Andres Iniesta must surely know China is the smart choice as he plots post-Barcelona career
Midfielder can turn millions on to ‘Cruyffian’ football and make as much with the commercial opportunities on offer if he picks Chinese Super League
They call Andres Iniesta “the Illusionist” but he will be missing a trick if he chooses not to move to China.
While offers from Japan and Australia are said to be on the table, there really is only one destination worth his time – on or off the pitch.
A player of his undoubted talents still has the capacity to dazzle – he has been a vital part of Barcelona’s march towards silverware this season, just as he has been for the past 15 years – and is more than capable of shining in the Chinese Super League for years to come.
His game is not built on pace and he has proved this season, at 33, that he can still deliver the goods; a brilliantly worked goal in the Copa del Rey final demolition of Sevilla was the icing on the cake.
While the calibre of foreign players in China has improved over recent years, Iniesta is a cut above – he can legitimately be upset he has not won the Ballon d’Or.
Javier Mascherano is the most decorated player in the league but Iniesta can add the holy grail of football – the World Cup – and a couple of European Championship crowns on top of his former teammate’s trophy haul.
He’s a footballer’s footballer and those who get to play with him on a daily basis will see their game improve, while even the opposition will benefit from seeing a true great in the flesh.
If he wants the limelight then China is the place and he would be the biggest name in the league, but if he wants to disappear into the background every now and then, he can do that in Chongqing – a city of 30 million.
As Barcelona styles itself as more than a club, Iniesta can be more than a player in China.
To imprint “Cruyffian” football on the mainland would be an achievement beyond anything any other player has managed in the game. If he is successful on the pitch and takes a hand in coaching then generations could grow up wanting to play the Barcelona way.
Who better to do that than a player ingrained in the Barcelona philosophy he was weaned on at the club’s peerless La Masia academy? Iniesta embodies Barca’s DNA.
The admittedly stronger J.League is arguably on the decline while football in Australia has its own problems as a niche sport. For Chinese football, the only way is up.
Chinese football still needs its breakout star, the player who can transcend the sport and capture public interest; the game is still lacking its Stephon Marbury figure.
The former New York Knick shone on the court in the Chinese Basketball Association, winning three championships with the Beijing Ducks.
Marbury has two statues in the capital and his own museum; he has featured on Chinese stamps; he has the freedom of Beijing and was given a green card.
The city of Beijing and China at large took to the former NBA bad boy and that opportunity is there for Iniesta, too.
Japan? Zico already did it in the 1990s. The J.League is established. Australia? The last big name to move there was Alessandro Del Piero and that was six years ago.
Since then A-League sides have eschewed star signings to concentrate on youth development and living within their means.
When it comes to commercial opportunities, much has been made of the importance of Iniesta’s wine business – he is the third generation – to any proposed move.
The family business could thrive on the mainland; China has been described as “the world’s most attractive wine market”, while Vinexpo and ISWR ranked it as the second biggest in the world behind the US.
And it is on the rise, expected to grow to US$23 billion in the next five years.
Of course, take China numbers with a large pinch of MSG. No one truly knows but one thing is for sure, it is a land of opportunity.
Especially in cities like Chongqing that may lag behind Beijing and Shanghai in many things, but not disposable income.
If he wants advice he can ask in the Barcelona dressing room.
Not just Lionel Messi, who regularly makes tours to the country as part of his commercial interests, but Brazilian midfielder Paulinho, who spent three seasons at Guangzhou Evergrande.
It’s decision time. But if there is one thing for sure it’s that Iniesta has been known to make the right choice at the last minute.