Pep Guardiola has thanked Andres Iniesta for helping him understand football "better" after the Spain midfielder announced he would be leaving Barcelona this summer.
Iniesta gave a tearful press conference at Barcelona's training ground on Friday to call time on his glittering career at the Camp Nou – and former Barca boss Guardiola paid tribute to the cultured 33-year-old midfielder.
"I just say thank you because he helped me," Manchester City manager Guardiola said at his press conference ahead of Sunday's Premier League game at West Ham.
“The people believe the manager had the players, but he helped me to understand the game better – just watching him, what he does on the football pitch.
“In spite of how many tackles he won it is the way he played, and he was an example of how to be a professional on and off the pitch.
“It really was a pleasure and amazing for a short period as his team-mate and his manager. I learned a lot just being with him.”
Iniesta was born near Albacete in south-east Spain but he progressed through Barcelona’s famed youth academy, La Masia, and has gone on to win every major honour in the game.
La Liga success
As well as his LaLiga successes – he is set to win his ninth title in the coming weeks – he won four Champions Leagues and six Copa del Reys.
Iniesta was an integral figure in Spain's Euro 2008 and 2012 triumphs and secured his place in his country's football history at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
He scored the extra-time winner in the 1-0 final victory over Holland and was named man of the match as Spain won the World Cup for the first time.
Iniesta won his 125th cap for Spain in last month’s 6-1 friendly victory against Argentina.
"This is my last season here," said Iniesta, choking back the tears at a press conference where his team-mates and manager Ernesto Valverde had gathered to listen. My only aim was to be a success at this club and I have done that. For me, Barca is the best club in the world – this club has given me everything.
“There’s been so many great moments – trophies and successes, but the most significant for me was making my Barca debut. It’s been a dream come true, lots of titles, important moments throughout my career.”
The one trophy which has eluded Iniesta in his glittering career is the Ballon d’Or, handed out each year to the world’s best player.
Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have won every Ballon D'Or between them since 2008, but Iniesta says he has no regrets that he did not win the award. "The magic I've been through as a player is enough for me, that's what I have gained happiness from," he said. "It's been an honour and a privilege to play in so many games with Messi because there is no-one quite like him. It's been magic, a one-off – that's the only way I can describe it.
“I’d like to be remembered as a good footballer and a good person, because when our football days are over, that’s all we are – people.”
Iniesta – who said he has no intention of ever playing against Barcelona – is expected to move to Chinese Super League club Chongqing Dangdai Lifan, with negotiations understood to have already been held.
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu paid tribute to Iniesta, tweeting: "You have the eternal gratitude of Barca fans and the whole football world. Today is not a farewell, it's a see you soon."
Spain greats Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Fernando Torres also expressed their admiration for Iniesta, while Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino — the former coach of Barcelona's city rivals Espanyol — added: "We were enemies for a while.
“But my reaction is, of course, admiration for a great, great, great player. He was a massive person on and out of the pitch. What he did after he scored in the World Cup (final) in 2010 in South Africa, the winning goal, by showing the shirt with Dani Jarque’s name (the Espanyol player who had died of a heart attack in 2009) – it touched us. He showed his class – the type of person that he is.”