Andres Iniesta has revealed he has undergone surgery in Barcelona for an injury that is expected to keep him out for up to four months. 

The former Barca midfielder suffered a tear in his rectus femoris muscle while playing for Vissel Kobe in an AFC Champions League tie against Suwon Bluewings. 

Following further evaluation by the Japanese club's medical team, the Spaniard had an operation back in his homeland, with the procedure carried out by doctor Ramon Cugat. 

Posting an image from hospital on social media, Iniesta made clear he is already focused on a return to action in 2021.

"The surgery has been a success and I am feeling very well," he wrote in a statement shared on Twitter. "My objective is to get back on track as soon as possible and enjoy what I like doing the most.

"All my energy is already put into the recovery and the work that lies ahead. 

"I want to thank all of you for your kind words, thank Vissel Kobe and the club's medical services for their support, and especially doctor Ramon Cugat and his team."

Now 36, Iniesta moved to Japan in 2018 after ending his distinguished career at Barca, where he won LaLiga nine times. He also lifted the Champions League trophy on four occasions, too.

The former Spain international made 131 appearances for his country and scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final against the Netherlands. 

Fabio Cannavaro discussed his love for Andres Iniesta, saying he watched the former Barcelona midfielder over Lionel Messi.

Iniesta, now playing for J1League outfit Vissel Kobe, celebrated his 36th birthday on Monday.

The former Spain international left Barcelona in 2018 after a trophy-laden stint with the LaLiga giants.

Cannavaro, who won two LaLiga titles as a Real Madrid player, said he always had eyes on Iniesta, widely regarded as one of the best midfielders of all-time.

"He played with such style, you couldn't help but love him when you saw him play," the Italian told AS.

"He was a perfect professional, very humble ... I loved him.

"Everybody might have been watching Messi but I was watching Iniesta."

Like most major events to do with Barcelona, Andres Iniesta's Copa del Rey final farewell in 2018 was best summed up by Lionel Messi.

They had combined for the goal of the game. Iniesta glided forward, fed Messi, collected his return pass, dummied exquisitely past David Soria and fired home. After the jumping fist pump and the player huddle came Messi's tribute: eyes closed, he hugged his long-time team-mate, the image a silent reflection of the headline that would follow in AS the next day: "Iniesta, don't go!".

Messi knew, though. The news was confirmed the following Friday, but it came as no surprise: Iniesta was to leave Barcelona at the end of 2017-18, after 22 years at the club. He moved to Vissel Kobe, backed by Barca sponsors Rakuten, where he has already added two trophies to a staggering collection of 37 in his senior career for club and country.

The decision brought sadness, a sense of an era coming to a close, but also frustration. That Copa final, the Iniesta Final, showed everyone he still had plenty to offer European football as he approached the age of 34. But if anything, that strengthened the resolve that the time was right: like Xavi after the treble in 2015, Iniesta left on a high, his powers intact, his legacy immovable.

His achievements are remarkable. The Copa was his 34th career trophy; his 35th was LaLiga title number nine. He scored the winning goal in a World Cup final; he was named player of the tournament at Euro 2012 as Spain defended their crown; he became the first man to assist a goal in three different Champions League finals. "This kid will retire us all," Pep Guardiola famously told Xavi. He wasn't far wrong.

"If Andres was called 'Andresinho', he would have two Ballons d'Or," Sergio Ramos said two years ago after France Football apologised for never giving him the prize. "World heritage" was how former boss Luis Enrique described him, and such is the global respect for a man who has had standing ovations at the Santiago Bernabeu, in Turin and at the Wanda Metropolitano as an opposition player, a popular vote for the Ballon d'Or always felt plausible.

He is not the perfect midfielder, if there can be such a thing.

He should have scored more goals; he never reached double figures in a single season. He registered only seven assists in LaLiga across his last three campaigns, although that's a stat impacted by the change to a functional midfield set-up under Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde.

But watching Iniesta gather the ball, execute a change of pace and set an attack underway has always remained one of the joys of the sport. It is majesty in motion, apparently simple yet uncommonly hard to do, and he's done it every 90 minutes, every week, since 2002. "I've known him for 15 years and he's never, ever had a bad game," Fernando Torres once said.

"He's fantastic. He's the most talented Spanish player of all time. He's an amazing player and a wonderful person with a huge heart," Xavi told UEFA.com about his old midfield partner, his cohort in a generation-defining partnership. He once wrote: "Sometimes I get the feeling Andres doesn't realise how important he is: one day he'll retire and we'll see the magnitude of what he has done."

Iniesta is not finished yet, but reflections and tributes on his 36th birthday show what he still means to Barca and Spain.

He left LaLiga a rare figure indeed: a universally appreciated and admired footballer. He is the greatest Spain have ever produced, for his longevity, his triumphs, his elegance, his dignity. He has come far from the boy who cried when he joined La Masia at the age of 12. He teared up during the Copa final, too; perhaps that was a fitting bookend.

Iniesta won't be remembered as Barca's finest youth product. That honour belongs to Messi, a man who dominates headlines for feats that sometimes defy all logic, with even players of Iniesta's calibre left in the background. 

And yet, for Messi, that's precisely what makes his old friend a master of his craft. In the midfielder's book, The Artist: Being Iniesta, Messi said: "I know how difficult it is to do what he does. He does everything well, with simplicity. At times, it may look like he's not doing anything, but in fact he's doing it all.

"Everything is different with Andres. The hardest thing to do in football is to make it look like everything is easy, effortless, and that's Andres."

Picking out the best bits from the career of Andres Iniesta is rather like trying to get the ball off him. It's damnably difficult.

Still, to mark the former Spain and Barcelona star's 36th birthday, we have selected 10 truly top moments from one of the 21st century's finest footballers.

These have been chosen from among his career highlights with Barca and the national team, so, Vissel Kobe fans, we must apologise.

Enjoy a stroll down memory lane to look at 'The Artist' and his finest work...

2006: FINAL SUPER-SUB

Iniesta later admitted his "blood was boiling" when he learned he was on the bench for the 2006 Champions League final against Arsenal.

With Barca 1-0 down at half-time, Frank Rijkaard moved to rectify that error by introducing the midfielder for Edmilson. It proved pivotal.

Fellow subs Henrik Larsson and Juliano Belletti, along with Samuel Eto'o, might have provided the telling touches to secure a 2-1 victory, but it was Iniesta's arrival that catalysed the comeback. Future team-mate Thierry Henry, who was in that Arsenal side, recalled: "The person who really killed me was Andres. When he comes on, everything changes."

 

2009: INIESTAZO AT STAMFORD BRIDGE

Chelsea fans might remember this Champions League semi-final second leg for a string of questionable refereeing decisions, but there is one moment that will forever stay with Barca fans.

The Catalans were moments from going out to a Michael Essien strike, but Iniesta's thumping effort from outside the box in the third minute of injury time sent them through on away goals.

Barca went on to beat Manchester United in the final and win the treble in Pep Guardiola's first season in charge. Iniesta's goal made it all possible.

2010: WORLD CUP GLORY

Iniesta recalled his winning goal in extra time of the 2010 World Cup final as a moment of clarity, when it seemed as though the world drifted into slow motion.

That feeling of calm was a far cry from the year leading up to the tournament, in which the player struggled badly with mental and emotional concerns despite his success on the pitch. "It was like nothing was right," he recalled in his book, The Artist: Being Iniesta.

The loss of his friend Dani Jarque in 2009 - the Espanyol defender who died at just 26 years old - had deeply affected Iniesta, and it was only fitting he celebrated securing Spain's first World Cup by pulling off his shirt to reveal a message beneath reading: "Dani Jarque, always with us."

2010: A CLASICO FOR THE AGES

Guardiola's Barca reached their peak in 2010-11 and arguably their greatest performance came in November 2010 against Real Madrid.

Jose Mourinho's first taste of the Clasico as Madrid coach ended in a 5-0 battering at Camp Nou in which Iniesta, Xavi and Sergio Busquets utterly dominated proceedings.

He was not among the goals - Xavi (from Iniesta's pass), Pedro, David Villa (twice) and Jeffren were on the scoresheet - but Iniesta's display underlined his position as one of the world's best midfielders in the finest team on the planet.

2011: UNITED BACK ON THE CAROUSEL

Alex Ferguson famously compared facing a midfield of Xavi and Iniesta to being stuck on a carousel after Barca beat United 2-0 in the 2009 Champions League final.

Two years later, Guardiola's men led the Red Devils on an even dizzier dance, winning 3-1 at Wembley to secure another European triumph. Such was Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta's control over events that even Ferguson could find no complaints over the scoreline.

"They do mesmerise you with the way they pass it," he said. "I would say they're the best team we've faced. Everyone acknowledges that and I accept that. It's not easy when you've been well beaten like that to think another way. No one has given us a hiding like that. It's a great moment for them."

 

2011: A WORLD RUN BY MIDFIELDERS

At the 2011 Club World Cup, Barca went into the final against Santos with David Villa injured and Pedro on the bench. Guardiola's solution? Let's midfield them to death.

Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara (oh, and Dani Alves) all lined up behind Lionel Messi in a 3-4-3. It gave Barca a grip on the game that never loosened.

Messi (twice), Xavi and Fabregas scored in a 4-0 win in which Barca had 71 per cent possession and a young Neymar was given a glimpse of his future. Iniesta, the beating heart of the side, described the performance as "unique... it was something to remember and enjoy".

 

2012: THE BEST IN EUROPE

Iniesta was part of the Spain side that won Euro 2008 under Luis Aragones before Vicente del Bosque led them to World Cup glory. Two years later, one of the great modern eras of international football was secured as they defended their continental crown, dispatching Italy 4-0 in the final in Kiev.

Del Bosque's team comprised six midfielders and no strikers, a remarkable line-up that represented the zenith of tiki-taka football, where technical mastery of pass-and-move play trumped all else and the classic number nine was rendered obsolete. It was the footballing equivalent of a guitar band deciding guitars aren't cool any more.

Iniesta was named man of the match, player of the tournament, and crowned UEFA's Best Player in Europe later that year.

2015: CHAMPIONS LEAGUE HISTORY

Another former Barca player in his first season as head coach, another treble, and another Iniesta assist on a big stage.

Luis Enrique's Barca took the lead against Juventus in Berlin through Ivan Rakitic after four minutes, as Iniesta became the first player to assist a goal in three different Champions League finals.

Alvaro Morata equalised but Luis Suarez and Neymar secured a 3-1 victory, as Iniesta claimed another man-of-the-match prize in a major final.

2015: THE SANTIAGO BERNABEU STANDS AS ONE

Iniesta is one of the few Spanish players who is generally admired throughout rival fan bases and territories - even among Real Madrid supporters.

In the Clasico of November 2015, Barca destroyed Madrid on home turf with a 4-0 victory in which Iniesta set up Neymar for a goal and scored a stunner himself.

Such was the supremacy of Iniesta that day - with Lionel Messi out injured - that the Bernabeu gave him a standing ovation as he left the pitch in the 77th minute. Only two other Barca players had ever been accorded such an honour: Ronaldinho, and Diego Maradona.

2018: THE INIESTA FINAL

Iniesta had not yet confirmed he would be leaving Barca at the end of 2017-18, but he made sure to provide the perfect curtain call anyway.

Having played a reduced role for much of the season, Iniesta seemed to have been saving himself for a last hurrah: the Copa del Rey final against Sevilla.

Although nearly 34, he looked at the peak of his powers, dictating the game at his own tempo as Barca cantered to a 5-0 win.

He even scored the goal of the game - exchanging passes with Messi, dummying the keeper and firing home - before yet another ovation serenaded his teary-eyed exit from the last major final he would play for the club he joined as a 12-year-old.

Andres Iniesta accepts Barcelona will be unable to reproduce his golden generation, yet he does not see why future teams cannot replicate their success.

Midfielder Iniesta was one of a host of world-class stars who came through the famed La Masia academy in quick succession, with Lionel Messi, Xavi, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets also making the grade.

It resulted in huge success for the Blaugrana, who won the Champions League four times in nine years while also dominating domestically.

Though they were top of La Liga when the current season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic, those who have followed Iniesta et al from the academy have been unable to match their brilliance.

While acknowledging the club will never again have a cluster of graduates as talented as the group he came through with, Iniesta still believes Barcelona can continue to win titles.

"That generation will never be repeated but what follows does not have to necessarily be worse in terms of how the club fares," Iniesta said in an interview with The Guardian.

"I had seen Puyol go, I had seen Víctor [Valdes] go, and then Xavi had gone… you concentrate on your own day-to-day, you still have a great team around you, top players."

Iniesta left Barcelona, the only club he had ever played for, in 2018 after making more than 650 appearances for the club.

The 35-year-old is still playing for Vissel Kobe in the J-League but he reiterated that one day he wants to return to Camp Nou in some capacity.

"Right now, I'm trying to extend my playing career as much as possible, I want to kick a ball for as long as I can because that's what makes me happy," he added.

"I've got a contract until next year, 2021, but I'm looking at things at the end of every season and I feel good, motivated. I want to keep playing and we're delighted to be here.

"When it [his career] does end, I have always said that I would love to go back to Barca. It all depends on how? In what role? What situation? Who is at the club? That's some way off. But with everything I experienced there, all the feelings I have, I would love to go back."

Spain boss Luis Enrique revealed Andres Iniesta was the closest talent to Lionel Messi he has coached.

A record six-time Ballon d'Or winner, Messi is widely regarded as one of the best players of all-time.

Luis Enrique coached Messi and Iniesta at Barcelona, where he was at the helm from 2014-17.

In a Q&A on the Spain national team's Facebook page, Luis Enrique talked up both Iniesta, now playing for Vissel Kobe, and Messi.

"The player that impressed me most in my career, I don't know if you mean being myself as a player or as a coach or both, without doubt is Leo Messi," he said.

"Afterwards, I can say that Andres Iniesta is close to something similar to Leo Messi.

"But Messi is hugely different in respect to the others."

Juventus are reportedly lining up an incredible move for Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

Guardiola has been in charge of City since 2016 and is contracted to remain at the helm of the Premier League champions until the end of next season.

However, Juve seemingly have other ideas.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS PLAN TO MAKE MOVE FOR GUARDIOLA

Juventus will give Guardiola whatever it takes to join them ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, according to The Sun.

The Serie A giants were linked with a stunning move for the Spaniard last year, but did not get their man.

Guardiola apparently intends to honour his contract at City, but Juve are prepared to give him whatever he wants.

ROUND-UP

- Philippe Coutinho has no plans to return to Barcelona and wants to make his move to Bayern Munich permanent, according to Catalunya Radio. The Bundesliga club hold an option to buy the attacker, but are reportedly yet to make a decision over whether they will make the move permanent.

- Barcelona are not yet giving up on signing Willian Jose from Real Sociedad. Marca reports the LaLiga giants are still considering the attacker amid a negotiable price despite Willian Jose's buyout clause being set at €70million.

- Jose Mourinho is planning for next season at Tottenham. The Daily Express reports the Spurs head coach is looking to spend £120m on defenders ahead of 2020-21, with Benfica's Ruben Dias and Bournemouth's Nathan Ake leading the list of targets.

- Liverpool tried to sign Villarreal attacker Samuel Chukwueze during January, according to France Football, which reports the European champions offered £29.6m (€35m) for the Nigeria international. Staying at Anfield and the Daily Express says Liverpool are set to offer 18-year-old full-back Neco Williams a new contract.

- Amid surprise reports Barcelona tried to bring Andres Iniesta back to Camp Nou in January, Marca says the LaLiga club's sporting management never considered a return to the club for the Vissel Kobe midfielder.

- Inter are set to decide in the next 48 hours whether to sign goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano after the 34-year-old completed medicals at the Serie A high-flyers, according to CalcioMercato. Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic suffered a finger injury last week.

Andres Iniesta captained Vissel Kobe to their first trophy with a 2-0 Emperor's Cup final win over Kashima Antlers as team-mate David Villa retired.

Vissel, formed in 1966 and moved to Kobe in 1995, have built a star-studded squad in a bid to end their wait for silverware, with former Barcelona stars Iniesta, Villa and Thomas Vermaelen featuring alongside Lukas Podolski.

Wednesday's showpiece marked the opening of Tokyo's New National Stadium but the end of Villa's glittering career.

The World Cup winner announced in November he would be retiring at the end of the year, and he was restricted to a late substitute appearance, replacing Podolski in stoppage time.

Villa, who had been dealing with injury issues in the final weeks of his career, said: "I am very happy to be able to stand on the pitch at the end and be very happy."

Iniesta was influential in the victory, yet the goals arrived in scrappy fashion, an own goal from Tomoya Inukai followed by a fortunate deflection for Noriaki Fujimoto.

Estudiantes president Juan Sebastian Veron confirmed talks have taken place with Vissel Kobe captain Andres Iniesta over a switch to the Argentine club.

Spanish great Iniesta has been linked to a reunion with former Barcelona team-mate Javier Mascherano at Estudiantes.

The 35-year-old Iniesta – contracted to Vissel until 2021 – has called Japan home since leaving LaLiga giants Barca in 2018.

Amid growing links to Estudiantes – where ex-Barca defender Gabriel Milito is head coach – after Mascherano arrived from Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortuna, Veron insisted negotiations are yet to take place.

"Today, we can't say that there are negotiations with Iniesta," Veron told La Oral Deportiva. "[But] yes, there are talks.

"[Trying to sign] Iniesta is something that people will not forget about, regardless of whether it materialises or not."

Veron added: "Having Javier in the club is an important fact, not only for Estudiantes but also for Argentine football, for all that he is as a person and a professional."

Iniesta has scored 10 goals since joining Vissel, who also boast Lukas Podolski, Thomas Vermaelen and Sergi Samper, while David Villa retired at the end of the season.

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba is coveted at the Santiago Bernabeu.

His French connection with Zinedine Zidane means there is constant speculation.

However, Pogba is set to remain at United for the time being.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID GIVE UP ON POGBA… FOR NOW

LaLiga giants Real Madrid will not sign Manchester United star Paul Pogba in January, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Pogba – still recovering from injury – continues to be linked with Madrid amid doubts over his United future.

Madrid, however, recognise there is "no chance" of prising the Frenchman from Old Trafford in the New Year.

 

ROUND-UP

- A return to Chelsea for Bournemouth's Nathan Ake looks likely, claims Bleacher Report. Chelsea have a £40million buyback clause for Ake, who left Stamford Bridge permanently in 2017. Manchester City have also been linked to the 24-year-old defender.

- Barcelona defender Jean-Clair Todibo has turned down a move to Milan, reports RMC. The 19-year-old has also been linked to Ligue 1 outfit Monaco and Premier League giants Manchester United.

- Qatari outfit Al Rayyan have re-opened talks with Juventus regarding the transfer of out-of-favour striker Mario Mandzukic, according to Gianluca Di Marzio. United and Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund are also reportedly interested in the veteran Croatian.

Napoli have offered Dries Mertens a two-year contract extension, says Sky Sport Italia. The Belgian, who is out of contract at season's end, has been the subject of reported interest from Dortmund.

- Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain want to swap Leandro Paredes for Juventus midfielder Emre Can, reports the Daily Mail.

- La Nazione says Fiorentina are looking to bring former Milan striker Patrick Cutrone back to Serie A. The Italian left San Siro for Premier League side Wolves at the start of the season.

- Former Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta is in talks to join Javier Mascherano at Argentine outfit Estudiantes. Iniesta currently plays for Vissel Kobe in Japan, however, TNT Sports claims the 35-year-old midfielder could move in 2020.

Jadon Sancho could be about to spark a bidding war.

The England international is reportedly ready to leave Borussia Dortmund, a development that will have his numerous European suitors on red alert.

Manchester United have long been linked to Sancho, but could face stiff Premier League competition for his signature.


TOP STORY – SANCHO SEEKING DORTMUND DEPARTURE

Jadon Sancho has become unsettled at Borussia Dortmund and wants to leave, according to the Daily Mail.

The exciting teenage winger is said to have grown dissatisfied with life at Signal Iduna Park after being dropped for a Bundesliga fixture last month for disciplinary reasons.

Head coach Lucien Favre further tested their relationship when he withdrew the Manchester City product before half-time of the heavy Der Klassiker loss to Bayern Munich.

News of Sancho's decision to depart will be noted at Old Trafford, but the report claims Manchester United's bitter Premier League rivals Liverpool are also showing strong interest. 

LaLiga giants Real Madrid appear to be another potential destination for one of the continent's most coveted young stars.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sancho could be heading in the opposite direction to Leroy Sane. The Daily Mirror says Bayern Munich have reignited their interest in the Germany international, who has been sidelined since the start of the season due to a knee injury.

- Granit Xhaka is not the only Arsenal midfielder on AC Milan's radar. According to Calciomercato, the Rossoneri are even more eager to land Lucas Torreira, and will make a move in June after failing to prise him away from north London at the end of last season.

- Chelsea are set for another fight to keep in-form winger Willian as Juventus and Barcelona circle the 31-year-old, the Daily Mirror reports. Frank Lampard wants to keep the Brazilian at Stamford Bridge but Willian's contract is up at the end of the campaign.

- Manchester City captain David Silva could follow in the footsteps of Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres and David Villa by seeing out his career in Japan. Spanish television programme El Chiringuito says the 33-year-old is in talks to join Vissel Kobe following the completion of his 10-season spell at the Etihad Stadium.

- Leicester City and Aston Villa have been linked to Alfredo Morelos but Rangers are in no rush to sell. That is the assurance of the Scottish side's new sporting director Ross Wilson, who "categorically" stated that an annual loss of £11.3million would not impact the club's determination to keep their Colombian striker.

Spain and Barcelona great David Villa has announced he will retire from professional football at the end of the year.

Villa, who turns 38 next month, will retire at the end of Vissel Kobe's season, he announced during a news conference on Wednesday.

The forward has scored 12 goals in 26 J.League games for Vissel Kobe, the club he joined after a spell with New York City.

"Thank you for an outstanding career, @Guaje7Villa," Vissel Kobe wrote on Twitter, the club confirming on their website that Villa would retire at season's end.

Villa enjoyed a fine career, starring with Sporting Gijon before earning a move to Real Zaragoza, and a switch to Valencia followed.

After scoring more than 100 goals for Valencia, Villa joined Barcelona for three seasons – winning two LaLiga titles and a Champions League – before moving to Atletico Madrid.

Villa later spent four seasons with New York City and a brief spell at Melbourne City before heading to Japan.

He also played 98 games for Spain, winning Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, and holds the record for most goals for the nation with 59.

Villa won the Golden Boot at Euro 2008, while he netted five times at the 2010 World Cup.

It was confirmed on Tuesday that Villa is a lead investor in Queensboro FC, who are set to play in the USL Championship beginning in 2021.

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