Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta announced in an emotional news conference on Friday he is leaving the Liga club at the end of this season after 16 trophy-filled years pulling the strings at the heart of their midfield.
The Spain international broke down in tears at Barcelona's training ground with all his teammates present and a packed press room burst into applause when he finished his opening statement.
"This is my last season here. This is a decision I have thought about for a very long time and have considered a lot, thinking about myself and my family," Iniesta said. "I understand that after 22 years here I know what it means to be a player for this team, which for me is the best in the world."
"There are still things to sort out and everything will become clearer at the end of the season but I have always said I would never go to a team that competes with Barcelona," he said.
Iniesta has spent all of his senior career at Barcelona and is their most decorated player ever along with Lionel Messi, having lifted 31 trophies, which is soon to be 32 if Barca clinch the Liga title on Sunday at Deportivo La Coruna.
"To play with Messi has been and still is an honour and a privilege," Iniesta said. "To share with him so many magical moments is a privilege because I understand there is no other player like him. As a team-mate and a footballer, being so close to him has been unique and magical."
Iniesta is expected to continue his career at a club in the Chinese Super League but remained tight-lipped on his next destination. The 33-year-old revealed only that it will be outside Europe, reiterating he would never play against Barcelona.
Struggling to hold back the tears, Iniesta said: "I understand that in the near future I will not be able to give the best of myself in all senses, both physically and mentally.
"If I had imagined finishing my career here, it would have been like this, feeling useful, feeling important and still winning titles. It's a very difficult day for me because I've been here all my life and to say goodbye to my home and my life here is very hard."
Asked how he would like to be remembered, Iniesta said: "It's easy, I want to be remembered as a great football player and a great person."
What They Said
You have to say he is the most important player of this winning era that started in 2004. He arrived here at the age of 12 and has had his entire career here. He has been a shining example both for the sport and himself personally, right until the last game last weekend [in the Copa Del Rey]. All parents would want to have a son like Iniesta.
-- Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
What I'm going to say will maybe make headlines tomorrow. I think he really deserved to win the Ballon d´Or when he won his World Cup, he had an exceptional year and he finished the World Cup by winning it, by scoring [in the final], so obviously that year he would have deserved it.
-- Zinedine Zidane
I could spend a lot of minutes talking about him, he's another part of the history of Barca in the last 15 or 20 years which would not be possible without him. I just want to say thank you because he helped me to understand the game better. Just watching him do what he does on the football pitch despite the amount of tackles, the way he's a professional... I thank him so much for what he has done.
-- Pep Guardiola
Partner, teammate, FRIEND. Only your generosity is greater than your talent. It was great playing alongside you! Thank you so much!
It has been a pleasure to be able to enjoy your football for Spain and share the jersey with you. Together we won the most beautiful. Separately, maximum rivalry with the most respect.
-- Iker Casillas
THE DON'S CABINET
La Liga (8): 2004–05, 2005–06, 2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11, 2012–13, 2014–15, 2015–16
Copa del Rey (6): 2009, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018
Supercopa de Espana (7): 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016
UEFA Champions League (4): 2005–06, 2008–09, 2010–11, 2014–15
UEFA Super Cup (3): 2009, 2011, 2015
FIFA Club World Cup (3): 2009, 2011, 2015
FIFA World Cup: 2010
UEFA European Championship (2): 2008, 2012