Andrés Iniesta has sealed his place as one of the greatest midfielders, if not pure soccer players, of all time. His hallowed stature is under no assault. But he had clearly lost a step in recent seasons, and wasn’t the incisive on-the-ball diablo he’d been during his best days.
… At least in Europe.
Iniesta joined Japanese first division side Vissel Kobe in May and made his debut on July 22. On Saturday, he scored his first goal for the club by turning Júbilo Iwata’s defense into Swiss cheese:
Almost as if Iniesta is far too good to be playing in Japanpic.twitter.com/qjwnzL0wPB
— Sam Dean (@SamJDean) August 11, 2018
Look at that turn. Just look at it. Let it wash over you. Repeatedly.
The J1 League was founded 26 years ago and doesn’t enjoy the level of competition seen in Europe, South America or MLS and Liga MX. So it stands to reason Iniesta can basically walk into the side and instantly become vice-captain. (The current captain is former German international and Bundesliga/Arsenal standout Lukas Podolski, who played the initial ball as Iniesta opened his account.)
More and more aging stars are plying their trade in Japan and China as those leagues try to build up their credibility. With Iniesta and Podolski leading the way, Vissel Kobe sits fourth in the J1 table, seven points back of Kawasaki Frontale in third place and the Asian Football Confederation Champions League spot that comes with it. Six Japanese sides have won the AFC Champions League, including reigning title-holders Urawa Red Diamonds, but Vissel Kobe never has.
Maybe that will change with Iniesta in the squad. Saturday’s display, which contributed to a 2-1 win, seemed to portend good things.
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