Six of the Best:

Some of the Greatest Foreign Players to Play in J.League

When you think of football-loving nations, Japan probably isn’t one of the first to spring to mind. However, the 2002 World Cup, hosted by Japan and South Korea, helped the sport to grow in popularity and it is now one of the most-watched sports in Japan. The J.League has been improving slowly but surely and that is making Japan’s elite club competition more and more an attractive landing spot for professional footballers.
These days, there are a number of elite players plying their trade out in Asia. Brazil midfielder Oscar is playing for Shanghai SIPG, whilst Jonathan Viera, once regarded as one of Spain’s brightest young talents, is a regular for Beijing Guoan. Away from China’s money train, football isn’t as prominent on the rest of the continent but you do get the odd anomaly – with Andres Iniesta’s transfer to Vissel Kobe already increasing Japanese football’s popularity to the rest of the world.

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The former Barcelona midfielder will go down as one of the greatest players to step onto a football pitch and is immediately raising awareness of the Japanese game with two world class goals to his name already. In a way, Iniesta’s arrival is similar to that of David Beckham in Major League Soccer in the United States, but without the glitz and the glamour. Without further ado, we cast our minds back over some of the bigger names to have graced Japan’s J.League…

Gary Lineker
One of the most successful England players of all-time, Lineker enjoyed a very successful professional career. From his exploits at Leicester City to his big move to Barcelona, the England star blossomed into one of the most famous forwards in world football. At 32 years old, Lineker decided to  to take on a fresh challenge– joining Nagoya Grampus Eight in 1993. (Read all about the team’s history here. )
At the time, he was on the most lucrative contract in J.League history but Japanese fans didn’t really get to see too much of Lineker, due to an injury-plagued two years in Japan. After just four goals in 18 appearances during his two years at the club, Lineker retired. Still, he deserves to be recognised as one of the best players in J.League history after his exploits throughout a storied career.

Lukas Podolski
Podolski has been there and done it all – at club level and on the international stage. The German forward is a household name in world football, especially in Europe. He spent most of his club career with Bayern Munich and Arsenal but he will be remembered mostly for his exploits with the Germany national team.
Vissel Kobe signed Podolski in 2017 and he has since been joined by Andres Iniesta. At 33 years old, he could feature for the club for a good three or four seasons and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Podolski shine at Noevir Stadium Kobe for an extended period. Watch this space, Vissel Kobe are set for big things. (See more on his career here:

Vissel Kobe recently gave away Lukas Podolski "Bobbleheads" to 3000 lucky Fan Club members!

Diego Forlan
The 2010 FIFA Golden Ball winner enjoyed a prolific career for club and country – playing for the likes of Villarreal, Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan. He moved to Manchester United in 2001  but his career failed to materialise at Old Trafford. On the international stage, Forlan was consistent for Uruguay – the highlight of which was his five goals at the 2010 World Cup.
Forlan made the switch to Japanese football in 2014, joining Cerezo Osaka for a year and a half. He notched 17 goals in 42 league games for the Japanese outfit; a decent return for a player of his age. Now 39 years old, he is currently a free agent and it looks like Forlan may decide to hang up his boots in the coming months.

A legend in Japanese football, Zico committed three years of his late playing career to Japanese football, then later became manager of Kashima Antlers and the Japan national team. After moving to pre-J.League side Sumitomu Metals in 1991, Zico helped to establish Kashima Antlers – now one of the most popular football clubs in Japan.
In 2002, Zico agreed to take over the Japanese national team and led the country at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Japan will be forever grateful to Zico for his efforts to promote the beautiful game – both on and off the pitch. Like Lineker, Zico should go down as a stalwart of the sport for his nation. He recently made a return to Kashima Antlers as Technical Director.

Park Ji Sung
Park Ji Sung is one of the greatest South Korea players of all-time and he is a pivotal figure in the Japanese football movement. He first came to prominence for Kyoto Purple Sanga – now Kyoto Sanga FC – and shone at that level. From that moment forward, Park was destined for greatness; a move to Manchester United emerged in 2005 and the rest is history!
He developed a reputation for a great work ethic throughout his career. Sir Alex Ferguson built his side around the South Korean and the current Red Devils could do with a Park-like figure. When you are visiting Infogol, you will see his former suitors feature regularly in tips – Park himself will be keeping a close eye on United’s efforts this campaign as a Club Ambassador.

Andres Iniesta
Iniesta is the new face of Vissel Kobe, and the former Barcelona man made an instant impact on his third appearance for the club, scoring an outrageous goal after a through pass from Lukas Podolski. The Spaniard is the most decorated player to feature in Japan’s top flight by some distance and Iniesta will be in the spotlight during his time in Asia.

Vissel Kobe fans will be expecting big things from Iniesta in the coming months – and with good reason. In 16 glorious seasons at Camp Nou, Iniesta won 33 trophies; an incredible return to say the least. Watch this space to see if he can take Vissel Kobe to the summit of Japanese football, and beyond in the coming seasons. Our image comes courtesy of Iniesta’s Twitter feed.


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