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Andres Iniesta joins Japanese side Vissel Kobe

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Former Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta has joined Japanese side Vissel Kobe, the J.League club confirmed.

Iniesta, 34, appeared before a packed press conference in Tokyo on Thursday along with Kobe’s billionaire 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”.

‘I’m pleased to announce that Andres Iniesta will be signing up play with Vissel Kobe after his historic career at Barcelona,’ Mikitani said.

Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona’s main sponsor Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer.

He added: ‘Iniesta is a top global player. Many of us will recall Iniesta’s astounding goal in the final of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa that brought Spain its first title in the tournament.

‘Since 2015, Iniesta has also led Barcelona as captain and last year he was the first player to sign a lifetime contract with the club.

‘I am confident Iniesta’s philosophy, leadership and DNA will be a terrific inspiration, not only for Vissel Kobe but all Japanese football society.

‘We look forward to Andres Iniesta not only strengthening the team’s performance but also contributing to the development of the next generation of players through the introduction of the Iniesta methodology to the youth academy.

‘We believe his decision to come to Japan will have a major impact, not just on Vissel Kobe, but on football in Japan and Asia.’

‘Iniesta will raise the profile of Japanese football globally and we are working on activities to leverage his presence here and promote the J.League worldwide. I am very proud to see this day come.

‘We will do everything in our power to support Iniesta during his time in Japan and show us all his beautiful, inspiring play.’

He announced last month he would leave Barcelona after 16 seasons. His last match for the Spanish club was on Sunday against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

He will join up with former German international Lukas Podolski, who joined Kobe last year but the striker is out until the end of June with an injured calf.

Iniesta will wear the number eight shirt, with his new side sixth in the J-League after 15 games, having finished ninth last season.

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.

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