By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta is on the verge of signing for Japanese top-flight side Vissel Kobe, Spanish media said on Wednesday, reporting that the former Barcelona captain will announce the move officially on Thursday.
Barcelona-based newspaper Mundo Deportivo said the midfielder, who played his final game for Barca on Sunday after a glittering 16-year career, flew to Japan on Wednesday and is expected to hold a news conference the next day.
Kobe are owned by Hiroshi Mikitani, who is also the chief executive of Barcelona’s main sponsor Rakuten. They have never won Japan’s league championship and are currently placed seventh in the J-League.
If Iniesta completes the move he will join up with former German international Lukas Podolski, who joined Kobe last year.
Barcelona and Denmark great Michael Laudrup played for Kobe for one season between 1996 and 1997, while former Barca striker Gary Lineker saw out his playing career in Japan with Nagoya Grampus.
Iniesta announced at a news conference in April that he was calling time on his long career with Barca, where he moved to aged 12 in 1996 to join the club’s academy.
He lifted a ninth La Liga title on Sunday in a fitting send off at Barca’s stadium, with his team mates all giving him a guard of honour and wearing his name and number eight on the back of their shirts during the title celebrations.
After signing his contract with his new club, Iniesta will join up with the Spain squad next Monday to begin preparations for the World Cup in Russia.
They will be looking to lift the trophy for a second time after Iniesta’s goal in the 2010 final against the Netherlands gave them their first triumph.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge)