Andres Iniesta revealed he turned down offers from various clubs before accepting the ‘very interesting project’ presented to him by Japanese side Vissel Kobe.
The 34-year-old Spain playmaker has opted to continue his playing career in the Far East after calling time on a trophy-laden spell with Barcelona.
He left the Catalan giants after landing his ninth LaLiga title with the club, while he also secured a host of other honours during his 16-year stay in the Barca first team, including four Champions League triumphs.
Iniesta admits he had several options on the table as he plotted his next step, but felt Vissel Kobe was the right one for him.
He said at a press conference, as reported by the Spanish press: “It’s a special day for me.
“It’s an important challenge for me and my career. I want to express my gratitude to the club for placing their faith in me for this project.
“I’ve been fortunate to have different offers but the project that Vissel Kobe presented to me seemed very interesting.”
Iniesta, who has been named in Spain’s 23-man squad for this summer’s World Cup in Russia, added: “I can’t wait to start working with my team-mates. This is a country that I love.
“We hope, both my family and I, that we adapt quickly and learn the Japanese culture.
“I have a lot of respect for Japanese football and much respect for the Japanese players. They are intelligent players with great technical ability.”
Vissel Kobe, coached by Takayuki Yoshida, sit sixth in the Japanese top flight after 15 games of their season, already 15 points behind runaway leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Vissel Kobe chairman Hiroshi Mikitani told reporters at a press conference: “I am pleased to announce that Andres Iniesta will be signing up to play for Vissel Kobe after his historic career at FC Barcelona.
“Iniesta is a top global player. Many of us will recall Iniesta’s astounding goal in the final of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa that brought Spain its first title in the tournament.
“Since 2015, Iniesta has also led FC Barcelona as captain and last year he was the first player to sign a lifetime contract with the club.”
Mikitani added: “I am confident Iniesta’s philosophy, leadership and DNA will be a terrific inspiration, not only for Vissel Kobe but all Japanese football society.
“We look forward to Andres Iniesta not only strengthening the team’s performance but also contributing to the development of the next generation of players through the introduction of the Iniesta methodology to the youth academy.
“We believe his decision to come to Japan will have a major impact, not just on Vissel Kobe, but on football in Japan and Asia.”
Mikitani continued: “Iniesta will raise the profile of Japanese football globally and we are working on activities to leverage his presence here and promote the J.League worldwide.
“I am very proud to see this day come.
“We will do everything in our power to support Iniesta during his time in Japan and show us all his beautiful, inspiring play.”
Iniesta played the final match of his 22-year Barca career last Sunday as the club rounded off their title-winning LaLiga campaign with a 1-0 victory over Real Sociedad at the Nou Camp.
He came through the club’s famous La Masia academy and, as well as numerous club honours, he won the 2010 World Cup with Spain and the European Championship in 2008 and 2012.
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