Andres Iniesta is extending his career beyond 2021 with J-League first division side Vissel Kobe, the Spanish soccer star said on his 37th birthday on Tuesday.

Iniesta, who moved to the Japanese top-flight side in 2018 after a decorated 22-year career at Barcelona, announced a deal that will keep him at the club based in the western Japanese port city through the 2023 season.

Speaking at an online press conference alongside Hiroshi Mikitani, chairman and CEO of club owner Rakuten Inc., Iniesta said he wanted to keep working toward the goal of making Vissel the No. 1 side in Asia.

"I'm still very motivated to continue this project," Iniesta said. "I had a strong feeling when I came here three years ago, and I still have that same feeling now."

A four-time UEFA Champions League winner with Barcelona and a 2010 World Cup winner with Spain, Iniesta is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of his generation.

The midfielder led Kobe to their first major silverware with victory in the Emperor's Cup final on New Year's Day 2020, which earned the club qualification to the Asian Champions League for the first time.

Following the suspension of the tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic, the ACL resumed late last year in Qatar, where Kobe reached the semifinals after losing Iniesta to a thigh injury that kept him sidelined for more than four months.

"There have been some tough times over the past three years...but I realize we've made history with a first title and ACL appearance," Iniesta said.

The Vissel captain said he and his family had grown to love Japan and wanted to continue living in the country.

"From myself and my family, I want to thank the people of Kobe and Japan. With their love, respect and hospitality, this place has really become our home."

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