Mikel Arteta says Andres Iniesta’s “innate ability to play football” distinguished him as a unique talent from a young age.

The Arsenal captain spent four years at Barcelona as a teenager, progressing through the La Masia academy alongside Iniesta.

He had something different to the rest of us. He was very humble in the way he behaved. Also he had this innate ability to play football

Arteta on Iniesta

It quickly became clear to Arteta that the Barcelona playmaker was destined for a successful career.

“I was there for two years with him,” Arteta told the matchday programme. “He was 12 or 13 - a bit younger than me - but we could all see that he had something special.

“He had something different to the rest of us. He was very humble in the way he behaved. Also he had this innate ability to play football - it seemed like he was always playing friendlies, playing matches.

“At that age back in La Masia, no one can know what you will do, but he's achieved a lot more than anyone could have expected. He scored the winning goal in the World Cup final!

“Now he's the captain at Barcelona and has had a huge influence on that club. In my opinion he deserves it all, and even more, especially because of the manner in which he achieved it all.

“It will be good to see him again, because it was a pleasure to spend those years together, and I've always admired the way he's played, wherever my career has taken me.

“He's a great example to every young player growing up in football. I hope he can continue to succeed - just not in this tie!”

Barcelona matchday programme
Barcelona matchday programme

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Nik Brumsack 23 Feb 2016