Japan’s biggest soccer star is staying. Announced earlier this week at a press conference in Tokyo, legendary Spanish midfielder Andrés Iniesta has agreed to a two-year contract extension with Vissel Kobe.
Since first arriving in Kobe in 2018, Iniesta has helped lead the club to new heights, including Vissel’s first-ever trophy, The Emperor’s Cup, and a memorable run in the AFC Champions League. Over 77 matches with the Rakuten owned J.League side, he has racked up 16 goals and 17 assists, while bringing world-class leadership and creativity to the club.
“The most important thing for me was to feel trust. I felt I was being appreciated and that was the most important thing for me when deciding to extend my contract.I still feel motivated to give my best to Vissel and to this project, so I am excited for the future.”Andrés Iniesta
Iniesta’s run captaining Vissel comes after a dazzling 22-year career with FC Barcelona, which saw him help the Spanish team accumulate 32 titles and 34 trophies, including his own UEFA Best Player in Europe Award and the Golden Foot. He is also revered for his national team play, scoring the decisive goal to help Spain claim victory in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Iniesta, who was joined on stage at the event by Rakuten Group Chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani, reflected on time he has spent in Kobe and expressed excitement for the future.
“I am so grateful to the Vissel Kobe staff, teammates, and fans, for showing me so much love and respect, and welcoming me as a member of the family. This is a very special day for me.”
“Three years ago, here in Tokyo, we announced an exciting project. As I said at that time, undertaking this challenge will be a major step for both me and my family. President Mikitani trusted me when launching this project, and I’m thankful that, three years later, he still has this same trust in me.”
Asked about his main reason for extending with Vissel, Iniesta was clear. “The most important thing for me was to feel trust. I felt I was being appreciated and that was the most important thing for me when deciding to extend my contract. I still feel motivated to give my best to Vissel and to this project, so I am excited for the future.”
“I want to finish my career as a professional footballer here, and I also want to maintain a working relationship with this club, not only as a football player. That is my hope.”
A role model on and off the pitch
“I believe his play, his philosophy, and his approach will make an impact not only on young people who play football, but on Japanese society as a whole.”Mickey Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten Group
“This announcement is about more than just an ordinary two-year extension,” explained Mikitani in his opening statement. “I believe this is a commitment from Andrés Iniesta that he will continue to offer his leadership and keep participating in this project to make Vissel Kobe the number one club in Asia.”
Mikitani also heaped praise on Iniesta’s leadership and teamwork, which has helped elevate the club.
“The man is clearly a Maestro, with world-class football technique and a mind for the game which were even more impressive than I had imagined. But I think what really impressed me is his altruistic way of thinking. He cares about the team, about the people around him, and about society.”
Of course, Iniesta’s impact also extends far outside the soccer pitch. “I believe his play, his philosophy, and his approach will make an impact not only on young people who play football, but on Japanese society as a whole,” said Mikitani.
With Iniesta’s continued commitment to the club, Vissel Kobe have real reason for optimism. Through 13 games this season, the team sits in fifth place in the rankings and appears to be rounding into mid-season form.
For fans of the beautiful game in Kobe, and around the globe, Vissel are sure to remain the team to watch well into the future.
For more about Vissel Kobe, visit here.