It was Tuesday 29 October 2002, thirteen years ago today, that Andrés Iniesta made his first team debut for FC Barcelona in a Champions League match against Bruges. And the rest, as they say, is history. The 18-year-old would go on to be one of the artifices of the greatest Barça team ever assembled, as well as being one of the finest players ever to wear the Spanish national jersey. First team captain following the retirement of his long-term colleague in midfield, Xavi Hernandez, it was Iniesta who lifted the last of many trophies that he was won over the years – the European Super Cup in Tbilisi.
Andrés Iniesta has scored 59 goals in 558 games for Barcelona in that time, putting him behind only Xavi (767) and Puyol (593) in the all-time ranking for appearances. He has played a huge role in the many successes that the club has enjoyed in recent years, perhaps the most outstanding memory of all being his last second goal at Stamford Bridge that ensured passage to the 2009 Champions League Final.
Iniesta hails from the village of Fuentealbilla in Castile la Mancha, but at the age of just 12 he left his family to become a resident of La Masia at FC Barcelona. He rose up through the youth ranks and on 5 February 2001 was invited for the first time, by then manager Serra Ferrer, to join a first team training session. A year later, with Louis Van Gaal on the bench, his big chance finally arrived. As he remembered in an interview published several years later in Barça Magazine, “I felt very comfortable that day. A lot of B players went on that trip because the team had already qualified for the next round. It was a dream come true to make my first team debut and I thank Van Gaal. I had been training with them for most of the season, and I think I did pretty well in that game”.
He was named in the starting line-up and was an immediate hit as he helped Barça to a win in Belgium thanks to a goal from Riquelme. “He wore the number 34 and the boss just told him to get out on the pitch and play’ remembers FCB delegate Carles Naval. And Iniesta did what he was told and came very close to marking his debut with a goal from a fine strike that hit the Bruges crossbar.
Iniesta was not the only youngster on the field that day. Van Gaal also handed a debut to Tortolero, while also opting to field Sergio Garcia and David Sánchez. And the team also included a number of fellow ex-residents of La Masia, namely Puyol, Gabri, Fernando Navarro and the current manager of Barça B Gerard López, who recalls how “there were a lot of homebred players that day and that was good for him. And we won the game, which was important too.”