Exclusive: I want to teach UAE kids the values of good football, says Andres Iniesta

The Spanish World Cup hero signed a one-year deal with Emirates Club in Ras Al Khaimah


Rituraj Borkakoty

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Andres Iniesta with his family and Emirates Club officials. — Photo by M. Sajjad
Andres Iniesta with his family and Emirates Club officials. — Photo by M. Sajjad

Published: Thu 10 Aug 2023, 8:46 PM

Last updated: Thu 10 Aug 2023, 9:34 PM

Perseverance is the least admired quality in creative footballers like Andres Iniesta whose elegance and control in possession often transport you to a world of fantasy.

At his peak, the Spaniard was an aesthete's dream, conjuring one magical pass after another in tight spaces almost every weekend at Camp Nou.

And yet, it was his readiness for a scrap that separated him from someone like Alvaro Recoba, the dazzling Uruguayan who never managed to fulfil his incredible potential.

If not for Iniesta's perseverance and ice-cool finishing skills at the death, Barcelona perhaps would have collapsed at Stamford Bridge in the 2009 Champions League semifinal tie.

The Catalans went on to beat Manchester United in the final to complete a historic treble under Pep Guardiola.

But if not for Iniesta's 93rd-minute goal in an ill-tempered semifinal against Chelsea, Rome would have seen an all-England Champions League final in 2009.

A year later, the free-flowing Spaniards were in danger of being taken to the penalties by a cynical Dutch team in the 2010 World Cup final.

But Iniesta showed up again, in the 116th minute of a lung-busting battle, finding the back of the net with an exquisite volley, ending Spain's long wait for the World Cup trophy.

One of the most revered midfielders of all time, Iniesta is now in the twilight of his storied career.

But there is still life in the legs of the 39-year-old to send a few more defence-splitting passes into the heart of the rival box.

And it's those touches of genius that the Emirates Club is hoping to benefit from after signing him on a one-year contract.

Patience of a monk

Iniesta stayed back for several minutes at the crowded hall in the Inter-continental Hotel, Ras Al Khaimah, after the contract signing ceremony on Wednesday.

Not once did he fail to nod his head and wave at the young fans that turned up in big numbers to meet the iconic footballer.

Iniesta was already earning new admirers even before kicking a ball in a country where he hopes to make a difference with his football.

He still had the patience to sit down for a few one-on-one media interviews that were set up at the last minute.

Without even a hint of irritation on his face, he listened to every question and answered in short, crisp sentences with the help of a translator.

Showing them the way

Having welcomed their fifth child with his wife only a few months ago, it's easy to see why kids hold a special place in his heart.

Kids are also an important part of Iniesta's football project in the UAE, a country that is hoping to earn a place at the expanded 48-team World Cup in 2026.

"I have seen a lot of young boys and girls here who love football. They are the future," Iniesta told the Khaleej Times.

The midfield wizard not only hopes to help Emirates Club fight for the trophies in UAE's domestic football tournaments, he also wants to show the young players at the club's academy the Spanish way of playing football.

"It's very important to train them well and teach them the values of football," he added.

It goes without saying that the values of football he is referring to is the 'tiki-taka' style, the exhilarating short, passing movements Barcelona and Spain famously unleashed that almost reduced the rival players into spectators.

"It's the way we do (in Spain) and this is what we will be trying to share (with the youngsters) here."

Secret to long career

But Iniesta refused to look too far ahead when asked if the influx of big-name players to the region following Cristiano Ronaldo's stunning move to Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr is going to change the football landscape.

"I don't know what is going to happen in future. All I know is that I am here right now, I am going to enjoy my football," he said matter-of-factly.

"And I am going to share my knowledge (with Emirates Club teammates and youngsters), perform well and help and contribute to the league (in the UAE), so the league evolves and grows."

Having helped Vissel Kobe usher in a new era of growth during his five-year stint at the Japanese club, Iniesta still has the same desire to compete at a high level.

"I am very excited to be here. I try to stay fit and be in shape. It's one of my secrets to keep playing as a professional footballer," said Iniesta who is likely to make his UAE Pro League debut against Al Wasl in Dubai on August 19.

"And here I am now. And I am very excited to be here. And I hope to keep performing well at the highest level."

Barca memories

Finally, there was a glint in his eye when this reporter asked him about his glory days in Barcelona — the trophy-laden years when he helped Barca redefine attacking football alongside Xavi and Lionel Messi, his famous former teammates.

"My Barcelona memories, what can I say? I mean I spent the best moments of life there, in winning a lot of trophies, enjoying football at its best," said Iniesta, winner of nine La Liga and four Champions League trophies with Barcelona.

"I enjoyed the people (at the club) and enjoyed playing with those teammates."


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