Andres Iniesta has confirmed he will leave Barcelona at the end of the season after 22 years associated with the club.
In a press conference attended by members of the first team and the club’s board on Friday, Iniesta said he wanted to finish at Barca “feeling useful, feeling important and still winning titles”.
Iniesta is expected to continue his career in China but says his next move is yet to be finalised. The 33-year-old reiterated, however, he would never play against Barcelona.
After joining Barca’s academy, La Masia, aged 12, Iniesta blossomed into one of the Catalans’ greatest ever players, winning four Champions League and eight La Liga titles, and lifting the World Cup with Spain.
Struggling to hold back the tears, Iniesta said: “I understand that in the near future I will not be able to give the best of myself in all senses, both physically and mentally.
“If I had imagined finishing my career here, it would have been like this, feeling useful, feeling important and still winning titles.
“It’s a very difficult day for me because I’ve been here all my life and to say goodbye to my home and my life here is very hard.”
Iniesta’s short speech was greeted by applause and the congratulations are likely to continue on Sunday, when he can collect his ninth La Liga title. Barcelona need only a point against Deportivo La Coruna to be crowned champions.
It would secure a domestic double in Iniesta´s farewell campaign, after a thumping win over Sevilla clinched the Copa del Rey last weekend.
In what was his last cup final with Barca, Iniesta capped a typically elegant performance at the Wanda Metropolitano with a wonderful finish, shimmying past goalkeeper David Soria and tapping in his 57th club goal, on his 669th appearance.
He would not be short of offers this summer from the world’s elite clubs but Iniesta said that to avoid facing Barca, he will not be staying in Europe.
“There are things to talk about, things to finalise,” Iniesta said.
“The only thing I have always said is I would never compete against my club so all scenarios that are not in Europe are possible.”