Barcelona tied down captain Andres Iniesta for the rest of his career as the club announced on Friday the 33-year-old midfielder has agreed a “lifetime contract”.
“Iniesta signed a lifetime contract with FC Barcelona on Friday, in a deal that will keep him at the club for the rest of his career,” Barca said in a statement.
Along with five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, Iniesta is Barca’s most decorated player of all-time having won 30 trophies at club level, including eight La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues.
Iniesta has also made the second highest number of appearances in a Barca shirt behind Xavi Hernandez with 639 since his debut 15 years ago.
Born in the central Spanish region of Castilla-La Mancha before joining Barca at the age of 12, Iniesta is a beloved figure across Spain as he scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final.
Normally determined to shy away from the spotlight, Iniesta spoke out on Thursday to urge negotiation and prevent a spiralling political crisis over the battle for Catalan independence deepening.
Hundreds required medical attention on Sunday as voters in a referendum on independence, deemed illegal by Spain’s central government, clashed with police.
“I have never before publicly commented on situations that are so complex and involve such diverse emotions, but this situation we are experiencing is exceptional,” Iniesta wrote in a Facebook post.
“One thing I know for sure: before we do any more harm, those who are responsible for all this must hold dialogue.
“Do it for all of us. We deserve to live in peace.”
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) October 6, 2017
Iniesta has previously tended to do his talking on the field as a fundamental figure in Barca’s most successful ever era. Alongside long-time midfield partner Xavi for both club and country, Iniesta formed the axis of Pep Guardiola’s legendary side that won 14 trophies in four years between 2008 and 2012.
His previous contract was due to expire at the end of the season and doubts over his future were raised when he refuted Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s claims a deal “in principle” was in place last month.
Bartomeu has received fierce criticism for his handling of both sporting and institutional matters in recent months.
He decided to play Barca’s home game against Las Palmas on Sunday behind closed doors as a protest against events in Catalonia on Sunday, leading to the resignation of two board members.
And Barca’s haphazard approach in the transfer market following Neymar’s world record departure to Paris Saint-Germain also saw Bartomeu face a vote of no confidence from disgruntled club members.
However, in tying down Iniesta, Bartomeu has at least ensured that one of Barca’s all-time greats will see out the rest of his career at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona Football Club and its captain Andres Iniesta on Thursday urged dialogue to resolve a volatile political crisis over Catalonia’s drive for independence.
“I have never before publicly commented on situations that are so complex and involve such diverse emotions, but this situation we are experiencing is exceptional,” the 33-year-old midfielder wrote in a Facebook message.
“One thing I know for sure: before we do any more harm, those who are responsible for all this must hold dialogue. Do it for all of us. We deserve to live in peace.”
Iniesta was the hero of Spain’s 2010 World Cup final victory over the Netherlands, scoring his side’s dramatic late goal in a 1-0 win after extra time.
He was born in the central Spanish region of Castilla-La Mancha but joined FC Barcelona when he was 12 years old.
Tensions mounted between Catalonia and Madrid this week after Catalans went ahead with a banned independence referendum that was marred by police violence.
The government has refused calls for mediation in the dispute and Catalan leaders have threatened to declare independence in days.
The football club, one of the biggest in the world and a strong symbol of Catalan identity, called for “dialogue and respect” in a separate statement.
“FC Barcelona, as one of the country’s best-known entities, demands that a process of dialogue and negotiation be launched to find political solutions to the situation Catalonia is experiencing,” it said.
It added that the process should be carried out “with the utmost respect for the will of the Catalan people to decide their future.”
Iniesta’s Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique, a Catalan native and another Spain World Cup hero, was jeered by fans at training this week for supporting the independence referendum.
He insisted he would keep playing for Spain until he retires from international football after next year’s World Cup.
Dialogue, respect and sport pic.twitter.com/jTolVSAsSk
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) October 5, 2017
We’re footballers but we’re people too. Why can a journalist or a mechanic express themselves but not a footballer?”
Gerard Pique stands in a small club at present; a footballer comfortable and willing to speak his mind even in the midst of such anger towards him. Whatever your views, it’s difficult not to be impressed with how Pique conducted himself in the wake of events in
Catalonia and subsequent fallout.
As the most outspoken high-profile figure within Catalonia’s strive for a referendum and independence, Pique has become a lightning rod for those in disagreement.
He is routinely booed, cheered, mocked and insulted at Spain games and rival stadiums when playing for Barcelona over the years but has forever stuck to his message and what he believes in, for his city and his region.
It would be easy to keep his thoughts to himself, retreat into a carefully-managed PR bubble and the comfortable lifestyle of being a multi-millionaire footballer.
Except the issue is bigger than that, and Pique has shown himself to perhaps be a greater statesman than he is a defender.
He spoke emotionally and honestly after Barcelona’s bizarre 3-0 victory over Las Palmas, played behind closed doors at the Camp Nou due to the violence that had occurred in the city as Spanish police attacked protesters.
Dumbfounded at what had happened in his city, he didn’t need to say anything but felt he had to.
And now as the issue has been magnified in a sporting sense with the Spanish national team convening for two World Cup qualifiers, he felt the need to speak again.
Pre-match press conferences are, in the main, totally unremarkable. Players and managers sit for 10-15 minutes, mostly answering variations of questions they’ve heard several times before.
Most of the time the subjects at the table want to get away as quickly as possible. But in Pique’s case, upon sitting down he said, “I will answer all your question and stay here as long as it takes.”
Whether or not he got his message fully across – his love of Catalonia but also a loyalty to La Roja and pride of performing for Spain alongside his team-mates – will be witnessed at the Estadio Jose Rico Perez in Alicante on Friday night.
But jeering sportspeople with opinions is particularly pertinent with what has occurred in the NFL with players following Colin Kaepernick and taking the knee.
Ja he votat. Junts som imparables defensant la democràcia. pic.twitter.com/mGXf7Qj1TM
— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) October 1, 2017
It’s clear is there are considerable sections of fans uncomfortable with those who they seek entertainment from doing anything beyond, “what they’re paid to do.”
We’re content liking banal Twitter posts, scrolling through tedious Instagram images and watching the daily deja vu of post-event TV interviews, cluttered with cliches.
But anything presented of substance, or off-message seems alien. Surely the sporting world is a richer one when the individuals who inhabit it are exactly that; singular minds capable of thinking for themselves, even if you agree with them or not. Muhammad Ali’s greatness is carved by as much as what he said, as it is what he did inside the ring.
The increasingly corporate blanket cast over professional sport limits how much we truly know about those who entertain us and we idolise. We’re presented an idea, a glossy representation but, in truth, is rarely accurate.
Pique is one of the few willing to show their actual personality. It should be applauded, not derided.