Football secondary during crisis: Iniesta

TOKYO: File photo shows Andres Iniesta of Vissel Kobe poses with the winners trophy after the 99th Emperor’s Cup final between Vissel Kobe and Kashima Antlers at the National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan. – AFP

TOKYO: With Spain one of the country’s hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, Barcelona great Andres Iniesta says he is finding it tough to watch events unfold in Europe from his new home in Japan. Iniesta, who joined Vissel Kobe in 2018 after a trophy laden career at Barcelona, told Reuters in an interview yesterday that while the importance of football was secondary during the health crisis it was frustrating not to be able to play.

Japan’s domestic soccer season has been put on hold during the crisis, with Iniesta remaining in Kobe with his wife and three children. The 35-year-old, one of the most technically gifted midfielders to play the game, said it was difficult to be away from his wider family and friends back in Spain. “It is a very difficult situation because you are not there with them, with your loved ones,” he said through a translator. “You can’t see what is happening on a daily life level so that is difficult but we keep talking on a daily basis, checking in with them and just hoping that the situation gets better.”

The new coronavirus has infected more than 200,000 people in Spain and killed over 20,000. Japan has confirmed more than 11,000 infections of the virus with over 250 deaths. Having to stay home and being unable to train properly has been a challenge but he is savouring being able to spend more time with his family.
“Right now, I think football becomes a secondary thing,” added Iniesta, who scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. “What is important right now is people’s lives, people’s jobs, trying to move society forward to get out of this situation.

“Having said that, of course as a professional footballer it is difficult to not be able to play football, to not be able to share time with my fans, my team mates. “I try to focus on the positive things – staying at home I get to spend much more time with my family and with my kids, which normally it is not that easy to do.”

After a 16-year spell at Barcelona that saw him win nine La Liga and four Champions Leagues titles, Iniesta decided to take up a new challenge in the J.League. His storied career and that move to Japan are the subject of a documentary about his life: ‘Andres Iniesta – The unexpected hero’, which is to be released on Thursday.

Despite winning virtually everything there is to win in Europe, Iniesta has not come to Japan to slide quietly into retirement. He led Vissel Kobe to their first piece of silverware when they won the Emperors’ Cup in January and is hungry for more success here.

After his playing days are over he says he wants to move into coaching but will take things one step at a time. “I feel I want to pursue being a coach but we will see what happens, things change on a daily basis so in a few years we don’t know what will happen,” he said. “For now, I am focusing on what I have in front of me.” When football is given the green light to resume Iniesta wants to pick up where he left off, imparting his wisdom to Kobe’s younger players and aiming for a first J.League championship.

The J.League have said it would be May at the earliest when matches can return. “I want to share my experience with the young players. I think it is my responsibility too and it forms part of the big project I came here for,” said Iniesta. “I like to talk with them, share things with them and I also like the feeling that they can ask me questions and they are learning stuff.” – Reuters

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