we ourselves know that. Now, we can look back and there’s so much good there… But I still remember those very hard times. And you had it very bad when you’re injured. But you did well and we won. Winning heals everything. And that goal… You have scored a goal in a final of a World Cup. But it should not be only for that, because if not for Iker….
Iniesta. Well… but anyone could have scored it.
Xavi. But you did it!
Iniesta. That yes, as all can see, I put it in.
Xavi. Yes (laughing). The fact is to have scored a goal in the final of a World Cup is what it is: it can even be scored by you (looking at the journalist and laughs). But I only know one and that’s you.
Iniesta. That is also unjust. It is always rewarded to those who scored the goals, to the forwards. Very few times had it been given to a goalkeeper, only once I believe [to Yashin in 1963]. And in the World Cup Iker was just exceptional. The fact is we are fortunate to have crossed path with Pep in Barcelona, with Luis [Aragones] and del Bosque in the national team.
Xavi. Yes, that’s true. People only see the goal, the forwards. Very few people get to comprehend. For example, Sergio [Busquets] is not valued for everything that he is capable of. He is the one who made the passes. And del Bosque knew, because he loves this game. Yes, he’s there, no denying that, almost never scores a goal, doesn’t do bicycle kicks… But [look] how he plays! Ah yes, he is there, but I’ll vote to see who does the one on one, but then the work… Busquets does it all very well. He epitomises what this Barca team is about, because he works [hard] and has class. Just as he gives cover, he’s also the first to give [you the ball] and you think: how he has seen me? It’s just not possible!
Iniesta. Busi often reads a game so well that I can’t believe it when he sees a move so early.
Xavi. Yes, that’s true. Few people read a game like he does. But be that he… he plays for the team, doesn’t lose the ball, give dynamism to the game. His touches are short and snappy: and then bang! Break away, throw them out of balance, and we’re already in the area, or he could give that decisive pass.
Iniesta. No, you never deliver a pass.
Xavi. (Laughing out loud) What an ass! No, seriously. Football is just like chess: eat the pawns or you don’t have the upper hand. Or gobble up three in one move, just as Leo did. I make a little turn, control the ball, but you, you put in a direct pass and already we are in the area. Really, mine has no merit. You confront and go at them! I only choose and take advantage of you, but without you, there is no pass. You always find a way out for me.
Iniesta. You do what you are meant to do. Except, [for you] it’s a matter of responsibility.
Xavi. I know I cannot lose the ball because I know that if my team does not have the ball, they don’t play. If I lose it we suffer. And I have lost many! I still remember the one that I gave to Zidane, in the Champions League, and it ended in a goal. Raul slammed it into the top corner. It is the responsibility of doing it well. I happened to get it wrong, [but] there are those that just couldn’t care, and I’m not like that. For me, if I play, I want people to say I’ve done well. To do well, you never get tired, because you always win.
Iniesta. That’s true. There are days when I’m out and about, and people say to me, congratulations: “What a good game you had!” but I missed two passes but only those two passes. That’s the responsibility of never failing…
Xavi. You are a perfectionist. You always want to improve. We know this from since we were kids. We must get it right 100 % [of the time].
Iniesta. And that’s why when everybody thinks you have done well, you go home after two shit passes, it makes you wonder: “How has this come to be?”
El Pais. Do you guys really barely talk when on the pitch or it only seems like it?
Xavi. We do talk… well, not much. The other day he said to me, “Deliver it forward and that way I can get into position.” It depends. We’ve been together for years and understand each other well. He’s the best friend that I have on the pitch, him and Messi. He knows that when I have it, and when he has it, I have to give him a way out. We almost never have to talk.
Iniesta. We only have to talk depending on the match. Some days we made the passes by our own instinct.
Xavi. Against Madrid, for example. Yes, some days we don’t need to speak to each other, we rely on ourselves.
Iniesta. But not just in matches. I have the feeling I’m enjoying something that’s outrageous. There are training sessions where I go home happy, having the joy of playing the best football. I want to take to the pitch, running, and pressing for the ball. I want to do it until I could do no more. It will not always be like that, and I have to enjoy it until they throw me out.
Xavi. We’ve suffered a lot. Midgets are no good, and yet now… Winning changes everything. Before they can only play one physically small player, and yet now, playing four at once is better. Villa, Messi, Pedro … the front five of Barca don’t even get past 1.7 meters. I’m glad there are people who made the decision to play us together. Together we’ve given small people an insurrection.
Iniesta. The Euro helped us. We fought against that… against the perception that we could not play together. From then on, no one said anything anymore.
Xavi. Fortunately, talents were able to overcome physical traits. If not, it’s not football. Had physique won, it could be bad [for football]. People will not find the game pleasing. Yes, you may win, but the people of Barcelona want entertainment. And if they are enjoying themselves, so are we.
For me, it is a tremendous honour to know that the three of us are from the same team [three finalists for the Ballon d’Or], as did Milan. That’s a very important thing. Because when I look at the list I just say to myself “how did I get to be there?” But I think Barca deserves it.
Iniesta. They have to give the award to everyone: they have to give it to Barca. Look at the [FIFA] team of the year, more than half of it is from Barca. And those who are not might fit in perfectly. Just to be in that photo shoot is good enough for me.
Xavi. Say that to me ten years ago, and I would not have believed it myself. This was just unthinkable. What’s happening to us now is very nice. I am lucky to have played with the best. That’s why, I can always say I was in Zurich the day they gave the Ballon d’Or to Barca.