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Andres Iniesta signs with Japan's Vissel Kobe

Iniesta signs with Japan's Vissel Kobe
By Reuters

23/05/2018 at 20:43Updated 24/05/2018 at 10:46

Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta has signed with Japanese side Vissel Kobe, kicking off a new chapter in his career after a storied 16 years with Barcelona, the J.League club said on Thursday.

The 34-year-old former Barcelona captain, who had spent his entire career with the Spanish giants, was introduced at a news conference in Tokyo by Kobe owner Hiroshi Mikitani.

Ahead of the official announcement, Iniesta had posted on Instagram a photo of himself and Mikitani with a message that he was "heading to my new home".

The Instagram picture was of Iniesta on an aircraft with Mikitani, who is also the chief executive of Barcelona's main sponsor Rakuten.

He added a message saying: "Heading to my new home, with my friend @hiroshi.mikitani," followed by the letters 'JP' and a picture of a football and an airplane.

"This is a very special day. This is a very important challenge for me and my career," Iniesta said, noting that he had a lot of respect for Japanese soccer which had many high-level players.

"Therefore, I would like to contribute to my team and show my style of play. That is why I came to Japan and through my play I hope to make contributions for further development for the club and Japanese soccer."

Kobe have never won Japan's league championship and are currently placed seventh in the J-League.

If Iniesta completes the move he will join up with former German international Lukas Podolski, who joined Kobe last year.

Barcelona and Denmark great Michael Laudrup played for Kobe for one season between 1996 and 1997, while former Barca striker Gary Lineker saw out his playing career in Japan with Nagoya Grampus.

Iniesta announced at a news conference in April that he was calling time on his long career with Barca, where he moved to aged 12 in 1996 to join the club's academy.

He lifted a ninth La Liga title on Sunday in a fitting send off at Barca's stadium, with his team mates all giving him a guard of honour and wearing his name and number eight on the back of their shirts during the title celebrations.

After signing his contract with his new club, Iniesta will join up with the Spain squad next Monday to begin preparations for the World Cup in Russia.

They will be looking to lift the trophy for a second time after Iniesta's goal in the 2010 final against the Netherlands gave them their first triumph.

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