"Whatever you do, don't shoot." That was the instruction to Andres Iniesta from club doctors in Rome when Barcelona and Manchester United contested the 2009 Champions League final.
The man whose injury-time shot in the semi-final against Chelsea had propelled Barça to their second final in four years was injured for the deciding game but such was his importance that he played 90 minutes trying not to overstretch the right thigh muscle that had sustained a two centimetre tear two weeks before the game in Rome.
"I told my father that if it meant playing with a hole in the leg I would be on the pitch to start the game," he says, recalling how he was determined not to miss another final after being named among the substitutes against Arsenal in Paris in 2006.
"We all knew the risks we were running with me being in the side but we decided to gamble; even in the second half when they told me that I could not shoot at goal because there were signs that I had injured the same muscle. They said I was OK to play short passes and to sprint and with that you can play football."
Far from being a passenger, Iniesta was one of Barcelona's best performers in their 2-0 win, running the midfield and playing the pass that undid Sir Alex Ferguson's side after they had made an excellent start.
"Looking back at the game I still think that in the first 10 minutes Manchester United started so strongly and had a chance to take the lead. But once we scored we were able to play our football and we controlled the game.
"I remember, it was a very quick move for the goal. I controlled the ball and played a quick pass. It left two of their players out of position and I got the ball to Samuel [Eto'o] and he scored a great goal."
The gamble had paid off for the once fragile Iniesta who has worked on his durability this season to become less injury prone. He suffered serious muscle injuries eight times between 2008 and last year. His World Cup-winning season had been a nightmare before everything came together in the final. "I've learned to understand my body better and to understand my muscles and my mind. Control is everything both on and off the pitch."
The equilibrium off the pitch has been helped by settling down with girlfriend Ana, who he met in the summer of 2007 and with whom he now has a two-month-old baby daughter, Valerie.
"Ana revived me because 2007 was a tough year," says Iniesta of the time he met his partner. It was Frank Rijkaard's penultimate season in charge when Barcelona won nothing and the club began to think about changing coaches.
"We have been lucky that [Pep] Guardiola became the new manager" he says. "He knows this club like nobody else – he has come through the youth system and he sees football like nobody else. I loved him as a player and now he helps us a lot as coach. Little things like allowing us to travel on the days of games so we don't have to spend as much time in hotels has helped take the stress out."
It will surely help the players next Saturday that Guardiola has done what they are about to do. He had his day out at Wembley in 1992, when he helped Barcelona come home with their first ever European Cup.
Does Iniesta remember Ronald Koeman's extra-time strike that earned Barça a 1-0 victory? "I was only eight years old," he says. "If I'm honest I don't know where I was but I've since seen the goal, yes, and the celebration and bits and pieces of the game. The manager has still not mentioned it. I suppose he will. It is always emotive to return to a place that brings you such happy memories."Reuse content