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Chinese Super League

World Cup winner Andres Iniesta ends 21-year Barcelona career but no word on whether he is moving to China

Midfielder confirms he will leave only career club as he tearfully announces exit at press conference in front of teammates, destination to be decided

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 April, 2018, 8:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2018, 9:11am

Barcelona and Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta has announced he will leave Barcelona at the end of the season but did not confirm if he would sign for Chinese Super League side Chongqing Dangdai Lifan once the Spanish La Liga season finishes.

Spanish press had announced the move would be confirmed on Friday with Iniesta telling his teammates beforehand. Instead he confirmed that this would be his last season at Barcelona at a press conference held at the club’s training ground, with the first team in attendance.

Iniesta was tearful from the outset and called Barcelona the best club in the world as he revealed this season would be his last at the Camp Nou and thanked the club, his teammates, the fans, Barcelona’s La Masia academy and his wife and children.

He said the decision was made with his family and he thought long and hard about it and the new club would be confirmed at the end of the season.

Iniesta had previously set a deadline of April 30 for the decision on his future.

The move ends a spell of over two decades in Catalonia where he has won every trophy in the game.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu described the midfielder as the club’s most important player of the last decade in an interview with Spanish radio.

Iniesta had been linked with a move to Chongqing in 2017, after he had visited the city in the summer, but it was shot down in an opinion piece published in the Chongqing Morning Post that declared the World Cup winner was “not good enough”.

Speculation Iniesta would move to China had grown in recent weeks with the 33-year-old linked to a number of Chinese Super League clubs including Tianjin Quanjian for a reported US$43.1 million a year. His rumoured contract was said to include a “wine clause” where the club would also commit to buying 2 million bottles from his family winery.

The Tianjin club threatened legal action against those who reported such a move while yesterday coach Paulo Bento dismissed it as a “rumour” while praising Iniesta.

Chongqing have emerged as the favourites because of Iniesta’s pre-existing links with chairman Jiang Lizhang and his agency, of which Iniesta is a client.

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The chairman of their main sponsor SWM was quoted as being “positive” about the move last week and Chinese media including PPTV had announced the transfer was a done deal just waiting to be confirmed to the press. In contrast, conflicting Spanish reports suggested the parties were not in agreement on the player’s compensation or that the deal was agreed but waiting on Jiang’s signing.

The club had refused to comment, as had owner Jiang.

Several European clubs had been linked with an 11th hour move for the midfielder with French champions Paris Saint-Germain and English Premier League sides Manchester City and Arsenal touted as possible destinations. A move to City would have reunited Iniesta with former boss Pep Guardiola while Arsenal have been linked with another of the player’s former Barcelona bosses Luis Enrique to replace the outgoing Arsene Wenger.

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Other destinations were Major League Soccer in the United States, where ex-Barcelona manager Tata Martino is at Atlanta United and former teammate David Villa plays for New York City, and Qatari champions Al-Sadd, where he could have reunited with former midfield partner Xavi who is set to become the club’s coach this summer.

As yet his future is only confirmed as being away from the Camp Nou.

Iniesta joined Barcelona at the age of 12, making his first team debut at 18 in 2002. The La Masia graduate has played over 400 times for the Catalan club.

Just last weekend Iniesta lifted the latest trophy of his storied career, scoring in the 5-0 win over Sevilla in the Copa del Rey.

That is the 33rd piece of silverware he has won for Barcelona and Spain, and he will soon lift a 34th when the club are crowned La Liga champions. That will be his ninth Spanish league title in a list of trophies that includes the 2010 World Cup, two European Championships either side of that and four Uefa Champions League crowns.

As an individual Iniesta is the only player to have ever been named man-of-the-match in the final game of the European Championship, the World Cup and the Champions League.

He is regarded as the best player not to have won the Ballon d’Or, something for which organisers France Football apologised. The magazine revealed the Barcelona captain is the 11th best-paid player in the world.

Barcelona need one point from their remaining five games to win the league and could get that this weekend when they play away at Deportivo.

They will face Real Madrid in the Clasico on Sunday May 6 (Monday May 7 Hong Kong time).