On December 21st 2002, 18-year-old Andrés Iniesta made his first league appearance for, starting in a crucial 4-0 win over RCD Mallorca. He’d go on to become one of the most titled players in the club’s history.
Having won the La Liga Santander title nine times in his career, Andrés Iniesta is an all-time legend of the competition. Back on 21st December 2002, his story in the Spanish league began as the then-18-year-old made his LaLiga Santander debut for FC Barcelona away at RCD Mallorca. Barça was struggling and sat 13th in the standings, but Louis van Gaal trusted the La Masia graduate and it paid off.
The Catalan side won 4-0 as Justin Kluivert scored a hat-trick and Marc Overmars added the other. The youngster was also key to the victory, and the next morning’s Mundo Deportivo newspaper described Iniesta as “spectacular”. It added: “He knew how to play with and without the ball. He attacked and defended. Kluivert and Overmars should be grateful to him for all the key passes.”
Before that match on the island, Iniesta had already made one appearance for FC Barcelona in a 1-0 Champions League group stage victory away at Club Brugge, when the team had already wrapped up the group. The start in LaLiga Santander was extra special, though.
Iniesta looks back to that day 20 years ago: “I was very excited about it. A few weeks earlier, I’d already made my debut in the Champions League, but that day in Mallorca another childhood dream of mine came true. On top of that, the team won the match at a time when we needed that.”
There is no doubt in Iniesta’s mind that the day of his LaLiga Santander debut was one of the most important of his entire career, even a career of more than 30 trophies and the winning goal in a World Cup final.
As the midfielder put it: “Making your debut is perhaps the most important moment in your career because you get to enjoy everything you’ve worked so hard for. It’s a unique moment. You don’t know when it will come and you don’t even know if it will ever come. That’s why having the chance to make my debut for Barça in LaLiga was incredible. And even more so for me because I was debuting at the club that had welcomed me as a child and where not everything is as simple as it seems. Now, 20 years later, I still remember that special day.”
He continued: “Without that day, none of what I experienced afterwards would have happened. It was the beginning of everything. That’s why I say it was one of the most important moments of my sporting career. You need someone to offer you that opportunity, but the important thing is to be ready to make the most of it because you can never guess when the day will come.”
Iniesta certainly made the most of his opportunity, so much so that he was also used in Barça’s next four LaLiga Santander matches. Before long, he was a regular starter in the Blaugrana’s midfield and went on to make 442 total appearances in LaLiga Santander, scoring 35 goals and winning the league title in 2004/05, 2005/06, 2008/09, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2012/13, 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2017/18.
All that success began with that night in Mallorca and Iniesta still has the shirt he wore in that game, keeping it as a treasured possession. As he explained: “I have it at home. It’s one of the most important souvenirs I have. I keep it with other shirts, but this one is very special because it was the one that started everything.”