EXTRA TIME: Eto'o, Elneny, Boateng pay tribute to Andres Iniesta

Lawrence Cooper
April 28, 2018

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has hailed Andres Iniesta as the club's "most important player" since 2004 as the midfielder nears the end of his spell at Camp Nou. The 33-year-old revealed only that it will be outside Europe, reiterating he would never play against Barcelona.

After a period of 16 long seasons with the club that witnessed him lift an astonishing total of 31 trophies, including 8 La Liga titles and 4 UEFA Champions League titles.

"It is a hard day for me to be here saying goodbye when I've spent my whole life here", he said in an emotional news conference watched by his family, team-mates and manager Ernesto Valverde.

Iniesta was named player of the tournament when they defended the title in 2012. Barcelona need only a point against Deportivo La Coruna to be crowned champions. Looking back on that strike in his diary of Barca's treble-winning 2008/09 season, Un Any Al Paradis, Iniesta wrote: "I connected with that shot with the outside, not the inside or the tip of my boot, but right from my heart, with all my might". I know the responsibility I have as the captain and the responsibility to be honest with myself and the club by bringing my time at the club to an end this season.

Iniesta - who said he has no intention of ever playing against Barcelona - is expected to move to Chinese Super League club Chongqing Dangdai Lifan, with negotiations understood to have already been held.

But he will also be remembered as the humble Galactico, nearly the anti-star, who spurned the bling and trappings of the modern football hero for the life of a quiet family man away from the media glare.

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The loss of Iniesta is a blow to the entire Spanish league. He would have won the Ballon d´Or in 2010 but finished second to Lionel Messi.

"There are things to talk about, things to finalise", he said. "And I have always said that if I am not able to give my all to my club that has given me everything then I wouldn't be happy".

Lionel Messi, his team-mate for nearly a decade and a half and also one of the close fidus Achates, took to photo-sharing app Instagram to send an emotional message.

Yet, just as key to Iniesta's status as a national treasure in Spain as his World Cup victor, is a humility often at odds with modern football and the ostentatious lifestyle of its highly paid stars.

Iniesta admitted to a hard beginning in Barcelona, as he missed his home close to Albacete in central Spain, and later confessed to "crying rivers" because he missed his parents.

But sensing the end was near, Barcelona paid a club-record 160 million euros ($192 million) to pry Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool in January. "And that is all I have tried to do, to be both the great player and the great person that this club deserves".

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