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From Andres Iniesta to Arsene Wenger: Top six Japan football moves

Andres Iniesta became the latest big-name player to join the J-League after agreeing terms with Vissel Kobe on Thursday.

Published: 24th May 2018 02:54 PM  |   Last Updated: 24th May 2018 02:59 PM   |  A+A-

Former Barcelona player Andres Iniesta greets journalists during a press conference to join Japan's Vissel Kobe in Tokyo. | AP

By AFP

TOKYO: Andres Iniesta became the latest big-name player to join the J-League after agreeing terms with Vissel Kobe on Thursday.

Here AFP looks at Iniesta's signing, four other big moves to Japan and one that made headlines going in the opposite direction:

Andres Iniesta, 2018 (Barcelona to Vissel Kobe)

The Spanish World Cup winner's decision to continue his storied career with Kobe after winning all there is to win at Barcelona represents arguably the biggest transfer coup in J-League history.

With many players choosing big-money moves to China in the twilight of their careers, the J-League has struggled to attract marquee players in recent years.

VIEW GALLERY: Andres Iniesta bids farewell to Barcelona

For Kobe to sign a player of Iniesta's stature, albeit at 34-years-old, bucks that trend in spectacular fashion.

Zico, 1991 (Retirement to Kashima Antlers)

Brazil legend Zico was part of perhaps the best team never to win the World Cup in 1982 but was well past his swashbuckling best when he made the shock announcement he was coming out of retirement to play in Japan.

Though well into his late thirties, that didn't stop him from dazzling crowds with Kashima's forerunners Sumitomo Metal in the old Japan Soccer League before turning the cash-strapped Antlers into J-League contenders. Zico went on to coach Japan and a statue in his honour stands outside Kashima's stadium.

Gary Lineker, 1992 (Tottenham Hotspur to Nagoya Grampus Eight)

The England striker's decision to move to Japan's car manufacturing capital raised eyebrows, prompting stunned Spurs fans to ask: "Nagoya what?"

Despite arriving to great fanfare, Lineker spent a frustrating two years in Japan culminating in the former Barcelona sharp-shooter missing a large chunk of the inaugural J-League season in 1993 with a broken toe.

Arsene Wenger, 1994 (Monaco to Nagoya Grampus Eight)

The Frenchman signed a two-year deal with Nagoya after being sacked by Monaco and led the Japanese club to their first silverware when they won the 1995 Emperor's Cup. 

He also picked up J-League manager of the year honours before Arsenal then came calling -- and the rest is history. 

Wenger's tutelage also inspired Serbian midfielder Dragan Stojkovic to go into management and steer Nagoya to their first J-League title in 2010. 

Michael Laudrup, 1996 (Real Madrid to Vissel Kobe)

The former Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid star, one of Iniesta's boyhood heroes, joined Vissel in 1996 and helped them win promotion to the J-League's top flight. 

Laudrup fell out with coaches or bosses at many of his clubs but the clean-cut Dane with the movie star looks was a firm fan favourite during his season in Japan.

Hidetoshi Nakata, 1998 (Bellmare Hiratsuka to Perugia)

Going in the opposite direction, the Japan playmaker opted to join Italy's Perugia at the tender age of 21 and is still the country's most celebrated football export. 

Instantly recognisable with his spiky orange hair, Nakata went on to win a Serie A title with Roma in 2001 before spells at Parma, Fiorentina and Bolton Wanderers. He retired at 29 after the 2006 World Cup, claiming he had fallen out of love with football.

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