KOBE – Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta was greeted by around 300 fans as he arrived at Kansai International Airport on Wednesday to join his new team Vissel Kobe in the J. League.
The signing of the 34-year-old, who is believed to have inked a multiyear deal with an annual salary of $30 million, comes as a timely boost to the J. League, which hopes to see the club justify his hefty pay package through an increase in attendance figures.
“It was a long trip but I had been looking forward to coming to Japan. I’m excited to play with my Vissel teammates,” Iniesta said.
“I hope fans will enjoy seeing me and my team play. I will do my best to make my new challenge a success,” he said.
According to club officials, Iniesta is scheduled to join his new teammates for training on Friday and could make his J. League top flight debut as soon as Sunday, when Vissel Kobe faces Shonan Bellmare at home.
“I want to play as soon as possible. I’ll get in top condition for Sunday, and I hope to show the fans great play.”
Iniesta is a four-time winner of UEFA’s Champions League and won nine Spanish League championships with Barcelona, where he served as captain for three seasons. He was a key part of Spain’s first World Cup-winning team in 2010, scoring the decisive goal in the final.
The midfielder announced his retirement from international play on July 1 after earning his 131st cap with Spain when the country was knocked out of the World Cup by host Russia in the round of 16 on penalties.
Vissel is owned by Japanese internet powerhouse Rakuten Inc., which is currently a shirt sponsor of Barcelona. In April, Iniesta announced he would be leaving Barcelona this summer after completing his 22nd year with the club.
Last year, Vissel acquired former Germany international Lukas Podolski, who is currently sidelined with a left foot injury sustained during training last month. The club is currently sixth in the J-League top flight.