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Japan’s Vissel Kobe linked to Barcelona captain Iniesta

Tokyo, May 18 (IANS) FC Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta has been signed by Japanese club Vissel Kobe, a Japanese sports daily reported on Friday, weeks after the midfielder had announced he would leave the former European champions at the end of the season.

The Sports Hochi reported that Iniesta had finalized the deal with the club after the World Cup in Russia, and added that the club could announce the news next week, reports Efe news agency.

The report also said the transfer would be announced after Barcelona plays its match against Real Sociedad on May 20, and Iniesta is expected to visit Japan following the match, possibly to meet Hiroshi Mikitani, the owner of tech giant Rakuten and Vissel Kobe.

A club spokesperson, however, refused to confirm the news to Efe on Friday.

Rumors about Iniesta joining the J-League have been rife since May 8, although sources from the club had told Efe that they were surprised by such reports in the Japanese media.

Mikitani added fuel to the fire on May 15 when he enigmatically tweeted “OO,” a possible reference to Iniesta’s number 8 jersey for Barcelona.

Vissel, based in the port city of Kobe, plays at the Misaki Park Stadium — with a capacity of 30,000 — and are currently seventh in the J-league standings.

Other famous players of the club include Michael Laudrup, who played in Japan in the 1996-1997 season after leaving Real Madrid and before ending his career at Amsterdam-based Ajax.

Iniesta, born in 1984 in Spain, announced the end of his career at Barcelona, a club where he played for 22 years, in an emotional press conference on April 27.

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