Article

Lineker, Stoichkov, Zico - the stars who blazed a J-League trail for Iniesta

24 May 2018 00:15

Andres Iniesta is primed to complete a switch to Vissel Kobe after tweeting that he was heading to his "new home" on a flight bound for Japan.

The Barcelona and Spain legend is one of the biggest names in world football, but he will not be the first star talent to make the switch to the J-League.

Indeed, the division has welcomed a number of stellar players over the years and here we take a look at the best of the bunch.

 

GARY LINEKER (NAGOYA GRAMPUS EIGHT, 1992-1994)

Prolific during his spells with Leicester City, Everton, Barcelona and Tottenham, Lineker was also a star for his country.

But at 31, the Englishman was winding his career down by the time he made the move to Nagoya and injuries limited his playing time.

ZICO (KASHIMA ANTLERS, 1991-94)

Another one to have opted for a transfer to Japan in the twilight of a stunning career, Zico had in fact retired from the game and dabbled in politics for a brief time.

The Brazil legend showed he still had plenty to offer on the field, proving a regular goalscorer for Kashima. He went on to manage Japan.

 

DIEGO FORLAN (CEREZO OSAKA, 2014-15)

Forlan had some impressive honours to his name when he arrived in Osaka, a Premier League title with Manchester United and two Pichichi trophies among them.

Following a distinguished spell with Atletico Madrid and less profitable stays with Inter and Internacional, the Uruguayan was relegated in his first season in the J-League.

DUNGA (JUBILO IWATA, 1995-98)

A World Cup-winning captain for Brazil in 1994, Dunga was plying his trade in Japan just a year later.

He enjoyed four seasons with Jubilo, highlighted by the club's 1997 J-League title triumph.

 

HRISTO STOICHKOV (KASHIWA REYSOL, 1998-99)

Bulgaria international Stoichkov won the league five times with Barcelona, where he also helped the club to a European Cup.

Though his stay in Japan was less glittering, Stoichkov did show some of his goalscoring prowess with 12 strikes in 27 outings.

 

MICHAEL LAUDRUP (VISSEL KOBE, 1996-97)

With a CV that almost any player would envy, Laudrup went to Kobe after representing the likes of Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

It was a huge coup for the club, who were in the second tier at the time, Laudrup's arrival helping them to earn promotion.

 

LUKAS PODOLSKI (VISSEL KOBE, 2017-PRESENT)

Podolski sent a cheeky tweet to Iniesta welcoming the Spaniard to Kobe, having joined the club himself in March last year.

The retired Germany international has eight goals in 26 league appearances.

LEONARDO (KASHIMA ANTLERS, 1994-96)

Leonardo had made more of a name for himself on the international stage with Brazil than during a club career that had included spells with Flamengo, Sao Paulo and Valencia.

And though Japan may not be the place for an aspiring star to elevate their profile, his return of 30 goals in just 49 matches preceded moves to Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan.

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