efe-epaBy Antonio Hermosin Kobe (Japan)

Andres Iniesta left Barcelona FC to begin an adventure in Japanese soccer because he wanted to continue to feel like a soccer player and he is fulfilling that goal as a part of the Vissel Kobe team, the former Spain international told EFE in an interview.

His face is at the front of the Kobe City Misaki Park Stadium as well as on innumerable advertising boards in the port city in western Japan, where Iniesta is a huge icon and has been enthusiastically received by fans.

Barcelona's legendary number 8 has got used to the exotic destination he selected for the final stage for his illustrious career, spent almost exclusively at the Catalan club and the Spanish national team, winning all the possible trophies at the highest level of competition.

The 34-year-old said he still has "his passion and his motivation" for the sport intact.

"The stage is different and the project is different, what doesn't change is the responsibility and passion that I have for soccer," said Iniesta when asked about the demands and expectations of his new team as well as the Japanese league.

Vissel Kobe has just kicked off a new season, in which the team has also roped in Iniesta's former Barcelona teammates David Villa and Sergi Samper.

"The work time makes everything fall in place," said Iniesta, adding that the team has been assimilating the ideas that club manager Juan Manuel Lillo - also a Spaniard - and the club wish to instill.

Iniesta joined Vissel Kobe mid-season in July last year. Despite the acquisition of the legendary midfielder, as well as that of Lillo, by club owner and Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, the team finished in 10th place in the league.

"Matches are hard to win everywhere, but in Japan it is really difficult, because at the end they (all teams) are very even and very demanding," Iniesta said about the competitive nature of the J-League.

The "intensity" and "pace of the matches" are what have surprised him the most about the Japanese league, as well as the ability, speed and dynamism of some of the local players.

Despite all expectations resting on his shoulders, as the team is being built around him with the aim of becoming the best in Asia and "playing like Barça" - according to Mikitani - Iniesta said he is far from being overwhelmed.

"I came for this and that's why they put their confidence in me," said the midfielder during the interview, conducted at Vissel's training ground.

He also admitted he loved going to "places where people show their love, respect, predisposition and confidence."

"Coming from where I come, it is very difficult to exceed the level of expectations and pressure, and finally I have always been a person who is very self-demanding," he said.

According to him, the pressure from fans and the media is always there, however, in the case of Japan, "it is experienced and expressed in different ways" due to cultural differences.

Iniesta has been living with his family in Kobe, trying to lead "a normal life" and now, after almost nine months in the country, speaks a basic level of Japanese.

On looking back, the former Spain international said he sees his debut with Barcelona FC's first team in 2006 as the best moment of his career as it fulfilled a dream that he had nursed since joining the youth academy at the age of 12.

Another equally memorable moment was an unforgettable match winning goal in the closing moments of the 2010 World Cup that helped Spain lift the trophy.

"I have lived the best moments, in the team as well as with Barça," said Iniesta, who has no more dreams to fulfill other than "being happy and enjoying" what he has, at a personal level, as well as to ensure that the people still think highly of his game.

His new challenges include training young Japanese players as a part of a soccer academy under Vissel Kobe, where he seeks to bring together positive things of local players with concepts from outside.

Iniesta predicts a bright future for Japanese football, and states that the Japanese team that will compete in Copa America, to be held in summer in Brazil, will maintain its "recognizable" style of play that is pleasing to the spectators.

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