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ESPN FC  By ESPN

Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta joins Japanese side Vissel Kobe

After 22 years with Barcelona, an emotional Andres Iniesta exits the Camp Nou pitch for the final time.
Players, coaches and legends from around the world of football pay tribute to Andres Iniesta as he leaves Barcelona after a storied career.

Andres Iniesta completed his move to Japanese club Vissel Kobe on Thursday, just days after leaving Barcelona.

The Spain playmaker left the Spanish champions at the end of last week after more than 20 years at the club.

Iniesta, 34, moves for an undisclosed fee and signed a contract that a club release says will keep him at the club for "multiple years."

"For me, this is a very special day," he said. "This is an important challenge for my career. My family are here with me, too, and they're very excited. I would like to express my gratitude to the club for their confidence in me. I would like to help the J League grow in Asia.

"I am looking forward to getting to know my teammates and playing with them. [I am] very pleased to be in this country, [I] really love it here. Myself and [my] family [are] excited to get used to Japanese culture and enjoy our time here.

"I have a lot of respect for Japanese football and the players here, very good technique, intelligent. [I] know a lot about J League and the national team here, very high level.

"I am looking forward to contributing to the team and showing my playing style. That's why I have come to Japan. I hope to help the country develop further. I had a lot of offers, there were other clubs who showed interest, so I would like to thank them as well.

"I chose Vissel Kobe because the project presented to me was very interesting. There was a lot of trust and confidence as a person and as a player, that was a big reason. As I said, Japan [is] a great country. Japanese culture is great.

"[I am] so looking forward to getting used to my new life, enjoying my life and my football and adding to the team. The most important thing is to immerse myself into the Japanese culture. I'd like to be a member of the Japanese public. My family feel the same. It's different to Spain but looking forward to being part of this culture."

Andres Iniesta.

Vissel Kobe, coached by Takayuki Yoshida, sit sixth in the Japanese top flight after 15 games of their season, already 15 points behind runaway leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

Their squad includes former Germany and Arsenal forward Lukas Podolski.

On Wednesday night, Iniesta was shown on a plane locking hands with Hiroshi Mikitani, who owns Vissel Kobe and is the founder and chief executive of e-commerce giant Rakuten, which is Barcelona's main shirt sponsor.

Mikitani said in the statement: "By giving both fans and players the opportunity to see Iniesta's world-class play style and technique, we believe his decision to come to Japan will have a major impact on not just Vissel Kobe, but on football in Japan as well as the whole of Asia. As the 'New Vissel Kobe,' we will work to achieve our goal of the becoming the No.1 club in Asia.

"His arrival in Japan will raise the profile of Japanese football globally, and we are already working on multiple activities to leverage his presence here and promote the J.League around the world."

Rakuten is Barcelona's main club sponsor, having struck a big-money deal with the La Liga giants 18 months ago.

Iniesta left Barcelona after landing his ninth league title with the club. He also secured a host of other honours including four Champions League triumphs.

A World Cup winner with Spain in 2010, he captained Barcelona during his final three seasons at the club.

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