BARCELONA (Reuters) - A call from Andres Iniesta was enough to convince Sergi Samper to leave Barcelona and join Japanese side Vissel Kobe, the once promising midfielder said on Tuesday at a teary farewell after 18 years with the Catalan club.
Samper, 24, agreed to terminate his contract on Tuesday to move to Kobe, where he will be reunited at his new club with Iniesta, who ended a trophy-laden spell with the Catalans last year to move to Japan, and former Barca striker David Villa.
Barca defender Gerard Pique, a business associate of club chairman Hiroshi Mikitani, also helped with the move to Kobe, who are ninth in Japan’s J-League after two games.
“Andres was key, he called me many times and told me it was a good club to grow at, and Gerard was the one who told me the news so I’m very grateful to him for that,” Samper told a news conference on Tuesday.
“Andres has told me that Kobe want to play like Barca and that their style of play will suit me and I’ll be able to enjoy myself.”
Samper, who joined Barca aged six, was expected to take the baton from Sergio Busquets as the club’s next top holding midfielder but his career, which has also taken him to Granada and Las Palmas on loan, has been derailed by injuries.
“I want to get back to playing and enjoying football,” he added.
“My dream was to succeed here and I would have liked to have finished my career here and win as many trophies as possible but sometimes you have to take tough decisions.”
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge