Andres Iniesta says he accepts Victor Valdes’ decision to leave Barcelona and hopes the club's fans will do so too.
Long-serving Barca goalkeeper Valdes told Barca's board last week via his agents that he did not intend to extend his contract, which ends in June 2014. This decision and its timing have been criticised in Catalonia, but Iniesta said he hoped the fans would understand the decision and give full support to the team's push for trophies this season.
“I have no doubt about how the fans will react,” Iniesta said. “The only thing you can do is keep applauding him. It would be very unfair if the fans did not support Victor. It would be a mistake to start throwing stones amongst ourselves. We must be clever. Everyone’s objective is to get to June winning trophies.”
Iniesta said whatever happened now Valdes, who first joined the club two decades ago and kept goal in three of their four European Cup victories, would go down in history as one of Barca’s best ever keepers.
“He began here aged ten - he has been through every stage,” the midfielder said. “He passed through some very difficult moments and he overcame them. Without him you cannot understand the trophies this Barca have won. He is one of the most important players in this club’s entire history.”
Barca coach Tito Vilanova has said he will continue to pick Valdes as his No. 1 while he remains at the club. Iniesta said the team’s results between now and the end of the current season should not be affected by anyone's decision to leave further down the line.
“This is not news which is going to affect us between here and the end of the season,” he said. “If we do not win, it will not be for that. As a player I would prefer to have Victor here as he is the best goalkeeper in the world and will miss him a lot. As a person I respect his decision as each individual is in charge of their own life.”
The Albacete-born player said he expected to see out his own career at Barcelona, as long as his performances merited a place in the team.
“My desire is to see my career out at this club,” Iniesta said. “The only issue could be my performances. When I stop performing, or when the club decides I have stopped performing, I will leave.”
Saturday’s 2-3 defeat at Real Sociedad was Barca’s first of the season, and saw their lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid cut to eight points. The result had been a wake-up call, said Iniesta, who admitted he was lucky not to be red-carded during the game after tripping Carlos Vela when he had earlier been booked.
"It has put us all on alert,” he said. “Defeats are never good. I was possibly a hair away (from being sent off). The foul could have deserved a yellow card, but always when you have one the referee normally does not show a second. By the letter of the law it can be a card, but with the same law there are other things which could be one.”
Barca travel to Malaga on Thursday for their Copa del Rey quarter-final second leg, with the tie finely balanced after a 2-2 draw in last week’s first game at the Camp Nou. Iniesta said he was confident they would progress.
“We have no intention of being knocked out,” he said. “We will train to ensure we go there in the best possible condition. We have to feel confident that we can win a place in the next round.”
Vilanova will miss the Malaga game as he has travelled to New York to continue his treatment following December’s operation to remove a parotid gland tumour. Iniesta said the team would miss him and hoped for a full recovery soon.
"We want Tito to be on the bench doing what he has to do,” he said, “and that he has total security that the team is giving everything to keep moving forward.”