He will never forget it, nor will any of us ever forget it. The goal, that prefect goal that did so much, that had such impact and affected so many people. It created life, lost voices, broke things, fixed things.
A goal that will be talked about for years, a goal that has taken its place in the history of Fútbol Club Barcelona. Tonight, Iniesta and his team will come back, back to the place where three years ago a goal was scored, a goal that did more than anyone could ever believe.
It was like a story out of Hollywood. Barcelona had not had a shot on goal all night, they were one man down, and time was running out. It was a game that hadn’t been beautiful, a game with the referee taking a prominent role. It wasn’t a typical Barça game, although it some ways it was, because the players showed more than anything dedication to the badge on their chests. It was a game that showed that it isn’t over until the final whistle.
FC Barcelona had done the unthinkable. They had been a club and a team in crisis, with star players who cared more about their parties than the games, and a coach who made them the best but hadn’t seen that things were starting to fall apart. The next season they had a new coach, one who brought discipline, a coach who might be young but who wouldn’t let anyone stand above him. Josep Guardiola had never coached a first division team before, he had led Barça B for one season, earning promotion to the third division, but that was all. He was said to have no experience, said to be a high risk choice. But he was the choice and the team in crisis would soon enthrall the football world.
It all culminated that night at Stamford Bridge. Barcelona could win it all but they could still also lose it all. They were in the King’s Cup final, they were leading the league, and at Stamford Bridge they were playing the last leg of the semi-finals of the Champions League. Culés were dreaming of a treble! The first game at home had ended in a disappointing 0-0 draw, and Barcelona had to try and win in London. But it wasn’t going as planned and the Barça team with their beautiful game was shut down. Chelsea seemed to have found the way to stop them, and Guardiola and his Barça had no plan B. So successful were Chelsea that the team who had scored the most goal in Europe that season hadn’t even managed to get a shot towards goal all night. The clock was ticking down, Chelsea were leading 1-0, they seemed to have managed it. Some Barça fans started to lose faith, some Chelsea fans were already celebrating.
It’s a night I will never forget. The whole game made you suffer, nothing seemed to work, we were losing. One year earlier and I would have already given up. But this time it was Guardiola’s Barça, and if there was one thing Guardiola’s Barça had taught me, it was that they would never give up. As the clock hit 80 minutes, I started to count up all the games I could remember where Barça had been losing that they comeback to win. They were quite a few. The clock ticked faster and faster, 85 minutes, it won’t happen now and we are down a man. At that point I thought back to a game I had seen involving Guardiola’s old team, FC Barcelona B or Barça Athletic as they were called then. They had been two men down losing 2-0 (if I remember correctly) and in the final minutes won the game. Now it was the 90th minute, and this is not a third division side we’re playing, but I remembered the start of the season, the Gamper game against Boca Juniors. In that match we were 1-0 down, in the 91st minute we made it 1-1 and in the 92nd we scored again to make it 2-1 and win the game. If we could score twice then, could we at least score one now?
I’ve seen many Barça games during my relatively short life, but there is not a single game affected me as much as that game in London in 2009. I was on edge the entire game, I was so nervous, I had never been that nervous before. In the 92nd minute when Don Andrés hit the ball and I saw it was going in, the joy. . . . Going from being on the edge of a nervous breakdown to the joy of that goal, it’s can’t be described with words. I jumped up and down screaming, “I told you so, I told you so“. During the last few minutes my dad had asked me if we should turn the television off, because it was over. I had given him all the stats I could remember on why it wasn’t over. I had been right! I had never given up hope, during 92 minutes I kept thinking “Yo creemos en Barça” (I believe in Barça). The joy that that goal gave me makes it more than unforgettable.
Time had been running out, it was the most important game of the midfielder’s football career, just outside of the penalty area with the last kick of the game he scores the perfect goal. Iniesta pulls at his shirt, celebrating, screaming, running, he can’t believe it, his teammates jump all over him in euphoria.
Sounds just like the goal at Stamford Bridge, doesn’t it? But it isn’t, it’s 10 years earlier. The venue is the Camp Nou, the date is July 21, 1999, the occasion is the final of the Nike Premier Cup (basically the Club World Cup for 15 year olds). Andrés Iniesta has just decided the final, bringing the trophy to Barcelona for the first time in the club’s history.
On the sideline at Stamford Bridge the stadium’s most well dressed man was running, with closed eyes and his hands in fists, running, screaming with joy. Ten years earlier that same man, then the captain of FC Barcelona’s first team, had given a trophy to a 14 year old Andrés Iniesta at the Camp Nou, where he told him: “Ten years from now I will be watching you from the stands do the same on this pitch.”
Guardiola was right, but in a way wrong. Iniesta would be playing regularly at the Camp Nou ten years later, but Guardiola wouldn’t be in the stands, he would be on the touchline. And the night when Iniesta copied his goal from ten years earlier it wouldn’t be at the Camp Nou, it would be at Stamford Bridge.
Running along the sideline, Josep Guardiola had lost it. For a few seconds he wasn’t the Barcelona coach. For a few seconds he was that little ball boy that in 1986 ran onto the pitch to celebrate with his heroes as they qualified for the European Cup final with a remuntada (comeback) against IFK Göteborg. Pep was carried back to that time, his joy had brought him back, he was running towards Iniesta, as once again he wanted to celebrate with his hero. But before he got there, he realized, it’s 2009, I’m the coach. Pep stops, fixes his tie, applauds, and walks back to his bench.
While his coach forgot himself for a moment, people all over the world were losing their voices, as were commentators and reporters who were screaming about the miracle. Andrés Iniesta, surrounded by his teammates, managed to get speak a few words: “Bojan, where are my tickets?“. The players had been promised a certain number of tickets each if they qualified for the final. Iniesta knew he needed more tickets to please all his loved ones and asked the teenager before the game if he could have a few of his tickets. Bojan’s replied, “Sure, if you score tonight“. And after scoring the goal that would create a baby boom in Barcelona, the first thought that crossed Iniesta’s mind was, “the tickets, I need my tickets“.
If you mention Stamford Bridge, a Barcelona’s first thought will instantly be of Barça’s pale no. 8. Andrés Iniesta’s name will never be forgotten, nor will his goal in 2009. A goal he himself says was scored by the entire team, and by a shot in which he poured his whole soul.
Now, three years later, we are returning to this magical place for us culés. There’s once again a spot in the Champions League finals at stake, once again it’s against Chelsea. But a lot has happened since 2009. Barcelona has won everything since then, and taken over the football world even more. Andrés Iniesta has had some very hard times, with injuries and the death of his close friend Dani Jarqué. But he has also scored an even more important goal than that one at Stamford Bridge, bringing the World Cup to Spain in extra time in July 2010, dedicating the moment of his biggest triumph to Jarqué. Andrés has also become a father, and one can rest assured that his daughter will get to hear all about how her dad affected the whole world not once but twice with his goals, both the one that helped Barça to become the first team in history to win everything in one season and the one that made Spain world champions for the very first time.
Tonight, Andrés and Barça return to Stamford Bridge, it’s impossible for them to create a goal with as much impact as the one from 2009. But hopefully they will create something tonight that we won’t ever forget!
Visca el Barça i Visca Andrés Iniesta.
Image Credit: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images