Andres Iniesta nets reported $30m salary in Japan and vows to conquer Asia

Andres Iniesta will spend the next three years in Japan. (Reuters)
Updated 26 May 2018
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Andres Iniesta nets reported $30m salary in Japan and vows to conquer Asia

  • 'This is a big challenge for me'
  • Iniesta wants success in the AFC Champions League

KOBE, Japan: Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta on Saturday made his first appearance at Vissel Kobe since signing for the Japanese side, greeting thousands of fans and vowing to make his new club the biggest in Asia.
Wearing the number eight shirt — like he did at Barcelona — the 34-year-old World Cup winner attended a welcome ceremony at the J-League club’s home stadium in the western port city of Kobe, together with team owner Hiroshi Mikitani.
“This is a big challenge for me,” Iniesta told some 4,000 fans through an interpreter two days after signing his contract at a glitzy unveiling in Tokyo.
He displayed his ball-juggling technique and kicked footballs into the crowd, delighting fans.
“I aim to contribute to the team as much as possible,” said Iniesta, who is reported to have agreed a three-year deal with an annual salary of $30 million, a J-League record.
“I think I should pursue the best objectives in both football and my life,” he added, saying he wants Vissel to win the league and “if possible, conquer Asia.”
The midfielder, who famously scored Spain’s winning goal against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final, lifted 32 major trophies and made 674 appearances for Barcelona.
The Spain icon’s decision to choose Kobe arguably represents Japanese football’s biggest transfer coup, with many top players now moving to cash-rich Chinese clubs in the twilight of their careers.
Iniesta had said earlier this month that moving to a Chinese club was also an option for him.
His signing is a timely boost to the J-League, which used to attract luminaries such as Brazilian great Zico and former England star Gary Lineker when it began in 1993 but has struggled to attract marquee players in recent years.
Following the World Cup in Russia, Iniesta will join former Arsenal striker Lukas Podolski at Vissel, currently sixth in the J-League first division after 15 games.


Flying the flag for the Green Falcons in Russia

Saudi football fans, from left, Talal Obaid, Satam Sardid, Sultan Hawsawi and Ahmed Barnawi, in Moscow to support the Saudi national team. (AN photo)
Updated 4 min 10 sec ago
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Flying the flag for the Green Falcons in Russia

  • A group of motorcyclists is following the Saudi football team for their World Cup matches in 3 cities
  • Behind the bikers are Frankfurt, Brest, Moscow and Voronezh. They are staying now in Rostov-on-Don, where the Green Falcons will play their second match against Uruguay at Rostov Arena.

MOSCOW: To travel to Russia by motorcycle from Saudi Arabia: Risky and arduous? Well, to most, yes, but four brave men from the cities of Makkah and Madinah have just about done that, flying their motorbikes from Jeddah to Germany and driving to Russia from there.

They came up with the idea to support the Green Falcons — Saudi Arabia’s national football team — on their way to the 2018 FIFA World Cup by arranging an extraordinary motor rally from Jeddah to Russia. 

Their route follows the team to their group stage matches in three cities: From last Thursday’s opening in Moscow, to Wednesday’s game in Rostov-on-Don, and then to their third game in Volgograd next Monday.

To Ahmed Barnawi, Satam Sardidi and Sultan Hawsawi from Makkah and Talal Obaid from Madinah, their trip seemed quite adventurous. They did not know exactly what to expect. Nonetheless, they decided to go for it.

For their initiative, they got extraordinary support from Saudi Airlines and Cargo. “Saudia made a big effort to ship our bikes from Jeddah to Frankfurt and helped with the tickets,” said Barnawi, in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

After receiving that encouraging support, the four proceeded with planning the hotels and details of the route.

They started their ride from Frankfurt, heading to Russia through Poland and Belarus. They were impressed by the hospitality of the Belarusian people, who did not speak English but were helpful with “filling the customs forms,” Barnawi said. “They were wonderful.”

Entering Russia, the four were having some language barrier issues as well. But Russians used Google Translate to communicate. 

Now the four have adopted this practice. Since then, when they need anything from the Russians not speaking English, they use Google Translate and it works perfectly.

They knew “a little bit” about Russia before going, Barnawi said, but when they came to Russia “it was mad, really.”

Before going to Russia they were concerned about how Russians would receive them, if there would be racism and what their attitudes would be. But their worries were groundless. The motorcyclists said people are so friendly, they wave and give them a thumbs-up on the road.

At petrol stations, people are shocked to see them on their motorcycles, with the Saudi flags attached. They approach them in disbelief and ask about their trip. 

The four have been absolutely impressed by the country’s roads and highways. They have found that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, although it is not hot.

Entering Moscow they got “surprised by the huge buildings, wide streets.” 

Upon their arrival, they visited the Saudi Embassy in Russia and met Saudi Ambassador Raed bin Khaled Qarmali, who received them with a warm welcome. They were served tea and coffee in the reception hall and asked to share their stories and impressions.

For the first game between Russia and Saudi Arabia, they tried to enter the area of the stadium on their motorbikes, but it was not allowed by the authorities.

“We understand that maybe it was because of security issues,” said Barnawi. “We did not go to the stadium. We went to a coffee shop to watch the game on a TV.”

“The first game we did not play,” said Barnawi, giving his take on the first match between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which the Green Falcons lost 5-0.

“It was a big issue for the supporters. But we never give up, you know. We close this subject, we look forward to the next game and we are going to play it better than before. And I hope that our team will do a better job, and we will win or break even,” Barnawi continued.

Because of all the time spent on the road, the Fantastic Four do not have much of a chance to follow other countries’ games. They succeeded in watching some while mapping out the next day’s route.

Nevertheless, the four bikers are enjoying the atmosphere of the World Cup and the football euphoria that surrounds it, saying that the whole event “is just amazing, it is awesome.” 

Behind them are Frankfurt, Brest, Moscow and Voronezh. They are staying now in Rostov-on-Don, where the Green Falcons will play their second match against Uruguay at Rostov Arena. After that, they will go to Volgograd, where the team will play Egypt. They do not plan now for what will come next, hoping only for the best for the Saudi team.

Decoder

Russian phrases for Saudi visitors

While Russians use Google Translate to communicate, here are some phrases that may come in handy for those visiting the country during the FIFA World Cup. I’m from Saudi Arabia. Ya is Saudovskoy Aravii. How do I reach the stadium? Kak proyti k stadionu? What’s the score? Kakoy schet? I’m rooting/cheering for the team of Saudi Arabia! Ja boleju za komandu Saudovskoy Aravii! Congratulations! Pozdravlyau!