Andres Iniesta says he will do "everything possible" to have a lasting influence on both Emirates Club and UAE football, as he accepts his latest move will most probably represent the final stop in his playing career before stepping into management.
The Barcelona great, 39, this week became possibly the most prominent signing in UAE football history when he was confirmed at the newly promoted Adnoc Pro League side on an initial one-year contract. There is an option to extend for another season should the move go well.
One of the most decorated footballers in the game, Iniesta arrives at Ras Al Khaimah's Emirates Club following five years in Japan with Vissel Kobe. Before that, the midfielder spent 22 trophy-laden years at Barcelona, winning 22 major titles.
Meanwhile, in a 133-cap international career, Iniesta helped Spain capture the 2010 World Cup – he scored the winner in the final – and two European Championship crowns, in 2008 and 2012.
Speaking to The National on Wednesday night after he was introduced to the media as Emirates Club’s star addition, Iniesta said the overall project presented to him was the decisive factor in choosing the UAE.
“I'm very excited, very eager to keep playing football, to continue my career and try to help my teammates and my club to keep growing,” Iniesta said. “And like in every decision I've made, I want to help and I want to keep enjoying football.
“I hope I can make a maximum impact, in everything I can do and accomplish at football, the academy and training level. I'm 100 per cent focused in accomplishing that.”
Iniesta, who is expected to make his debut in the club’s 2023/24 league season opener at Al Wasl on August 19, said he had many offers to continue his career elsewhere.
At Barcelona, he made 674 appearances and was integral to the Spanish side’s dominance both domestically and in Europe. Among his many honours, Iniesta won nine La Liga titles, four Uefa Champions Leagues, the Copa del Rey six times and three Fifa Club World Cup crowns.
The first of the Club World Cup titles was sealed in Abu Dhabi, in 2009.
Asked if Emirates Club would represent the concluding juncture in his celebrated playing career, and if he had plans to enter management, perhaps in the UAE, Iniesta said: “It's obvious that time runs against me, but I don't know if it will be one year or two years. Honestly, I don't know.
“When this year ends, we will speak with the club with myself, and if everybody is happy and I'm still eager and willing to keep playing, then I will.
“And from then on, we will try and work on other aspects. I would like to become a manager. Let's see what happens.”
Andres Iniesta's career highlights - in pictures
During his time at Vissel Kobe, Iniesta was credited with his impact off the pitch as much as on it, especially in raising the profile of the J-League.
He made 134 appearances for the Japanese club, winning the Emperor's Cup in 2019 and the Super Cup the following season.
On what would represent success at Emirates Club, Iniesta said: “I don't know - it all comes down to doing a good job, of feeling good with yourself, that the club thinks the work you're doing is positive and that we can have this trust to keep going until I don't know.
“I like to think of the present and then we will keep growing.”