MADRID (AP) — Andres Iniesta has become the first player to sign a lifetime contract with Barcelona, a deal which will keep him playing for the club for as long as he remains fit.
The club said Friday that Iniesta's contract was extended "for life," securing the Spain midfielder through the "remainder of his career" but not putting a timetable on his retirement.
The club also did not say what will be Iniesta's role after he stops playing.
"I'll be here while my body and my mind can keep performing," the 33-year-old Iniesta said. "And I hope that it will be for a long time. At the end of the season we will evaluate everything together and see what is best for everyone."
Iniesta signed the new contract at the team's Camp Nou Stadium and was given a team shirt with the words "Iniesta forever."
His current contract was valid until the end of this season. In the last couple of seasons he did not play as much as in past years, often being rested for the most important matches.
"I'll be the first to say something if I feel that I don't have the same strength and the same importance as I had before," he said. "Then we can change things, and it will be fine."
There had been widespread speculation about Iniesta's future, with the player saying he wanted to stay with Barcelona but had also been evaluating other possibilities. Spanish media had reported that Iniesta was not pleased that the team took too long to start negotiations for his new deal.
"I need to thank the club for having the confidence to give me this type of contract," Iniesta said. "It shows that they have confidence in me as a person as well, that's very important. There couldn't be a better place for me. This is my home."
Iniesta has played 639 matches for the club since making his debut with the first team in October 2002. He has scored 55 goals since then.
Only Xavi Hernandez has had more appearances, with 767. They are followed by Lionel Messi, whose streak stands at 594.
"This is a reward to a player who has been exceptional," Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said. "He is a big reason why this club has had so much success recently. He is the player who brought balance to the team. He is an inspiration and a role model to our youngsters, not only as a player. No other player in the history of Barcelona has come up through the club like he has."
One of the most complete midfielders of the game, Iniesta joined the club's youth squad when he was 12 in 1996, and along with Messi is the player with most titles won with the senior squad, with 30.
Iniesta said he hasn't given much thought about his future with the club after retiring, but said he will definitely remain closely involved with soccer.
"Right now I want to focus on enjoying my time and on taking care of myself so I can keep doing this for as long as possible," he said. "I know that I'm running against time."
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