Andres Iniesta has reflected on the debate about how teams ‘should’ play Barcelona, as well as revealing an insight into his formative days at the club.
Barca have notably faced a number of sides this season already who have shown a defensive attitude, with 10 men placed behind the ball and a counter-attack seemingly their only outlet.
It has raised the debate once more about how teams should play football and if it is destructive to the game to play a particular way, but Iniesta feels it is only pragmatism at work.
The Spanish international, who has won 22 major honours at senior level so far, commented that it is a similar approach that sees Barca and Spain both play the way they do.
“It’s not that now we are saying football is a science and playing this way you will always win,” explained Iniesta in an interview with The Guardian today.
“The other thing is that we play the way we do because it suits us. We don’t have the players to pull it off playing a different way. People talk about ‘pragmatic’ football; well, for us, this is pragmatic. It’s the way we like to play and it’s the way we believe we have the best chance of winning.
“But the football that Spain and Barcelona play is not the only kind of football there is. Counterattacking football, for example, has just as much merit.
“The way Barcelona play and the way Spain play isn’t the only way. Different styles make this such a wonderful sport. But what we do is not easy, either.”
Spain were criticised for their performances leading up to the final of Euro 2012, before dismantling Italy 4-0 to lift the trophy.
“We needed that. It was the most complete match we played – in the way we moved the ball quickly, the speed and the aggression we showed getting forward.
“We are now being judged according to a level of performance which is almost impossible to reach. But we've earned the right to be judged that way. It’s a double-edged sword – the better you play the better you're expected to play all the time.
“When it doesn’t happen then people start asking questions. We’re not complaining, we wish things had gone that well for the last 50 years that the expectations had always been so high. But maybe people don't appreciate the difficulty sometimes.”
Iniesta is one of the many graduates from La Masia currently involved in the Barca and Spain squads, but he opened up on how it was a formative experience for as much the off-field emotions as the on-pitch workouts.
“Those days were the worst of my life. You’re 500km away, you’re without your family. You’re from a small place where you can walk everywhere and the change is huge.
“There were lots of nights I thought: ‘I want to go home.’ Very hard moments. I’d think I was never going to make it. But you have to be strong. Even at the age of 12 you think: ‘I have to fight. I've come this far, there's no going back.’”
However, Iniesta’s determination that saw him through those developmental years, he reflects, has made him the player he is today.
“If there’s one characteristic all players have it’s precisely that. They all have that gene, that competitiveness, the ability to overcome obstacles, to fight, a willingness to sacrifice. It might look easy to reach the top and stay there, to play for your country and win things, but it isn’t. All players that have achieved those things have that: the big ones, the small ones, the good-looking ones, the ugly ones, the nice ones, the not so nice ones…they all have that will to succeed.
“When you win something, that comes to mind. I remember when the referee blew the final whistle in the World Cup final, the first thing I thought of was the pain. The suffering. Instead of thinking: ‘I’m a world champion,’ I thought of that. It had been a hard year with injuries and I didn’t think I’d make it. If you win without sacrifice you enjoy it but it’s more satisfying when you have struggled. The World Cup meant so much because of the journey there.”
The 28-year-old reflected that it was a similar experience of pain and joy the year before, in the 2009 Champions League Final against Manchester United.
“I had torn a muscle and I couldn't shoot with my right foot. There are moments when the human body can overcome things you would never expect. I got injured 17 days before the final and all I wanted was to be there, however big the tear was. It was a 3cm tear and I fought morning and night. I had played in Paris [against Arsenal in 2006] but only as a sub so it left a bittersweet feeling and I kept thinking about that. In Rome I had to play. By playing despite being ‘broken’ I struggled at the start of the following season. I played a big price. But it was worth it.”
Iniesta also commented on his demeanour off the pitch that is quieter than other big names in the sport.
“I get the feeling people respect me and that there is affection for me. That makes me happy. But it’s not about being good or bad. Everyone's different.
“You’re not the bad guy if you’ve got tattoos and you're not the good guy if you don’t have tattoos. Everyone tries to protect an image that reflects what kind of person they think they are.
“Some people like you, some people don’t. In the end you just have to be yourself. The thing people sometimes don’t see is that football is a part of life.
“In life you have different sorts of people, why should it be different in football?”