After 16 glorious years which produced more than 30 trophies, Andres Iniesta is leaving Barcelona to embark on the next chapter of his illustrious career.
The midfield maestro made his Barça debut way back in 2002, during a 1-0 victory at Club Brugge in the group stage of the Champions League. Iniesta has been a one-club man until now, but what became of his team-mates from that night in Belgium?
Manager: Louis van Gaal
Van Gaal – credited by Iniesta as his "most important" manager – wasn't long into his second spell with Barcelona when he handed the youngster his debut in Belgium, having rejoined the club following a three-season stint as manager of the Netherlands. The Dutchman’s first spell at Barça produced two league titles and one Copa del Rey, despite being marred by clashes with the media and a public fall-out with Rivaldo.
His second spell was far less successful. Despite a record-equalling 10 wins on the spin in the Champions League, Barça’s La Liga form was erratic and Van Gaal left the club by mutual consent in January 2003 after successive defeats to Valencia and Celta Vigo left them 12th in the table.
Van Gaal is one of the most decorated managers in football, and since leaving the Camp Nou he’s won league titles in Holland and Germany, as well as guiding the Dutch national team to third place at the 2014 World Cup. After leaving Manchester United with an FA Cup winner's medal he’s spent time off the radar, but has been strongly linked with a return to management.
GK: Robert Enke
German goalkeeper Enke was never Barcelona’s first choice between the sticks. During his brief stint at the Camp Nou, he played second fiddle to Roberto Bonano and, later, Victor Valdes, and the run-out he got against Club Brugge was one of only a handful of appearances he made for the Catalan giants.
The shot-stopper was loaned out to Turkish side Fenerbahce when Frank Rijkaard took over the following season, then Tenerife, before returning to his homeland with Hannover.
Outside of football, Enke’s story is one of great tragedy; a sad tale of a life too short. Two days after his final appearance for Hannover in 2009, the Germany international committed suicide by stepping in front of a train. Enke had battled depression for six years prior to his death and struggled to cope after losing his daughter, Lara, to heart-related complications.
DF: Carles Puyol
Barça boss Van Gaal opted for a three-man defence in Belgium, and at the heart of it was future team captain Puyol. Like Iniesta, the steely centre-back was a one-club man throughout his career, making almost 600 appearances for the Catalans and winning 20 major titles.
Although Puyol’s 2002/03 season was disrupted by injuries, he inherited the captain’s armband from Luis Enrique within two years and become a regular fixture in the Spanish national team. In addition to his domestic honours, the defender also won the Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup tournaments with La Roja before retiring in 2014. These days, he’s still involved in a number of football-related projects, including the agency he runs with former Espanyol star Ivan de la Pena.
DF: Fernando Navarro
Navarro lined up alongside Puyol as Barça overcame Brugge that night, but his time at the Camp Nou was nowhere near as lengthy as his defensive partner’s. He made only 21 appearances for the Catalan giants after breaking into the senior setup in 2001, and spent the latter portion of his career with them out on loan with Albacete and, later, Mallorca.
It was at another La Liga side, Sevilla, where Navarro made a name for himself. The defender joined the Andalusians in 2008 and won two Europa League titles plus a Copa del Rey before leaving seven years later to sign for Deportivo La Coruna – where he's still going at the age of 35.
DF: Dani Tortolero
Finishing off Van Gaal’s backline was Tortolero, a defender who went on to make just one more appearance for Barcelona after the Club Brugge clash. That was also in the group stage of the Champions League, in a 3-1 victory at home to Galatasaray. At the end of the season, he dropped down a division to join Segunda outfit Elche.
Stints with numerous Spanish clubs followed before Tortolero left his homeland to wind down his career with Doxa Katokopias in Cyprus. Although he hasn’t played competitively since, the defender unsuccessfully tried to revive his career with Romanian side Rapid Bucuresti in 2016.
MF: Gerard Lopez
Barça packed out their midfield for the match at the Jan Breydel Stadium, and on box-to-box duties was Lopez: a player who had rejoined the club from Valencia two years earlier. He became known for his precision passing and ball control, and enjoyed a successful five years at the Camp Nou until persistent injury problems threatened to curtail his career.
Spells with Monaco in France, and Recreativo and Girona in his homeland followed, but those injury woes followed Lopez until he hung up his boots in 2011. He has since broken into coaching and returned to the Camp Nou in 2015 to manage the club’s B team, successfully guiding them back to the second tier of Spanish football. One year later, however, he was sacked with Barça B languishing in the Segunda Division drop zone.
MF: Fabio Rochemback
Brazilian Rochemback patrolled the midfield alongside Lopez in Belgium, having joined the previous year from Internacional in his homeland. His time at Barça was ultimately short-lived, but he went on to forge a solid career with Sporting in Portugal and Middlesbrough in the Premier League, for whom he played in the 2006 UEFA Cup Final.
The twilight years of Rochemback’s career took him to China with Dalian Aerbin, and then back to his homeland. In 2017, he returned to the headlines – but not for any of the right reasons. The former midfielder was arrested in Brazil as part of a cockfighting ring investigation and fined for his alleged participation in the illegal sport.
Gabri was at the top of his game when Barcelona travelled to Belgium to take on Brugge, having firmly established himself as a first-team regular under Van Gaal. The Dutch coach deployed him on the right flank that evening, although he was known to take on central midfield and wing-back roles when required.
The Spain international, who was renowned as much for his hard tackling as his pinpoint passing, left Barça in 2006 to join Ajax and later found himself playing in the Swiss top flight; first for Sion, and later Lausanne-Sport. Gabri has earned coaching badges since calling time on his playing days, and recently returned to Sion as manager – but his stint as first-team coach lasted a mere eight matches. He was replaced by Maurizio Jacobacci in February this year.
Another Brazilian import who was once touted as Barcelona’s next big thing. The Spanish giants warded off competition from Arsenal and Juventus to land the versatile midfielder in summer 2001, but many of his appearances that season came via the bench.
It wasn’t too long after Geovanni lined up against Club Brugge that he was shipped off on loan to Benfica, having fallen out with Barça coach Carles Rexach. Stints in the Premier League with Manchester City and Hull followed, and he proved a popular figure with both teams. He was last seen on a pitch in 2013, playing for Brazilian side Bragantino, who surely boast football's greatest nickname: Clockwork Sausage.
AM: Juan Roman Riquelme
Iniesta was deployed as one of two attacking midfielders against Club Brugge, and alongside him was the mercurial Argentine Riquelme. He scored the only goal of the game that night, though Barcelona didn’t give him the opportunity to net many more in their colours. The playmaker arrived at the Camp Nou amid Maradona comparisons and Argentine Footballer of the Year awards, but such success didn’t quite follow him to Catalonia.
Riquelme left Barcelona the following year to join Villarreal, and it was with the Yellow Submarine that he played some of his best football, forging a deadly partnership with fellow South American Diego Forlan. Two years later, he returned to Argentina to rejoin former club Boca Juniors and capped off his career with a single-season stint at boyhood team Argentinos Juniors.
The former Argentina international called time on his playing career three years ago and has since spent time away from football, although there were rumours he was ready to don his boots again in 2016 to play for Brazilian outfit Chapecoense after most of their squad perished in a plane crash.
AM: Andres Iniesta
Since making his debut in the 1-0 win at Brugge, Iniesta has earned his reputation as one of the greatest midfielders of all time. Revered for his passing, movement, ability to create space and leadership qualities, Iniesta was the obvious choice for the captain’s armband when Puyol retired and Xavi left the Camp Nou.
During his illustrious Barça career, the influential midfielder has lifted every major trophy possible – multiple times: see four Champions League winners' medals, nine in La Liga and six for the Copa del Rey. With Spain he's enjoyed similar success: after Euro 2008 glory he scored the winner in the 2010 World Cup Final, and was named Euro 2012's best player as a winner too.
Having announced that he will leave Barcelona at the end of the season, Spain’s most decorated footballer has attracted no shortage of employment offers. The latest reports suggest he could be bound for a club in the Far East or Australia’s A-League this summer.
FW: Dani Garcia
Garcia, one of the few players to have featured for both Real Madrid and Barcelona, led the Catalans’ attack on Iniesta’s debut. The Spain international was never an undisputed starter at the Camp Nou, although he did net a vital goal for them in the Champions League semi-finals against Chelsea the previous season.
Since that evening in Belgium, first-team opportunities became even fewer for Garcia and he left Barça to play for Real Zaragoza the following season. From there, he spent time at Espanyol, Greek side Olympiakos and Turkish outfit Denizlispor before seeing out his career with Spanish minnows Rayo Majadahonda in 2008.
Last year, Garcia joined former Camp Nou favourites including Oscar Arpon and Jari Litmanen in a Barcelona Legends squad to face a Hristo Stoichkov XI in Bulgaria – a friendly match held in memory of former Bulgaria defender Trifon Ivanov, who died of a heart attack two years ago.
Sub: Sergio Garcia
Midfielder Garcia hadn't long signed a senior contract with Barcelona when he came on as a 61st-minute substitute to replace Geovanni against Club Brugge. He made only a handful of appearances for Barça before being loaned out to Levante and later sold to Real Zaragoza.
Garcia made a name for himself at Zaragoza, but was better known for his time at Espanyol, where he enjoyed two spells – the latter of which is still going today (just about). He signed a one-year contract with the La Liga club in June last year.
Sub: David Sanchez
Barcelona B prospect Sanchez was given a brief run-out in Belgium, coming on as an 88th-minute substitute to replace Gabri. It was a rare first-time opportunity for the youngster, who didn’t quite cut it at the Camp Nou. Since leaving for Albacete in 2003, he’s been the epitome of a journeyman: the number of Spanish clubs he’s played for is well into double figures, and he even spent a few seasons in Romania playing for two different teams.
Sanchez is now an old warhorse at 35, but he’s still holding down regular first-team football, having turned out more than 50 times for Spanish third-tier outfit Real Murcia since signing for them in 2017.
Sub: Victor Valdes
Valdes made his first-team debut for Barcelona in the Champions League third qualifying round against Legia Warsaw in August 2002, and was the club’s second-choice goalkeeper behind Bonano during the early portion of Iniesta’s breakthrough season.
That changed when Raddy Antic took over as manager the following year. The Serb handed the gloves to Valdes who went on to become an all-time Barça great, making 535 official appearances for the club and winning 21 major titles.
Rewind to the Club Brugge game, though, and he was an unused substitute – a role he would become accustomed to when he left Barça to join Manchester United in 2015. Like many of the top goalkeepers, Valdes played well into his 30s, only calling time on his career in January this year following a stint with Middlesbrough.
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