By Jack Tarrant
KOBE (Reuters) – Spanish great Andres Iniesta will have the strange sensation of playing against his boyhood club Barcelona, where he spent 16 trophy-filled years, in the colours of Japan’s Vissel Kobe when the two sides meet on Saturday.
Iniesta, who won 31 trophies at the Nou Camp, joined Kobe last year after leaving the Catalan side and will now face the likes of former midfield companions Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic for the first time.
Two other former Barca players – David Villa and Sergi Samper – are also set to feature for Kobe in the pre-season friendly.
“I think as a club and a team, it is a privilege to be able to play against Barca. It is a really special game which all of us will try to enjoy,” Iniesta said on Friday.
“On a personal level it’s pretty obvious that it will be special to go up against so many former team mates.
“We will prepare as best we can so that people have a good time and see a great game and that it is a special day for our fans, for the Barca fans who are here and for all of Japan.”
Busquets, who played alongside Iniesta for club and country for more than a decade, was full of praise for the 35-year-old but warned that their friendship may go out of the window come game time.
“Andres means a lot to me,” said Busquets, sitting next to his old friend.
“All the years we’ve spent together on the club, on the national squad, the friendship we’ve developed, the experiences we’ve had, both on and off the pitch… it’s special to be able to be here to be able to count on him and see him in a new part of his career.”
“But tomorrow will be really weird,” conceded the 31-year-old, who is set to captain Barcelona on Saturday.
“But after this, everything will be the same and tomorrow will be a moment to enjoy and I wish him the best from there on this adventure.”
Busquets may be joined in midfield on Saturday by new signing Frenkie de Jong, who joined from Ajax Amsterdam this month.
“We know what he did last season with Ajax and we’ve signed a great player,” said the Spaniard.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Christian Radnedge)