Andres Iniesta has confirmed that he won't be playing his football at Barcelona next season, bringing an end to the rife speculation over his future.
The Spanish midfielder, who joined the club as an 12-year-old and is a product of their famed La Masia academy, was given a 'lifetime' contract last October and had the option of remaining at the Camp Nou until he retired.
However, after weeks of speculation, he has confirmed what many already suspected - his decision to leave at the end of the season and bring an end to a glittering 22-year spell in Spain.
"I want to make public my decision that this is my last season at FC Barcelona," the 33-year-old Spaniard said at an emotional press conference held on Friday, hardly able to hold back the tears. "It is a decision that I have considered, valued and designed internally.
"It's very tough for me to say goodbye. Thanks to the club, all of my teammates, my wife and family, and those who have been there every day these years. All the fans, for their unconditional affection. As a person your support has been unbelievable."
One of the best footballers of his generation and all-time, the outpouring on Twitter was immediate for the legendary playmaker:
Today @andresiniesta8 announced he will leave @LaLigaEN— Sevilla FC (@SevillaFC_ENG) April 27, 2018
We want to say congratulations to a legend of Spanish football on a stunning career with @FCBarcelona
You will always have our respect and appreciation and we wish you luck in your next adventure pic.twitter.com/kQYXwivq8W
Goodbye to Iniesta. Goodbye to one of the very, very best to play the beautiful game. Goodbye to a stalwart of Barça who embodied the traditions of the club like few others did.— #14 (@HuegoPuro) April 27, 2018
Guys in all my years of living on this earth.....I’ve never seen Barcelona without Iniesta. I’m finished.— NAZ 🖤 (@FCNazalona) April 27, 2018
I’m happy to see Iniesta leaving Barcelona on a high, with the fans and colleagues begging him not to go. Shows it’s the right time, so he can leave with his head held high and respected by everyone until the end.— Rafael Hernández (@RafaelH117) April 27, 2018
Proper send off, he’ll be back to the club someday!
Pep on Iniesta: "I could spend 3 minutes talking about what Iniesta means to world football. He is part of Barcelona's history, it would not have been possible without him. I just want to say thank you, because he helped me... to understand the game better. Just watching him..."— City Watch (@City_Watch) April 27, 2018
Andrés Iniesta has always been my favorite player in football after Messi. That incredible feeling whenever he'd touch the ball, where you'd expect nothing less than pure magic, every single time. Seeing the man who I consider the best midfielder ever leave, I'm broken.. broken.— J. (@Messilizer) April 27, 2018
What a day!— Jan Aage Fjortoft (@JanAageFjortoft) April 27, 2018
Peace in Korea
Iniesta leaving Barcelona
Guardiola on Iniesta: "I want to thank him. People think managers help the players but he helped me understand the game better, just watching how he plays the game. Hopefully he comes back to Barcelona to teach young players, or professional players, what he showed on the pitch."— Sam Lee (@Sammy_Goal) April 27, 2018
There won’t be another like Iniesta. Not simply in football terms but on a personal level as well. He transcends the traditional rivalry and hatred which exists in the game. He’s unique; a legend not only at Barcelona but in football in general. Gracias Don @andresiniesta8.— Andrew Gaffney (@GaffneyVLC) April 27, 2018
Life is weird. Iniesta arrived at la Masia as a Madrid fan because Barcelona academy was the closest. He cried every day and wanted to go back home the first week. 20 years later he leaves Barcelona as a captain and footballing legend.— J. (@ElaficionadoFC) April 27, 2018
On his first day with the club, Andres Iniesta cried his eyes out, desperately wanting to go home. 22 years, 31 trophies and countless memories later, we're the ones tearfully begging him to stay.— Sameer (@Sameer_R13) April 27, 2018
Can we give the guard of honor to Iniesta only instead?— Rk (@RkFutbol) April 27, 2018
There are very few players like Iniesta left. Respectable, dignified, gracious, graceful - a player well respected by all fanbases. A great person & a legend, in the way he played the game, what he gave to Barça, the things he achieved.— Alex Truica (@AlexTruica) April 27, 2018
You love football, you love Iniesta. pic.twitter.com/FKFfH6p8xN
While Barcelona brought in Philippe Coutinho in January as a long-term successor, Iniesta is one of those players teams simply cannot replace and he will leave a big hole in the Catalan side.