Shortly after Andrés Iniesta was named runner up for the 2010 Ballon d’Or, he granted a memorable joint interview with Xavi Hernández to El País’ Luis Martín. Xavi incidentally had also been on the podium at the award ceremony in Zurich in January 2011.
Despite winning the World Cup for the first time with Spain the previous summer both had finished behind Lionel Messi, their teammate at club level, in the voting.
The sight of Barcelona players finishing first, second and third was a source of great pride for them. No single club had claimed the entire podium for itself since Milan in 1988 and 1989. Yet this was different because unlike Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard, Messi, Iniesta and Xavi hadn’t been bought. They had all been brought through their club’s youth system. The only homegrown player present on the podium in Milan’s two years of dominance was Franco Baresi.
So it was as much an award for Barça as it was for them as individuals and, never forgetting where they come from, they all recognised that. Looking back at that particular moment, it was one of the high points of the Guardiola cycle, the ultimate affirmation of the Barcelona school of football.
But to focus again on the individuals: Iniesta and Xavi have won everything there is to win at club and international level. They could be forgiven for feeling satisfied with their lot. Many players who have had a lot less success lose their hunger and fade away. But not them.
While some have claimed to discern a lack of intensity and motivation in Barcelona’s performances last season - and perhaps there was an element of that to it - they still won La Liga by 15 points, equalled Real Madrid’s record  points total and established a new club record for goals scored . It’s a measure of how high they’ve set the bar over the last five years that it was seen by a few as a disappointment.
Which brings things back to the interview with Luis Martín and El País: What drives them on? Well, it’s nothing more than a simple love of football. That’s it. “I have the feeling I’m enjoying something that’s outrageous,” Iniesta told him. “There are training sessions where I go home happy having the joy of playing the best football. I want to go out on the pitch, run and press for the ball. I want to do it until I can do no more. It will not always be like that and I have to enjoy it until they throw me out.”
But, more or less, it is still like that.
When they spoke again before the Confederations Cup, Iniesta was asked whether it was not a bit of a drag to play a minor tournament after such a long season. His reply was like that of bright eyed and enthusiastic kid who’d only recently been called up to the national team for the first time rather than that of a player who, now approaching 30, has achieved everything in the game.
“Are you crazy?” Iniesta retorted. “A drag to come to Brazil with the national team? Not at all! I'm very excited. You look at the teams playing and it's nothing minor. I think everybody is motivated to try and win a title Spain has never won and in a country that's crazy about soccer.
“I remember watching the 1994 World Cup on television and I never thought Spain would win and even less with me in the team. And the chance to play in Brazil, to set foot inside the Maracanã... And then there's the dancing: I'll have the chance to learn some new samba steps.”
Against Uruguay on Sunday, though, Iniesta was the one teaching his opponents how to move. Some of his footwork was breathtaking.
Take, for instance, the way he had the presence of mind in the first half to run over and leave a pass from Jordi Alba, allowing it to run to Cesc Fabregas who fired a shot against the post. Or in the second half, how he swiveled out of a challenge, instantly sidestepped another, drove at the defence, gave the ball away, got it back, turned another defender and tried to place a shot into the corner as a snooker player would one into a pocket only to see it go narrowly wide.
It was Iniesta at his best. He was WhoScored’s Man of the Match with a rating of 8.3. El País likened his performance to a “poetry reading.” At times he gave the impression that the ball was sewn to his feet. Uruguay’s players tried to take it off him, but they couldn’t. Which offers a reminder that, for such an advanced player, one who occupies the tightest of spaces and so often receives the ball under pressure, when playing in La Liga for Barcelona this season, his turnover rate per game of only 0.7 is remarkably low and dribble success of 57.7% is remarkably high.
To an extent, you appreciate Iniesta more when he plays for Spain. Though it’s not always the case - yet it very often is - Messi steals a lot of the headlines at Barcelona. So extraordinary are his feats, which are in no small part down to the platform his teammates provide him with as well as his incredible talent, that they can even overshadow those of the outstanding players around him. Shine a light on them, though, and you’re reminded of their greatness.
Iniesta made more assists  than anyone in Europe’s top five leagues last season. More than Marek Hamsik  in Serie A. More than Frank Ribery  in the Bundesliga. More than Dimitri Payet  in Ligue 1. And more than Juan Mata  in the Premier League. All of Iniesta’s were from open-play, which separates him further from the rest. Ribery was next in this regard with , the other one arriving from a set-piece.
This calls to mind something Rijkaard said of Iniesta: he’s the player in the squad to reparte los caramelos - or hand out sweets. Even so, ‘only’ 15 of the chances he created last season were ‘clear cut’. No fewer than 13 players conjured more of these in Europe’s top five league than he did, yet no one managed as many assists. Is it a case of give the ball to Messi and let him do the rest?
No. That would be reductive. But in terms of one player assisting another, no one has set up a teammate to score more times than Iniesta did Messi across Europe’s top five leagues last season . He’s such a selfless player. No more so was that evident than when he scored the winner in the World Cup final and lifted up his shirt to reveal one dedicated to the memory of his friend, Dani Jarque, ensuring that when people remembered that moment, they’d think of the Espanyol defender who had so tragically died of a heart attack a year earlier too.
It was a wonderful gesture. But that’s Iniesta. He still has his first pair of football boots, the Adidas Predators his father saved up three months’ wages to buy. His favourite food is still a simple dish of chicken and potatoes. He is still the same kid who used to play at la pista, the sports centre in his hometown of Fuentealbilla with a hard concrete floor.
When asked recently if he feels like a hero of Spanish football, Iniesta’s answer summed him up. “Not a bit of it,” he told El País. “I do feel loved by the fans wherever I go, but a hero is something else. Heroes are people that fight against disease or emigrate to feed their kids. I'm a privileged person who plays soccer and sometimes has the chance to make people happy. And that's the good thing about this team in that we have given a day of happiness to all those anonymous heroes who don't have much to smile about. That's what I think anyway.”