Football: Andres Iniesta coup puts J-League on the map, says Steve Perryman

Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta (centre) poses with Japan's professional baseball team Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles manager Masataka Nashida and players at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, on May 24, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta's decision to join Japan's Vissel Kobe could make the J-League a serious option for the world's top footballers, former Shimizu S-Pulse manager Steve Perryman said.

The 34-year-old Spanish World Cup winner, who lifted 32 major trophies at Barca and made over 600 appearances for the Catalan giants, completed a big-money move to Japan on Thursday (May 24) after bidding a tearful farewell to the Nou Camp last weekend.

Iniesta's Far East move will have been noted by players who might hitherto have considered China a more lucrative destination, Perryman told AFP in an interview.

"As soon as a top player like Iniesta decides to go to Japan it becomes an option for other people," said the former Tottenham Hotspur captain, who coached at J-League clubs S-Pulse and Kashiwa Reysol between 1996 to 2002.

"It gives the J-League credibility but it's about what Iniesta brings with him in terms of his ethos and work ethic," added Perryman.

"You want people to lead in the right manner and history tells you that this man does things the right way."

Perryman moved to Japan in 1996 as assistant coach to Argentinian Ossie Ardiles at S-Pulse.

The former Spurs team-mates briefly crossed swords with Arsene Wenger - then manager at Nagoya Grampus Eight - in a fledgling J-League still buzzing after its launch in 1993 when the likes of Zico and Gary Lineker played out their careers there.

"It was a league that was looking to be led and the timing for both Wenger and Japan was brilliant," recalled Perryman, who took over as Shimizu manager in 1999.

"Wenger was perfect. He was a winner."

Perryman expects Iniesta to have as big an impact as the Frenchman on a J-League that has struggled to attract marquee players in recent years.

"Football is about risk, but I'm sure Iniesta will repay Kobe with his professional attitude," said the 66-year-old director of football at English fourth-tier club Exeter City.

"It has to be backed up by success but I expect the other clubs are looking at that now and asking if they should enter the race for players of this quality."

Vissel, whose billionaire owner Hiroshi Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona's main sponsor Rakuten, did sign German World Cup winner Lukas Podolski last year.

But bringing in Iniesta bucks the trend of top players moving to rich Chinese clubs in the twilight of their careers in spectacular fashion.

"There's expertise in Japan but you need expertise on the field itself for Japanese players to be able to follow," said Perryman, backing Iniesta's experience and professionalism to rub off on his new team-mates.

"You're looking for his attitude at training and in preparing for games," added Perryman, who steered S-Pulse to an Asian Cup Winners Cup title.

"Not just finish training, shower and be gone in five minutes. Be part of it. That's obviously what they've done at Barcelona.

"That is a group of players that plays together and Iniesta wants that in his next club. But I'm sure that's part of the decision-making by Kobe to know that."

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