Andres Iniesta: Has Spain great played his last match?

Midfielder is out of contract at UAE club Emirates this summer and is one of several big-name players around the world set to call it quits

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Andres Iniesta missed what was expected to be his farewell game of professional football on Wednesday evening when the Spanish great withdrew from the line up for Emirates Club's Adnoc Pro League clash against Asian champions Al Ain.

The Barcelona legend, 40, is out of contract at the Ras Al Khaimah-based club at the end of June, and with no word on an extension or a new destination, it is conceivable the 2010 World Cup winner has played his last competitive match.

Should he call it a day, Iniesta is one of several big-name players who will hang up their boots this summer. Here are some of the stars to whom football will be bidding farewell.

Andres Iniesta

Iniesta surprised many when, at the age of 39, the midfielder signed a one-year contract with UAE club Emirates last summer. He had just completed five years in Japan with Vissel Kobe – a move that had initially been viewed as a lucrative step into semi-retirement.

But in typical Iniesta fashion, he was fully committed to the cause, securing his status as a Vissel great having guided the club as captain to their first Japanese league title in 2023. He also won the Emperor's Cup – Japan's version of the FA Cup – in 2019.

Before his Asian adventures, Iniesta secured his legacy as one of the greatest midfielders in history with boyhood club Barcelona and the Spain national team. Over 16 years at Barca spanning 759 games, Iniesta won nine La Liga titles, six Copa del Reys, four Uefa Champions League trophies, and three Fifa Club World Cups.

As part of arguably the finest midfield partnership in history alongside Xavi, the pair combined to lead Spain to an era of dominance that encompassed back-to-back European Championship titles in 2008 and 2012, either side of the 2010 World Cup triumph, where Iniesta scored the winning goal in extra time against the Netherlands.

His final club season may have ended in Emirates' relegation from the Pro League, but that is a minor footnote in an illustrious and incomparable career. A giant of the modern game.

Toni Kroos

If there was one way footballers could decide to end their club careers, most would choose to sign off after winning the Uefa Champions League. Only a select special few are afforded such an opportunity and Toni Kroos is certainly in that category.

The German midfielder announced last month that he would retire from football at the end of this summer's European Championship, where he will be aiming to guide the tournament hosts to a record fourth title. Should Kroos achieve his ambition, it would mark a glorious conclusion to a phenomenal career.

Kroos was pivotal to Real Madrid's Champions League and La Liga-double winning season, and at the age of 34, shows no signs of slowing down. Real manager Carlo Ancelotti insists the door remains open if the midfielder changes his mind.

If he sticks to his retirement plans, Kroos will hang up his boots as one of the most decorated footballers in history; his six Champions League titles make him the joint-most successful player in European Cup history.

After coming through the Bayern youth system, Kroos won three Bundesliga titles, three German Cups, one Champions League, and one Club World Cup with the Bavarian giants. He moved to Real Madrid after winning the World Cup with Germany in 2014 and went on to win four La Liga titles, five Champions Leagues, five Club World Cups, and one Copa del Rey.

"He's finished at the top. It is not possible to go out better," said Ancelotti. "He is a legend of this club and obviously we all thank him for what he has done. Not just in his play but his attitude, his professionalism. He never missed a day in these 10 years. We hope he changes his mind; we are here if he does."

Leonardo Bonucci

It takes a special player to take his place among the greats of Italian defenders. It's a position that is synonymous with the Italian game; from Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini to Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro, and many, many more, the centre-backs often define each era.

For more than a decade, the era belonged to Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, and following Chiellini's retirement last year, it's the turn of his trusted partner for club and country to follow suit.

Bonucci's final club was Turkish giants Fenerbahce, who this week appointed Jose Mourinho as manager. How the Portuguese coach would loved to have called upon a prime Bonucci next season.

The Italian defender had four permanent transfers and several loan moves early in his career, but in 2010 settled at Juventus where he struck up one of the greatest defensive partnerships in football history. Bonucci and Chiellini formed the bedrock of a Juve team that would dominate Italian football.

Bonucci won six successive Serie A titles in Turin before moving to AC Milan in 2017. He returned to Juve one season later in what must be the most lop-sided swap deal of all time. As serial winner and Italy international Bonucci made his way back to Juventus, Mattia Caldara went in the opposite direction. Caldara made one appearance for Milan.

Bonucci, meanwhile, kept collecting trophies. In all, he won eight Scudettos and four Coppa Italias with Juve in 12 years across two spells. His impenetrable partnership with Chiellini was just as effective on the international stage, the pair leading Italy to European glory in 2020.

Joe Hart

Once England's undisputed No 1, Hart will hang up his gloves this summer at the end of a thoroughly impressive career. After coming through the Shrewsbury Town academy and playing three years for the first team as a teenager, Hart moved to Manchester City in 2006.

Several loan spells followed before Hart cemented his place as the City No 1 in 2010/11 and was between the sticks for City's FA Cup final triumph that season. He then played every game of the following campaign when City won their first Premier League title since 1968 and was the regular goalkeeper for their next top-flight crown in 2013/14.

Hart also won two League Cups with City but the arrival of Pep Guardiola as manager spelt the end of his time at the Etihad. He spent short spells at Burnley and Tottenham before successfully rebooting his career with a move to Scotland with Celtic. During his three years in Glasgow, Hart won the Scottish Premiership every year, two Scottish Cups and two Scottish League Cups.

He made 75 appearances for England between making his debut in 2008 and playing his final game in 2017.

Ismail Matar

Perhaps a name many global fans may be unfamiliar with, but for those who follow Asian and Gulf football, Matar will be remembered among the greats.

Matar burst on to the scene by winning the Golden Ball for best player at the 2003 World Youth Championships (now the U20 World Cup) ahead of the likes of Iniesta and Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano after helping the UAE reach the quarter-finals on home soil.

A one-club man at Abu Dhabi's Al Wahda, Matar broke into the first team in 2001 and stayed much of the next 23 years, winning three UAE Pro League titles, the President's Cup, and League Cup.

However, it was for the UAE national team that Matar secured his legacy. In addition to his 2003 exploits as a youngster, the striker fired the UAE to their first Arabian Gulf Cup title in 2007 by scoring the decisive goal in the final. He was part of the squad again six years later, albeit in a more reduced role, as the Whites lifted the trophy for a second time.

In between those triumphs, Matar was part of an impressive collective effort at the 2012 London Olympics, scoring first in the UAE's opening match against Uruguay and again in their final game against Senegal.

Now 41 and with a fine career on which to reflect, Matar heads into retirement as one of the most influential and important players in Gulf football history.

Updated: June 06, 2024, 12:32 PM