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Iniesta joins Japanese club Vissel Kobe

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TOKYO (AP) Former Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta was introduced as the newest member of Japanese club Vissel Kobe on Thursday, a poorly kept secret that’s been rumored for weeks.

Iniesta appeared before a packed news conference at a central Tokyo hotel on Thursday along with Kobe’s billionaire owner, Hiroshi Mikitani.

[READ: Earnie Stewart being considered for U.S. Soccer post]

“I’m pleased to announce,” Mikitani said, “that Andres Iniesta will be signing up play with Vissel Kobe after his historic career at Barcelona.”

Iniesta signed his contract as Mikitani watched, and then spoke through an interpreter.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but Japanese media are reporting he will earn $30 million annually on a three-year deal.

“For me this is a very special day,” the Spaniard said. “This is an important challenge for me. My family is excited to come to Japan and we are very pleased. There were many offers. Other clubs showed interest. But I decided to sign with Vissel Kobe because the project presented to me was impressive.”

Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona sponsor Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer.

Iniesta held up the team’s red shirt with his famous No. 8 on the back, and his name written across the bottom.

Iniesta previously had said he would probably retire from international soccer after Spain plays at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

The 34-year-old Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. He also was a key part of Spain’s two European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

He announced last month he would leave Barcelona after 16 seasons. His last match for the Spanish club was on Sunday against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Vissel Kobe is in sixth place after 15 games in the J-League. It signed Lukas Podolski last year, but the German striker is out until the end of June with an injured calf.

VIDEO: Coutinho scores brilliant curler; Iniesta walks off

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It’s often funny to read the A. in front of Andres Iniesta’s surname on his match jersey, as if there’s any other.

On Sunday, the 34-year-old midfielder walked off the field for the last time (video at bottom) as a Barcelona player, handing the captain’s arm band to Lionel Messi and beginning a new era for both the club and player.

[ MORE: Bayern salutes Heynckes (again) ]

Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 1-0 on Sunday in the final La Liga match of the season.

While the match will be remembered as Iniesta’s last with Blaugranas, Philippe Coutinho gave a glimpse of the future with his eighth goal of the season and sixth in his last five games.

Barca finishes a 1-loss season with 99 goals and a 14-point lead over La Liga runners-up Atletico Madrid.

Report: Andres Iniesta to sign 3-year deal with Japanese club

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Barcelona living legend Andres Iniesta will take his talents and his tastes to Japan.

Cadena Sur reports that Iniesta, who turns 34 on Saturday, is going to join Vissel Kobe on a three-year deal which will pay around $30 million per year.

[ MORE: John Terry could return next year ]

Why Japan? The club has reportedly decided to help Iniesta develop his wineries.

Yep.

This comes on the same day that Chinese Super League club Chongqing Dangdai Lifan said Iniesta would not be playing for the club despite reports to the contrary.

Iniesta has played 672 times for Barcelona, scoring 57 goals and adding 141 assists while collecting nine La Liga championships, six Copa Del Rey crowns, and four UEFA Champions League titles.

Iniesta move to Chongqing up in the air

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Andres Iniesta is leaving Barcelona at the end of this season. But the club where he was rumored to sign is now saying publicly that he isn’t joining “as a player.”

A statement from Chinese Super League club Chongqing Dangdai Lifan said that contrary to rumors and reports, the club did not have any immediate plans to sign Iniesta. Recent reports out of Spain stated that Chongquing Dangdai Lifan had offered Iniesta a three-year, $96.5 million contract, as well as agreeing to just 50 percent of Iniesta’s image rights and buying six million bottles of his personal wine label.

[WATCH: Man City celebrates title-winning team in hometowns]

The statement from Chongqing says the club is committed to spending rationally, especially investing at the youth levels of the club to better develop players for the first team. Manager Paulo Bento’s side, which is made up of mostly Chinese players along with a few Brazilians and an Argentine, is currently sitting in 10th place with just 11 points after nine games.

This latest statement doesn’t ultimately mean that Iniesta won’t end up signing with Chongqing, or that he won’t end up joining another team. But it increases speculation and opens a door for Iniesta to move to another club in Europe, perhaps Manchester City, or whether he decides to join a club in North America or the Middle East.

It’s also possible that Iniesta ends up retiring as a player and a one-club man, and joins Chongqing as a technical director or coach, where he can still take advantage of his marketable image rights.

Either way, it’s a PR boost to Chongqing, who went from being likely unknown to most people outside of East Asia to a household name, just by being associated with Iniesta.

Barcelona celebrates La Liga triumph in city parade

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona players and coaches showed off the Spanish league and Copa del Rey trophies to the city and themselves in selfies in a victory parade on Monday.

Riding atop an open bus, the team chanted and saluted fans as they wended through city streets before thousands of people.

[ MORE: Real Madrid-Bayern preview ]

The two-hour-long parade also served as a farewell for veteran playmaker Andres Iniesta, who last week announced he will not return for a 17th season with the club. The words “Infinit Iniesta” were painted on the bus that carried the team.

Barcelona won the Spanish league for the seventh time in 10 seasons on Sunday, a week after clinching its fourth straight Copa del Rey title.

Barcelona still has four matches left in the league but can’t be caught by second-place Atletico Madrid or third-place Real Madrid.

Barcelona failed in its attempt to win the treble when it was eliminated by Roma in the Champions League quarterfinals.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)