Andres Iniesta is right to go and sell wine in Japan if China refuses to stump up the cash to sign him
Barcelona maestro’s chances of joining Chinese Super League side Chongqing Lifan are going down the drain – but the wine entrepreneur would be better off in Kobe anyway
For months Barcelona superstar Andres Iniesta was nailed on for a move to the mainland, but now it looks like he may have dodged a bullet.
Reports in Iniesta’s native Spain claim a proposed transfer to Chinese Super League side Chongqing Lifan is in danger of collapsing, with Japanese club Vissel Kobe stealing a march for the World Cup-winning playmaker.
Chongqing’s crime? Dithering too long over the financial details of the deal. Spanish radio Cadena SER claim the Chinese club have not matched Iniesta’s massive wage demands, despite earlier reports suggesting a US$97-million, three-year contract had been agreed.
That perhaps now explains why no mention of the 33-year-old’s next destination was made when he announced he would be leaving the Camp Nou at the end of the season after more than two decades.
Chongqing hurriedly released a statement denying they are trying to sign Iniesta, claiming instead they “will never violate the development prospects of Chinese football” or distort the market with such a huge outlay – in other words, they don’t want to stump up the cash needed for a deal.
The Chinese Football Association’s decision last year to introduce a 100 per cent tax on foreign transfer over 45 million yuan (US$7 million), with the extra money going into a youth development fund, has seen Chinese clubs put the brakes on signing expensive stars from abroad.
And now it seems the sums don’t add up for Chongqing, who were heavily linked to a player who already has promotional and marketing links to the city through sports marketing agency Desports, which was founded by Chinese businessman and Chongqing chairman Jiang Lizhang.
“The other sports industry sections of our club’s controlling shareholder have in-depth cooperation with Mr Iniesta in sports brokerage, sports marketing, and youth training,” added the statement.
“We don’t rule out in the future there may be more in-depth cooperation between the two sides in the Chinese market, but this does not mean Mr Iniesta will join the club as a player.”
The apparent collapse of the move appears to have let J. League side Vissel Kobe steal in, thanks in part to Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO of Barca sponsor and Japanese electric commerce company Rakuten, who is reportedly playing a big role in the proposed transfer.
Spanish daily Sport has also named Australia’s A-League as Iniesta’s “preferred destination”.
It may all just be media posturing from Iniesta and his team, but a move to Japan actually makes more sense than the Chinese Super League.
Whereas Iniesta would be one among a smattering of big-name foreign players in China – with Hulk, Oscar, Axel Witsel, Yannick Carrasco, Cedric Bakambu and Anthony Modeste leading the pack – he would undoubtedly be the top dog in Japan, much like Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in Major League Soccer in the United States.
Being the biggest fish in a small pond, and the pay cheque that comes with it, must be appealing. With that status comes increased eyes on the Japanese game, and more money in sponsorship deals.
Iniesta would be sharing a dressing room with Lukas Podolski, but the former Arsenal and Germany star has been on the wane for years and is hardly likely to steal the limelight.
Not to mention the standard of football in the J.League is higher than the Chinese Super League – the Spaniard still has a good few years left in him, and many Barcelona fans feel he is leaving the club too soon, having only just signed a “contract for life” last season.
Iniesta would also reportedly being earning less (€25 million a year) at Vessel Kobe than the wages he is said to be seeking at Chongqing.
But the Japanese side are reportedly willing to indulge in the midfielder’s request to include a deal with his family’s wine company, Bodega Iniesta, as part of the contract.
The Japanese wine market is booming, an expert on the subject tells me, so why not throw in a magical tipple or two from the man known as El Illusionista.