BARCELONA — Andres Iniesta planned to announce his Barcelona departure after the Champions League quarterfinal against Roma, Gerard Pique said after the midfielder’s send-off at the Camp Nou on Friday.
Iniesta, 34, decided to delay the announcement, though, when Barca were unexpectedly eliminated in Rome, losing 3-0 and exiting the competition on away goals. He finally said he was leaving in a news conference on April 27.
“I found out he was going the day before the second leg against Roma,” said Pique, one of the guests at Iniesta’s farewell event, after seeking permission from the Barca captain to tell the story.
“He told me, ‘As long as there’s no disaster against Roma tomorrow, I will make my decision public.’ We all know what happened after that.”
Pique was one of a number of people invited to attend a special event laid on by the club to say thanks to Iniesta after 22 years of service, more than 600 appearances and 32 trophies.
The whole first-team squad was also present, as well as Iniesta’s former teammates Xavi Hernandez, Samuel Eto’o, Demetrio Albertini and Patrick Kluivert. NBA players Pau and Marc Gasol were also there, along with representatives from a number of La Liga clubs, including Real Madrid’s Emilio Butragueno.
A nine-year-old boy who was part of the baby boom that followed Iniesta’s most famous goal in Barca colours, a stoppage-time winner in the Champions League semifinal against Chelsea in 2009, was also in the audience.
Iniesta was joined on stage by Eto’o, Xavi, Pique, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who explained how hard he tried to get the Spain international to reverse his decision.
“We tried everything,” Bartomeu said. “We spoke with him a lot of times and told him that he still has a lot of football to offer us, but it’s his decision and we must respect it.
“We even spoke on the sofa at his house after the Copa del Rey final against Sevilla. It was one last attempt [to get him to stay at Barca].”
“I’ve imagined many moments, but never this one,” said Iniesta, reading from a prepared speech. “These 22 years have passed so quickly. I don’t want to talk about trophies, but about how thankful I am. I’ve crossed paths with a lot of people and I will be eternally grateful for what they have taught me and how they have formed me. They are part of my life.”
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.