The Japanese top division, J1 league, is one of the most successful leagues in Asian football but the lack of foreign superstars was one of its shortcomings. In recent years, the league has been thrust into the limelight following the arrival of few superstars including three World Cup winners. Let’s take a look at these big names plying their trade in Japan.
#5. Jo – Nagoya Grampus
João Alves de Assis Silva popularly known as Jo is best known for his disastrous spell in the Premier League. He cost Manchester City a club record £19 million in 2008 but he only found the back of the net six times in 38 games for the Citizens.
Jo had a loan spell with Everton which didn’t help his reputation, either. After struggling in England, he returned to Brazil and followed it up with stints in the UAE and China.
The Brazilian striker played a starring role for his boyhood club Corinthians in 2017 en route to winning the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A. Jo was the league’s top scorer and was also named the season’s best player. His performance after leaving Manchester City makes one wonder if he was a case of the wrong player at the wrong club at the wrong time.
He joined J1 League club Nagoya Grampus early in 2018 and has scored 18 times in 23 league games making him the second highest goalscorer of the 2018 season with just one goal less than the top scorer.
#4. Víctor Ibarbo – Sagan Tosu
Colombian international, Victor Ibarbo, is best known for his stint with Serie A club Cagliari. Ibarbo joined Cagliari in 2011 and was on their books till 2017. However, he went on loan to five different clubs in between and his last loan move was to Sagan Tosu.
The versatile forward notably played on loan for AS Roma and Watford before spending most of 2017 on loan at Sagan Tosu. It was mandatory for Sagan Tosu to purchase Ibarbo permanently and while he was on loan, he scored 5 times in 25 league games.
The 28-year-old signed a contract with the club for the 2018 season but his campaign has been marred with injuries. In March, Ibarbo hit a rich vein of form and was named the month’s MVP. In fact, he only made his return from injury that month and scored in his first league appearance of the season. Later, he dedicated that goal to his former Cagliari teammate, David Astori, who passed away in his sleep due to a cardiac arrest.
#3. Lukas Podolski – Vissel Kobe
Lukas Podolski played for European giants Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Inter Milan and Galatasaray before he left the continent and moved to Japan.
Podolski is a World Cup winner with Germany and has 49 goals in 130 games at the international level. This makes him the third most capped German player and also the third highest goalscorer for the country.
The 33-year-old moved to Japan to play for Vissel Kobe at the end of the 2016/17 European season. His move to the land of the rising sun paved the way for other superstars.
Podolski scored five times in 18 games during the 2017 J1 season but his side could only finish 9th in the league. This season, he has scored 5 more in 19 games but Vissel Kobe is currently 11th in the table.
— Lukas-Podolski.com (@Podolski10) October 5, 2018
#2. Fernando Torres – Sagan Tosu
Fernando Torres started his professional career with Atletico Madrid and the last club he played for in Europe was also Atletico Madrid. In between, Torres played for Liverpool, Chelsea and AC Milan with his best performances coming in the Red of Liverpool.
At the club level, Torres notably won the Champions League in 2012 with Chelsea and at the international level, he won the FIFA World Cup and the Euro twice. In fact, he scored the winning goal for Spain in the final of Euro 2008 against Germany. With 38 goals in 110 games, Torres is the country’s third highest goal scorer and 9th most capped player.
The Spaniard signed for Sagan Tosu at the end of the 2017/18 European season on a free transfer and it is surprising that he chose a club fighting relegation in the J1 league. Sagan Tosu is currently 17th in a league consisting of 18 teams.
The club has 30 points after 29 league games and is 3 points away from Júbilo Iwata in 15th place but Iwata has a game in hand. If Sagan Tosu finishes 16th, then they have to play in a relegation play-off but Nagoya Grampus, currently in 16th with one point more than Torres’ club also have two games in hand. Torres has five games left to help his club avoid relegation.
The Spaniard hasn’t been in great form for his side, to be honest. In 12 league games, he has one goal with his only other goal for the club coming in the Emperor’s Cup.
#1. Andres Iniesta – Vissel Kobe
Andres Iniesta is considered one of the greatest midfielders ever to grace the beautiful game. He spent his entire playing career in Europe with Barcelona playing 674 games and winning 30 trophies! The midfielder was named in the FIFPro World XI on nine successive occasions between 2009 and 2017. This record is only bettered by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
The Spaniard also played 131 games for Spain which makes him the fourth highest capped player and he won the World Cup and Euro twice. Iniesta scored the only goal of the 2010 FIFA World Cup final to help Spain lift their only World Cup so far.
Iniesta joined Vissel Kobe after the 2018 FIFA World Cup and in eight league games, he found the back of the net twice. He has been in impressive form for his club but the side which was fourth in the table around the time of his arrival but is now down to 11th place.
With five games left to play, maybe the combination of Iniesta and Podolski can help the club finish the season strongly.
Andres Iniesta doing madness in Japan… 🔥🔥pic.twitter.com/7k8DUNGN93
— Football Stuff (@FootbalIStuff) September 5, 2018