Football

Barcelona legend Iniesta signs for J-League's Vissel

Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta kicked off a new chapter to his career when he signed for Japanese side Vissel Kobe yesterday, swopping La Liga for the J-League after 16 stellar years at Spanish champions Barcelona.

The former Barca captain, 34, who had spent his entire career at the Nou Camp, was introduced at a news conference in Tokyo by Vissel owner Hiroshi Mikitani and will wear his familiar No. 8 jersey for the J-League side.

"This is a very special day. This is a very important challenge for me and my career," said Iniesta, noting that he had a lot of respect for Japanese football which had many high-level players.

"That is why I came to Japan and, through my play, I hope to make contributions for further development for the club and Japanese football."

"I hope the J-League will grow into a league that the whole world wants to watch," said Mikitani, who is also the chief executive of Barca's main sponsor Rakuten.

The move will see Iniesta, who bade a tearful farewell when he played his final game for Barcelona on Sunday, link up with former German international Lukas Podolski, who joined the Japanese side last year. Barcelona and Denmark great Michael Laudrup also played for Vissel for one season between 1996-97.

Iniesta will try to help Vissel, currently sixth in the J1 League after 15 games, win a first-ever Japanese championship.

Before embarking on his Japanese adventure, Iniesta will join the Spain team to prepare for the World Cup in Russia, where they will be seeking a second title. - REUTERS

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