Observer on Saturday - - Sport -

BARCELONA - Barcelona icon An­dres Ini­esta has sur­prised fans by la­belling Louis van Gaal the most im­por­tant man­ager in his ca­reer.

The 34-year-old mid­fielder an­nounced last month that he would leave Span­ish cham­pi­ons Barcelona at the end of the sea­son af­ter 16 tro­phy-filled years at Nou Camp.

Ahead of his depar­ture, the Spaniard was asked by Mundo De­portivo to de­scribe a num­ber of for­mer team-mates and coaches in a sen­tence.

And when asked about for­mer Barcelona and Manch­ester United boss Van Gaal, Ini­esta replied with 'my most im­por­tant man­ager'.

Many would have ex­pected the World Cup win­ner to be­stow that hon­our on cur­rent Manch­ester City boss Pep Guardi­ola, un­der whom he truly es­tab­lished him­self as one of the world's best.

How­ever, Van Gaal, was re­spon­si­ble for hand­ing Ini­esta his pro­fes­sional de­but back in 2002 and he clearly feels the Dutch­man was cru­cial to his de­vel­op­ment de­spite the fact they spent just six months to­gether.

Van Gaal spent two spells in charge of Barcelona, win­ning two La Liga ti­tles be­tween 1997 and 2000 be­fore re­turn­ing for a brief pe­riod in 2002 where re­sults did not go his way.

But he ev­i­dently made an im­pact on Ini­esta dur­ing that sec­ond spell, some­thing the Barca icon made clear in an in­ter­view a few years ago.

'I'm grate­ful to (Louis) van Gaal for his trust and to all the coaches that I had be­fore that taught me and helped me to get the best mo­ment that I'd been chasing up to that time,' Ini­esta told Barcelona's YouTube chan­nel in 2015

'I think my first team de­but was the most im­por­tant day,' Ini­esta said on Barcelona's YouTube chan­nel. 'It was the most im­por­tant be­cause I'd been dream­ing about it for so long.'

Asked for his thoughts on Guardi­ola, Ini­esta replied: 'A mas­ter for me.'

The mid­fielder also said Frank Ri­jkaard, un­der whom he won his first Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle, was 'the ideal coach for that pe­riod of my life' while de­scrib­ing Tito Vi­lanova as an 'ex­cep­tional man­ager and per­son.'

IM­POR­TANT PER­SON: Barcelona le­gend An­dres Ini­esta says Gaal is his most im­por­tant man­ager.

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