Andrés Iniesta announces his departure from the Japanese club Vissel Kobe and that he will continue his career elsewhere | Sports

The 2018 Copa del Rey final left the fans who saw it and the players who played in it perplexed. After Barcelona, ​​5; Sevilla, 0, hid one of the great unrevealed mysteries of European football. The witnesses wondered how it was possible that the best player on the field without discussion, Andrés Iniesta, had just played his last game in the Barcelona shirt. At 34 years old, the best footballer in the history of Spain along with Luis Suárez and Xavi Hernández, he was full of inspiration and physical condition. But his destination was Japan. He had it decided.

This Wednesday, with half the season of the Japanese league consumed, Iniesta announced that he is leaving Vissel Kobe, the small club on the margins of football where he planned his retirement with the perfectionist obsession that preceded his career. “Sometimes things don’t happen as one thinks or imagines,” said the man from La Mancha at the press conference he held this Wednesday. Another mysterious turnaround.

Iniesta shows his emotion during the press conference, this Thursday in Kobe (Japan).
Iniesta shows his emotion during the press conference, this Thursday in Kobe (Japan). FRANCK ROBICHON (EFE)

There are seven months left for the conclusion of his contract. But Iniesta is bored of sitting on the bench. Postponed by the coach, Tkayuki Yoshida, the midfielder has only played a little over half an hour in the 14 championship games played since January. After struggling to stay in the category in 2022, this season the team leads the league in Japan. But with hardly any contribution from his captain, who would rather leave the ship than attend the cruise feeling useless.

“We had always imagined that I would retire here, it was everyone’s wish,” Iniesta said at the press conference he held this Wednesday. He did not speak in the majestic plural. He was accompanied by his wife, Anna, his children, and his friend Hiroshi Mikitani, owner of Rakuten and president of the club. “I really want to continue playing, to continue competing. But sometimes the paths diverge. I feel that the coach’s priorities are different and I accept it. I hope I have risen to the occasion…”. At this point he interrupted his speech, drowning in a muffled cry. “As captain of Vissel Kobe, I always tried to be an example on and off the field, and help in all facets,” he mused.

A man with reactions that are as mysterious as they are poetic, Iniesta tried to help until he understood that to do so he had to help himself first. That happened to play soccer. Something that after 39 years of life has integrated into his personality more than a trade. “I want to retire on a playing field; I want to continue playing, I feel capable and excited to continue doing so; now we will see what options there may be, ”he concluded.

Iniesta goes to the market in search of one last shield before goodbye. His decision coincides with the unemployment of Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, three of the legendary players who accompanied him in the most fabulous epic that club football has known in the contemporary era. The four of them are tempted by two main poles: Arabia and the United States. The championships of the countries of the Arabian peninsula and the MLS. The reunion floats in the air.

Hiroshi Mikitani’s dream was to build a powerhouse from scratch in Japanese football. The cornerstone of him was Iniesta, with whom he became friends. Led by the Barça veteran, the small club from Kobe reached new heights. They won the first titles in their history – the Emperor’s Cup and the Super Cup – and participated for the first time in the Asian Champions League. It was in the quarterfinals of this competition, in the midst of a pandemic, in December 2020, when Iniesta felt compelled to take a shot in the penalty shootout against Suwon. It was his decision—once again. He was injured but forced. The gesture of the blow tore the tendon of the rectus femoris of the right thigh. The mishap was so serious that withdrawal was considered. He decided to have surgery to recover and say goodbye to his competing career. In four months he returned to play matches. He recorded the rehabilitation experience in My decisiona documentary with a tone of confession.

Two years later he feels strong. The damaged leg today is an oak. But the coach does not put him. He has seven months left on his contract but he prefers to give up the money. He insists on retiring in mid-competitive flight. If he’s in a minor league, he’ll do it feeling important to the team that wears his jersey. Earlier, on June 6, Vissel Kobe will host Barça in Tokyo for a friendly.

You can follow EL PAÍS Sports on Facebook and Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.