Football: Podolski arrives with promise to boost Japan game

Germany's Lukas Podolski poses with his new team jersey during a news conference in Kobe, Japan on July 6, 2017.
Germany's Lukas Podolski poses with his new team jersey during a news conference in Kobe, Japan on July 6, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS/KYODO

(AFP) - German World Cup winner Lukas Podolski on Thursday (July 6) vowed to bolster enthusiasm for Japanese football after arriving to join Vissel Kobe, bucking a trend of big-name players moving to cash-rich China.

"I know the J-League is the strongest in Asia and I am determined to enliven (the league) with my team," Podolski told a news conference shortly after he arrived in Kobe, near Osaka, to join the city's J-League club.

The 32-year-old forward, who had played for Turkey's Galatasaray since 2015, said it is "a big change" for him to play in Asia for the first time.

But the veteran of three World Cups and the scorer of 49 goals for Germany said he did not feel any pressure.

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"We have to go hard, train hard and fight on the pitch 90 minutes and try to get three points every game," he said.

Kobe did not give details of the deal, although Podolski is understood to have signed a multi-year contract worth an annual US$5.3 million (S$7.3 million).

Podolski's decision to opt for Japan came as a surprise with many big-name footballers making megabucks moves to China in the twilight of their careers and he had initially been linked with Beijing Guoan.

It also represents something of a coup for the J-League, which used to attract luminaries such as Brazil's Zico and England's Gary Lineker when it began in 1993 but has struggled to attract marquee players in recent years.

Hiroshi Mikitani, the online shopping magnate who owns Vissel, said he hopes Podolski's transfer to the team would prompt more world-class players to come to Japan.

"Today is a new, memorable day of departure for the J-League," Mikitani told the news conference.

"I hope, with the transfer of Podolski, more and more world super stars will come to the J-League."

The Poland-born left-footer was named 2006 World Cup Young Player of the Tournament ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Podolski, who has been troubled by niggling injuries, announced his international retirement last year after scoring 49 goals in 130 appearances for the world champions.

Podolski said he was also looking forward to savouring immediately the prized local delicacy.

"Kobe beef is famous and so I really want to eat it after the news conference," he said with a smile.