Football News

“What’s this little boy doing here?” — Van Gaal’s Barcelona assistant reveals initial doubts over Andres Iniesta

By Ben Green

Published: 11:03, 19 August 2021 | Updated: 18:36, 10 September 2021

The assistant manager to Louis van Gaal at Barcelona during his second stint, Andries Jonker, has revealed the coaching staff had initial reservations over whether Andres Iniesta would make it at the club. 

Van Gaal, who recently took the job as Netherlands manager for the third time, enjoyed two spells at the Camp Nou, between 1997 and 2000 after his Champions League-winning breakthrough as Ajax boss, and for the 2002/03 season, inheriting a squad that had plenty of La Masia talent.

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Barca have often been lauded as a flagship in promoting youth, and by the time Van Gaal turned up for his second stint, the likes of Xavi, whom the Dutchman handed his debut in 1998, Carles Puyol, Victor Valdes and Iniesta were all either first-team regulars or emerging through the ranks.

Iniesta, at that point, had not yet made his Barca introduction, and it may never have come if Jonker’s first impressions of the elegant midfielder were upheld.

When the graceful tempo-setter first walked into the dressing room Jonker believed his diminutive stature would hold him back, but the former Spain international quickly shifted the opinion of the club’s Dutch coaching staff and he made his debut in the Champions League a few months later.

 Jonker told SPOX: “I remember exactly when I saw Andres for the first time during pre-season.

“He was very small and thin, pale, had long hair and walked into the dressing room with a plastic bag.

“At first I asked myself what this little boy was doing there. Then all the stars stood up and applauded him. I asked what was going on and they said that he had won the European Under-19s with Spain and was voted the best player of the tournament. Now he should train with the first team.

“I looked at him again and thought it would never work. I said that to Louis too. He was also sceptical, but wanted to give him a chance because everyone thought he was a huge talent.

“After five minutes of passing sessions, Louis and I looked at each other and said: ‘He can do this’.”