KOBE (Japan): Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta said Thursday he will make an early exit from Japanese side Vissel Kobe but intends to keep playing aged 39.
The Spanish World Cup winner’s contract with Vissel runs until the end of the year but a tearful Iniesta said he will leave in July after seeing little action this season.
Iniesta has made only three substitute appearances totalling 38 minutes this term for Vissel, who are three points clear at the top of the table.
The midfield maestro said he did not know where his next move would be, but ruled out retiring.
Widely considered one of the greatest players of his generation, he has been linked with a non-playing role at Barcelona.
“First I want to finish my time here properly and then see what options are available to me,” he told reporters, pausing to wipe away tears at times.
“I want to keep playing and then retire while I’m still active. That’s difficult for me to do here, so I want to find a place where I can eventually retire.”
Iniesta joined Vissel in 2018 after making more than 600 appearances for Barcelona, where he won the Champions League four times and claimed nine La Liga titles.
He signed a three-year deal with Vissel on a reported annual salary of $30 million, which he extended in May 2021.
Iniesta won Japan’s domestic Emperor’s Cup in 2019 and led Vissel to the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League a year later.
But the team were embroiled in a relegation battle last season and fired a succession of coaches before eventually finishing 13th in the 18-team division.
Iniesta said leaving Vissel was “one of the hardest decisions of my career”.
“I always thought I would retire here, but things haven’t gone as I wanted them to,” he said.
“For the past few months I’ve trained hard with the intention of contributing to the team, but I started to feel that the coach had different priorities.”
Iniesta will play for Vissel in a friendly against Barcelona at Tokyo’s National Stadium on June 6.
His final match will be a home game against Consadole Sapporo in the J-League on July 1.