Emirates Club hope Andres Iniesta's arrival can attract 'everyone' to the UAE

Club chairman Yousef Abdullah Al Batran optimistic as former Barcelona and Spain star begins new chapter at Ras Al Khaimah side

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Emirates Club expect the signing of Andres Iniesta will make the club and the Adnoc Pro League significantly more attractive to other high-profile footballers and to outside investment.

The Ras Al Khaimah side, back in the UAE top-flight after a season in the second tier, announced Iniesta’s shock addition earlier this week. The former Barcelona and Spain midfielder, 39, was introduced to media on Wednesday having agreed to a one-year contract with the option of another year.

A World Cup winner and two-time European champion with Spain, Iniesta is one of the most decorated footballers in history. He spent 22 trophy-laden years at Spanish giants Barcelona until 2018, while he arrives in the UAE following a five-year spell in Japan with Vissel Kobe.

Currently, Iniesta has close to 100 million followers combined across social media platforms.

“We’re glad to make everybody happy here and to be hosting Iniesta in the UAE,” Yousef Abdullah Al Batran, the Emirates Club chairman, told The National. “Iniesta has a value to add to our league.

“He is a big name so he will generate more in TV rights, and he will bring a lot of media to come cover the club. He will give the club energy, adding a lot from his side. The whole of the world will focus on our team because Iniesta is with us.

“We are very honoured to have quality like Iniesta; he’s also a technical player, so he can add to our team, to our league. We wish a lot of things from him. He will lead all the companies and sponsors to come to us and target the Emirates."

Andres Iniesta will breathe new life into Emirates Club, chairman says

Andres Iniesta will breathe new life into Emirates Club, chairman says

Al Batran added: “Today I send a message to all the countries in the world: this is the chance to come to the UAE, especially to Ras Al Khaimah. We use the name of Iniesta here so we can attract everyone. The big names pull in a lot of companies.

“That’s the biggest thing for us - marketing. And more things are coming soon.”

Iniesta, who left Vissel on July 1 midway through the J-League season, said he chose Emirates Club over a number of options because of the project presented to him.

“There is a balance between us,” Al Batran said. “Our project is suiting him, so we are both aligned on one target. When they work with another partner, the first thing we feel is if the person has the same vision, that both strategies are coming together.

“I know you will say sports is a business; I believe that. There is a plan here as a business. We have a programme with Iniesta to establish our future strategy.”

Al Batran said Iniesta’s arrival could convince other prominent footballers to follow him to the Adnoc Pro League, while also motivate other UAE clubs to attempt to sign players of similar calibre.

“In the UAE, we are establishing these kinds of ideas,” Al Batran said. “It’s not going to be easy, but we’re trying to do a lot to attract everyone here.

"So we open the door for all the clubs. And I believe a lot of clubs will follow us.”

Iniesta trained with his new teammates for the first time on Thursday night. He is expected to make his debut on August 19, when Emirates Club mark their return to the top-flight away at Al Wasl.

Last season, they finished second in the first division. To date, their greatest success is winning the 2010 President’s Cup.

Iniesta, meanwhile, claimed 22 major trophies at Barcelona, including nine La Liga titles and four Uefa Champions League crowns. After moving to Japan in 2018, he helped guide Vissel to the Emperor's Cup in 2019 and the Super Cup the following season.

Asked what would constitute success on the pitch with Iniesta, Al Batran said: “Iniesta is a big player. We know all the details about him, that he’s physically ready, that he’s technical.

“I believe Iniesta will add a lot for us. I guarantee that he will achieve something here.”

Updated: August 11, 2023, 6:30 AM