'I wondered if I would ever make it at Nou Camp'

Andres Iniesta has come a long way since he had Pep Guardiola posters but tells Pete Jenson he still loves the Barça coach
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The Independent Online

The last time Andres Iniesta (pictured) scored for Barcelona in London he caused a baby boom 700 miles away in Catalonia. His injury-time goal at Stamford Bridge in 2009 sent Barça through to meet Manchester United in the Champions League final and such were the celebrations back home that nine months later the birth rate in the city went up by 45 per cent.

"We are up from an average of nine to 10 births a day to 15 a day," said Mercedes Rodriguez, head midwife for the city's Quiron Hospital in February last year. The blip was credited in large part to the Iniesta piledriver that broke Chelsea fans' hearts.

"It's the greatest thing that you win matches and titles and this makes so many people happy. It is incredible to see what just a goal or a trophy can do," says Iniesta at Barcelona's Joan Gamper training complex on the outskirts of the city. In seven days' time he will appear in Barcelona's third Champions League final in six years and once again he played an important part in getting through the semi-finals.

There was no spectacular last-minute shot this time but he delivered the pass that sent Pedro through to score Barcelona's only goal of the second leg against Real Madrid, leaving his opponent next Saturday night, Wayne Rooney, eulogising on Twitter: "Iniesta, what a ball."

Rooney is the first player that comes to mind when contemplating who poses the greatest threat to Barcelona next weekend, although when asked to pick out one United player, Iniesta is caught between two more historic names.

"Rooney is one of the best players in the world and I love watching him play. But if you had to pick out only one, then for their history and for all that they have achieved it would have to be Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs. They are two shining examples for any player."

Iniesta spends his spare time learning English, collecting memorabilia from his own career and looking after his family. Before the newspaper cuttings about his own career he hoarded articles and posters of his two footballing heroes, Michael Laudrup and Guardiola. "He is very important for us," says Iniesta of the coach, who played for Barcelona in the 1992 European Cup final at Wembley. "I think we all agree that he has been the key to the success of this team. He is a coach that gives you solutions."

The connection between Guardiola and many of his players is strengthened by the coach having come through the same youth structure at the club, though as an outsider Iniesta's path was harder.

And there were tears every night once he was installed in Barcelona's La Masia school of excellence. "I used to wake up some mornings and look across at the Nou Camp, thinking 'Will I ever make it?'" Iniesta recalls.

There is a sense that this could be "Iniesta's final". He needs one more goal to beat his record of nine in one season in all competitions and he is finishing the season in the kind of form and fitness that gives him, as in last year's World Cup final, a good chance of scoring it at Wembley.

Andres Iniesta is so important to Barcelona that that he played 90 minutes carrying an injury to his right thigh muscle in the 2009 Champions League final against Manchester United in Rome – and set up their first goal.

Born 11 May 1984, Albacete

Playing career

2002-present Barcelona

International career

56 caps for Spain, nine goals

International honours

World Cup 2010

Scored the winning goal in extra-time of the final as Spain beat Netherlands 1-0 in Johannesburg

European Championship 2008

Club honours

Champions League 2006, 09

Supercopa 2005, 06, 09, 10

La Liga 2005, 06, 09, 10, 11

Copa del Rey 2009

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