Reviewing how Fernando Torres and Andres Iniesta have performed in Japan so far


When Andres Iniesta sat alone on the Nou Camp pitch after playing his final game for Barcelona, the legendary Spaniard had plenty to think about.

Maybe he was reflecting on all those Champions League glories, his telepathic connection with Xavi and Sergio Busquets or perhaps his innumerable assists for none other than Lionel Messi. It was certainly a poignant moment for everybody who watched Iniesta throughout his decorated career and he was signing off from over 20 decades at the heart of Catalan culture.

However, that emotional night in Barcelona wasn't the end for Iniesta's career and you just knew that part of him was thinking ahead to his next move. Of course, fans now know that Japan would be top of his agenda, but a transfer to the southern reaches of Honshu was certainly a surprising one at the time.

Although Iniesta is certainly not the first player to bow out from European football with a move to exotic locations, not many have directed their GPS to Japan. However, the 34-year-old has now become the centrepiece of a footballing renaissance for the country and an effort to push the J1 League back into the spotlight is deserves to be cast in.

Vissel Kobe was Iniesta's team of choice, joining fellow World Cup winner Lukas Podolski in Japan's seventh largest city and instantly completing a revered duo. For all the incredible Japanese talent across the competition, the capture of Podolski and Iniesta was a massive statement and underlined Kobe's ambition to become Asia's biggest club.

Iniesta and Torres in Japan

That's no small statement, either. The mission is proudly cast across the Noevir Stadium as a message to other franchises across the world's most populous continent. Supporters don't need to be reminded of the gluttonous investment that's being ploughed into Chinese football with players turning their back on Europe for eye-watering wages.

Yet Vissel Kobe have the likes of Shanghai SIPG in their crosshair and with one of the century's greatest players to boot. And they're not alone, with Sagan Tosu also putting their name on the map with a marquee acquisition of their own. The arrival of Fernando Torres - just two months after that of his compatriot - quickly gave the J1 League an Iberian feel.

Although Torres hasn't delivered his best football for quite some time, the 34-year-old still boasts an incredible track record after spells with Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Chelsea and AC Milan. Not only that but Torres is undoubtedly one of the most loved players in the 'beautiful game' and was a perfect fit for the passionate circuit of Japanese football.


And with the winter months fast approaching, it's not long before the curtain falls on the first J1 League season to feature the Spanish duo. Sagan have games with Yokohama FM and Kashima Antlers to close out their campaign, while Kobe will look to finish on a high against Shimizu S-Pulse and Vulgate Sendai.

Naturally then, it proves an apt moment to reflect upon Iniesta and Torres' time in Japan and assess how they've performed on a new frontier for some of Europe's top footballers.

How has Iniesta performed?

The player who can count themselves most satisfied with the league table is certainly Iniesta. Although 12th place doesn't scream of the success Kobe are chasing, it's a step in the right direction and there are signs of improvement ahead of next season. What's more, the Ushi can be confident of their superiority over Sagan after their recent clash in November.

Although the game finished honours even at 0-0, Kobe were by far the better team and Iniesta looked a class above the rest whenever he had the ball at his feet. Although his movement wasn't the same as those glory days at Barcelona, the Spaniard was playing the game in slow-motion and showed off his newfound chemistry with Podolski.

The ex-Bayern Munich man was arguably the best player on the pitch, creating a number of brilliant opportunities and was unlucky to walk down the tunnel without his name on the scoresheet. Podolski has enjoyed more time to adapt to Japanese football, moving to Asia in March 2017 and producing a goal record of 12 in 41 appearances.

The Iniesta factor has definitely been a positive influence and after the Sagan game, he reflected on their chemistry together. "It's getting good, I think the combination of us together is good. We are searching for each other on the pitch, so it's getting better and better. We have a lot of fun together on the pitch," Podolski told GiveMeSport.


And their combination play was no more apparent than against Nagoya Grampus Eight early in November. Iniesta hit international sporting headlines with an outrageous assist for Podolski, winding back the years with an incredible scoop-lob from 30 yards out. You'd think it would have landed with snow on the top, but it arrived perfectly for his German teammate to find the net.

It was a moment of outrageous quality that Vissel Kobe fans have become accustomed to this season, with Iniesta showing his class at crucial moments. The Spaniard has only scored twice in 12 appearances but both strikes have been of a superlative nature.

Against Jubilo Iwata, Iniesta channeled his inner-Dennis Bergkamp to fool the defence with an incredible turn before rounding Krzysztof Kaminsky like he wasn't even there. Just one week later and he produced the goods again, prancing across the penalty area and finding the top corner with a brilliant strike to punish Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

In short, the Barcelona legend is enjoying his football in Japan and continues to show his undeniable quality whenever he's in possession. The numbers haven't been as spectacular as fans would expect but a weakened team around him has exposed his waning stamina. The signs remain very positive going into the 2019 season.

How is Torres getting on?

On the island of Kyushu, however, there is less optimism surrounding the start Torres has made to life in Japan. Sagan are also experiencing a difficult season and currently sit in 15th place, perched preciously above the relegation spots occupied by Nagoya, Kashiwa Reysol and V-Varen Nagasaki going into the final two games.

Torres has failed to be their talisman so far and struggled during the recent visit to Vissel Kobe, becoming isolated up front as his teammates played defensively throughout. The 34-year-old was eventually taken off with over 20 minutes left to play and the Kobe defence had him under their thumb for most of the game.

It's perhaps an unexpected fact when you consider Torres got his Japanese adventure underway with a goal against the same opposition. As part of a great result in the Emperor's Cup, fans were hoping that the floodgates would open for Torres when he rounded off a 3-0 win in stoppage time.


However, whether it's the teammates around him or slow acclimatisation, things just haven't clicked for Torres and his record currently stands at three goals in 17 appearances. Despite his age, fans can't help but think Torres should perform better in a league that lacks the same quality as La Liga or the Premier League.

That being said, there's still plenty of hope going into his second season in Japan and the club captain has expressed great satisfaction in his new surroundings. Torres was very complimentary about the set-up in Japan and the overall footballing culture when asked about making the move to Asia after the Kobe draw.

The Spaniard said to GiveMeSport: "It's a beautiful country, you have the respect of everybody here. We all have many things to learn from Japanese culture, so I would really like to tell the players who are thinking of coming or not that they have to do it."

Fans will have to keep their fingers crossed that Torres can channel his old Liverpool form and give a new audience the chance to see his very best performances live. Besides, it would be incredibly fitting to see such a loved footballer finishing on a high despite stagnating since his infamous move to Chelsea.

Legacy in Japanese football

Regardless of their performances on the pitch, though, the introductions of Iniesta and Torres have farther-reaching permutations for the J1 League. Of course, this isn't the first time that big-name players have turned to the country but the days of Gary Lineker and Arsene Wenger seem a distant memory now.

There's a tangible desire to bring a competition that has harboured so much Japanese talent over the years onto the international stage it deserves and players like Iniesta are doing wonders for publicity. It can only be hoped that their positive reviews of Japanese football can encourage others players to look east when plotting their next move.

Spain Training and Press Conference - Group C: UEFA EURO 2012

For clubs like Vissel Kobe in particular, there's still a long way to go before they can become the biggest club in Asia. But they have the fans, infrastructure and players - with a broadening range of nationalities - to push where no Japanese club has done before.

When Iniesta plotted his next move in the early hours at the Nou Camp, he couldn't have predicted the impact he would make on his future club and country. Alongside Torres, the sporting legend is helping to publicise a nation revered for so much but under-appreciated in football.

They have already had a far-reaching impact on supporters, the wider community and have duly earned respect for challenging their talent elsewhere. For that reason alone, it would unwise to boil their influence down to merely five goals in 29 appearances. Goals win games, but legends build legacy.

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