Jay Bothroyd, Lukas Podolski and Jo also in J-League
By James Walker-Roberts
Last Updated: 14/10/18 10:30pm
As Spain prepare to face England on Monday, live on Sky Sports, we look at how two of their 2010 World Cup winners are faring in Japan.
Andres Iniesta and Fernando Torres moved to the J-League in the summer from Barcelona and Atletico Madrid respectively.
We take a look at how they are getting on with their new teams, along with the fortunes of some other familiar faces in Japan…
Iniesta’s signing from Barcelona was one of the biggest the J-League had seen in years. He agreed a deal worth a reported $30m a year – a J-League record – and spoke on his arrival about wanting to “conquer Asia” with Vissel Kobe.
That might prove tricky in the immediate future as Kobe are mid-table in the J-League after taking just one point from their last six matches.
Spain vs England
October 15, 2018, 7:00pm
Iniesta has scored twice in nine appearances, and both were memorable goals. His first saw him collect the ball in the box, drag it around a defender with his first touch and then shimmy past the goalkeeper before finishing into the empty net. For his second he cut inside on the edge of the box and then fired into the top corner.
There have also been regular reminders of his brilliance and composure on the ball, along with an incident when team-mate Shunki Takahashi was banned for a month for leaking news of an injury to Iniesta.
Takahashi apparently told a friend that Iniesta was due to miss a match and the information was subsequently posted on Twitter, resulting in a suspension for the defender.
“There can be no excuses, and in the future I will not repeat the same action,” he said in a statement.
With five games of the season to left, Kobe have slipped down to 11th and are nine points behind Kashima Antlers, who occupy the final AFC Champions League qualifying place.
“I wanted a new challenge in a completely different place,” were Fernando Torres’ words when he decided to turn down offers from around Europe and move to the J-League from Atletico Madrid in the summer. Battling against relegation might not have been the challenge he had in mind.
With five games of the season left to play, Torres’ Sagan Tosu are fighting to stay in the J-League. They have won just four games since Torres made his debut on July 22 and the striker, now 34, has only scored once in 11 league starts. That record is problematic for the lowest-scoring team in the division, with a record of 23 goals in 29 games.
Torres’ best display was against Gamba Osaka in late August when he scored once and assisted twice in a 3-0 victory. He said afterwards, “I think I can play better and more goals will come”, but he is yet to find the net again and appeared to react angrily when he was substituted in a 1-1 draw with relegation rivals Kashiwa Reysol in September.
Sagan are currently second from bottom having lost both of their previous matches. The bottom two sides in the J-League are relegated while the team that finishes 16th faces a relegation play-off.
Torres did get the better of Iniesta when their two sides met in the Emperor Cup, scoring in a 3-0 victory for Sagan.
Ex-England, Coventry and Cardiff striker Bothroyd has been in Japan since February 2015.
He was the top scorer in his first season with J2 League side Jubilo Iwata, netting 20 goals to help his side clinch promotion to the J-League. Bothroyd scored 14 goals the following season with Iwata before leaving to join Consadole Sapporo.
He has found goals harder to come by with Sapporo – only netting five this season – but his team are challenging for a spot in next season’s AFC Champions League. They are currently fifth in the table, just two points behind third-placed Kashima Antlers.
Sapporo was hit by an earthquake in September which caused multiple deaths and left millions without electricity.
“We didn’t train for six days,” said Bothroyd in Sapporo’s first game after the quake. “We couldn’t eat properly because the food was gone at the supermarket. You’ve still got to come here and be professional. When you play [as we did tonight], I have tears in my eyes.
“After what happened, we wanted to put on a good display and get the right result. I saw grown men crying in the crowd, and that’s how much it means to them. And that’s how much it needs to mean to us.”
Now 36, Bothroyd has told The Guardian that he wants to be “the first English person to win some silverware in Japan”.
Former Arsenal and Germany forward Podolski has been with Kobe since 2017, but has not made a telling impact in the J-League, partly due to injuries and partly due to inconsistent form.
He scored five goals in 15 league starts in his first season and has netted three times in 19 starts this season.
Urawa Reds’ Tomoaki Makino played alongside Podolski at Cologne in 2011 and said after a recent meeting: “I never thought that he’d play in the J-League all these years later.”
While Torres and Podolski have struggled for goals, former Manchester City and Everton striker Jo has been in fantastic form for Nagoya Grampus. The Brazilian, who joined earlier this year, is second in the J-League scoring charts with 20 goals in 26 games, including a run between August and September when he scored nine in four matches.
Jo joined Manchester City for a club-record fee of £19m in 2008 but only scored once in 21 Premier League appearances. He fared slightly better during a loan stint with Everton – five goals in 12 appearances – but was suspended in 2010 after returning to Brazil over Christmas without permission.
Watch Spain v England live on Sky Sports Main Event from 7pm on Monday