Star will not join 'as a player': CSL club announcement
Chinese Super League (CSL) side Chongqing Lifan have dismissed rumors that Spanish midfield maestro -Andres Iniesta will join them after leaving Barcelona this summer.
Iniesta has been linked with a big-money move to China since he -announced earlier this year that the current campaign would be his last with Barca.
And Chongqing have been mentioned as a possible destination for the star with a three-year deal worth a total 81 million euros ($96 million).
The midtable club said late Monday night that Iniesta will not join them "as a player" on their Twitter-like Weibo account.
The club said other sports industry sections of their controlling shareholder have in-depth cooperation with Iniesta in areas such as sports marketing and youth development, and that there could be more cooperation between the two sides in the future, but "this absolutely does not mean Mr Iniesta will join our club as a player."
Spanish media have also linked the Barca captain with another CSL team, Tianjin Quanjian, but the North China club have denied the rumors on several occasions.
The 33-year-old Iniesta, considered one of the best midfielders in soccer history, came through the famous Barcelona youth academy, La Masia. Making his first-team debut in 2002 at 18, he gradually became an integral part of the Barca sides that won trebles in 2009 and 2015. He is the most decorated Spanish player with a total of 34 trophies.
He was also a key player as Spain won consecutive 2008 and 2012 European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, in which Iniesta scored the winner in the 1-0 final win over the Netherlands in South Africa.
Hours after the story linking Iniesta to Chongqing, Spain's premier radio network Cadena SER reported the Spaniard is close to a move to Japan's Vissel Kobe in a three-year deal worth 25 million euros a year.
A report in China News on Monday said Chongqing, who now sit eighth in the 16-team CSL, "were negotiating with Iniesta."
"Even if he does come, his salary won't be higher than what he now earns at Barca [which is reportedly 10 million euros each year]," the report said, citing unnamed sources within the Chongqing club.
Chinese media noted the forthcoming salary cap in China as possibly halting the move: The Chinese Football Association is reportedly considering limiting a club's first-team paycheck to within 75 percent of their annual income starting in 2021.
Some Chongqing fans seemed disappointed at missing out.
"After three straight defeats, now you're rubbing salt into our wounds with this news," posted @donghonggang under the club denial. "Have you considered our feelings? I know you're dismissing rumors, but could you please do it another time?"
The club have lost their last two CSL games and one Chinese FA Cup game.
Others thought it a wise choice not to sign Iniesta.
"It's better to spend over 80 million euros on several young Chinese players than on a star player who's reaching the end of his career," said @shidiwenkunkunnan.
"Please spend more money on domestic players and youth development," wrote @caishichangliangbadao. "Our under-23 players' performances are really disappointing. Are they really professional?"