BARCELONA • Andres Iniesta, a proponent of flowing, fluid football, was yesterday reduced to tears as he confirmed that he will leave Barcelona at the end of the season.
The 33-year-old Spain midfielder has spent 16 seasons at the club, winning 31 trophies.
In a press conference attended by members of the first team and the club's board, Iniesta said he wanted to bow out at the highest level.
He is expected to continue his career at Chongqing Dangdai Lifan in the Chinese Super League but remained tight-lipped on his plans. He revealed only that it will be outside Europe, reiterating he would never play against Barcelona.
He joined Barca's academy, La Masia, aged 12, and blossomed into one of the Catalans' greatest players. He won four Champions League, eight LaLiga titles and the 2010 World Cup with Spain.
A tearful 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.
Andres Iniesta is the only player to be named man of the match in a World Cup final, European Championship final, and Champions League final.
He has won 31 trophies with Barcelona and three with Spain.
Barcelona victories in the 669 games he has featured in.
"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."
His short speech was greeted by applause and the congratulations are likely to continue tomorrow, when he can collect his ninth LaLiga 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 he scored in a 5-0 win over Sevilla in the Spanish King's Cup final last weekend.
He would not be short of suitors this summer among the world's elite clubs but Iniesta said he will leave Europe. "There are things to talk about, things to finalise," he 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."
Among those likely to be disappointed is Iniesta's former coach Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, who has reportedly tried to push the merits of a move to England.
Iniesta pulled the strings in the middle of the pitch alongside Xavi Hernandez when Guardiola was in charge of Barcelona for four years.
"He helped me understand the game better, just watching him and what he does on the football pitch," Guardiola said yesterday.
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane also paid tribute to the Barcelona captain, widely regarded as one of the best players who have never won the Ballon d'Or.
"It's difficult for me and for anyone who likes football. I don't see him as a Barcelona player but a football man," the Frenchman said of Iniesta's announcement.
"I think he really deserved to win the Ballon d'Or when he won his World Cup, he had an exceptional year and he finished the World Cup by winning it, by scoring (in the final), so obviously that year he would have deserved it."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS