J-League – Andrés Iniesta, Villa David, Fernando Torres, Juanma Lillo: the logic behind these transfers in Japan, between sports ambitions, marketing moves and territorial domination

At the end of May 2018, the whole football world had a dust in the eye. Iniesta has played their last match with Barça. While it was announced close to China, the native of Albacete joined to the surprise the Vissel Kobe and the J-League. In Japan, he finds Lukas Podolski and will be joined by Fernando Torres and then coach Juanma Lillo and David Villa. But what does it hide behind these movements? Nostalgia of the 90s, sports will and marketing shot of a league that tries to grow: explanations.

Andrés Iniesta is a legend, a monument and especially a fundamental member of one of the greatest football teams in history. When he announces his choice to leave Barça with the intention of continuing his career elsewhere, it is the panic among supporters. But where will the man who distills the croquetas like nobody go? Given the direction of the wind, it is announced very close to Chongqing Lifan in Chinese Super League. We even talk about a Pharaonic contract accompanied by the opportunity to put a foot in the Chinese wine market, he owns vineyards in Castilla-la-Mancha. But if the continent is good, it is not in China but in Japan that Iniesta sets its bags. With the nose and beard of the CSL, the J-League won the day. The Vissel Kobe, a club that earns nothing but is well endowed financially thanks to the support of Rakuten, sponsor of Barca, announces by the voice of its owner Hiroshi "Mickey" Mikitani the signature of Don Andrés for 3 years and 25 million euros of salary. A deal where clash sports ambitions, technical progress and role of ambassador.

Iniesta to make Vissel Kobe number 1 in Asia

Rakuten and its founder are not unknown in Europe although the majority of the activities of the "Japanese Amazon" are on the Japanese archipelago. "Mickey", as he is known around the country, went into business after the terrible earthquake of 1995. After having managed and turned abroad to grow Rakuten, he wants to use football and baseball to materialize its Rakuten logic of "eco-system" which should make life easier for its customers. The logic is simple: Rakuten has assets in almost all sectors and therefore wants to set up a single customer account for each of its companies. Eventually, "Mickey" wants to delete cash transactions. This project comes to life in the Vissel stadium, where in 2019 coins and banknotes are no longer authorized and where everything goes through dematerialized payment marked with the logo of Rakuten obviously.

READ – Andrés Iniesta at Vissel Kobe: All about a new transfer for the J-League

Already owner of a Vissel baseball franchise, Mikitani quickly understood that to publicize his brand internationally and thus be able to set up his eco-system project, he had to have advertising inserts that are the most visible possiblse. In 2016, Rakuten becomes the sponsor of two giants: Barça and the Golden States Warriors in the NBA. Just that. "Our brand is extremely strong in Japan but not so in other countries," Mikitani satisfied himself at a press conference after the acquisition of Viber. At Barça, it was Gerard Piqué who allowed the connection between the board blaugrana and the Japanese giant. The Barça defender is friends with "Mickey" and together they are behind the reform of the Davis Cup. This rapprochement between Rakuten and Barca gives birth to Iniesta's signature in Japan. It makes visible the collaboration side of the partnership between the Japanese Amazon and the Cules. The Vissel wants to recover the science of Barça in terms of valorization of its stadium and training. For Mikitani, no half measure: we take example and we allies with the best to grow and we do not look at the expense.

"I would like to help the J-League grow in Asia" Andrés Iniesta

The J-League is one of the best leagues in Asia but is not as sexy as before. During the 90s, the arrival of Zico had boosted the Japanese championship and allowed him to cross a course very quickly. Michael Laudrup, the idol of Iniesta, also took the shirt of the Vissel during this period. But in recent years, South Korea has become a serious competitor in terms of sports and China is far in front of a media point of view. The arrival of Iniesta is a monumental blow. His arrival is good for the entire J-League as a whole. With "Don Andrés", Mickey and the Vissel also buy a piece of Barça and a perfect ambassador for its local and continental influence.

An ambition announced in person by Mikitani in person during the presentation of Iniesta:

"I am convinced that Iniesta's philosophy, leadership and DNA will be a tremendous source of inspiration, not only for the Vissel Kobe, but for all Japanese football. Giving players and fans the chance to see Iniesta's world class playing style will have a major impact. We will give everything to achieve our goal of becoming the # 1 club in Asia "Hiroshi Mikatani

And Iniesta to add: "I wish I could somehow transmit all that I have learned and lived". An ambition that goes in the logic of expansion of the J-League that has significantly increased its TV rights. The Japanese championship has signed a partnership with LaLiga in 2017 for example. Before Iniesta and the other Spanish stars, the J-League had forged partnerships with federations of Southeast Asia that grew with the signing of some local stars including the Thai Theerathon "Aum" Bunmathan at Vissel Kobe.

A bit of sports, a lot of business

The Vissel Kobe may be the richest Japanese club, it does not weigh sportingly on the championship. He even makes the lift regularly with the J2 and has trouble finishing above the top 10. Before Iniesta, the signature of Podolski had allowed the Ushi to grow media but not really sporting. Especially in addition to a rather low return, the German world champion is often criticized by the local media for his lack of overall investment. Moreover, despite the titles of Poldi, Iniesta is a player of a different scale that joins Kobe. The earthquake is global. No one imagined Don Andrés wearing another shirt than Barça's.

However, the first steps of Iniesta did not allow the Vissel to climb the classification. On the contrary. It is true that the workforce is poorly designed and the 10th final place of 2018 is logical. However, around the Ushi stadium, Iniesta's contribution quickly came to the fore. First, from a marketing point of view, as with Podolski, the Spaniard became the icone of a tourist campaign to bring Europeans to Japan. A spot and a contest designed by Rakuten. Then, the firm, through its video platform resembling Netflix, has set up a documentary series on Iniesta's footsteps in Japan, starting with a discussion between Mikitani and the awesome midfielder. This transfer makes Iniesta a sandwich man of Rakuten. To continue in the partnerships, the author of the magnificent goal in the finals of the 2010 Msonde Cup also left Nike after more than 16 years of good and loyal service to wear crampons Asics, Japanese brand based in … Kobe.

"You have broadcast information about Japan. Thanks to this, the number of Spanish tourists has increased » Shinzo Abe, Japanese Prime Minister, Iniesta

Mediately, the arrival of Iniesta in Japan is quantifiable. As Shin Toyofuku, Spain correspondent for Hochi Shimbun, one of the leading sports newspapers, explains: "In all Vissel Kobe games, at home and away, all tickets are sold. This was achieved thanks to Iniesta ". Masayuki Morii, commercial manager of the Vissel, adds: "In the pre-Iniesta seasons, Kobe sells 150,000 shirts, but in the two weeks since Iniesta's arrival in July, we sold 500,000."

David Badunski, former Masia and J-league player in Omiya Ardija assures him: "Iniesta has created a massive expectation. All Japanese football fans are excited about his arrival and can not wait to see him. All clubs and all competitions earn a lot with the arrival of one of the best in history. In the case of the Vissel Kobe, they have Podolski in addition. Iniesta will bring special value that will help them make a difference. " An expectation that materializes around the stadium Noevir Vissel Kobe where a stand is dedicated to the sale of stamped products Iniesta. A bar where Spanish tapas and wines advised by Iniesta itself has also been launched. In the stands, the German flags to encourage Podolski are being replaced by those of Spain. Dan Orlowitz, sports editor at Japan Times, says: "When Iniesta plays, the media that does not usually cover football do it. You have to register for every game because they have no place in the press gallery, a situation inconceivable before. Subscriptions have also increased for the 2019 season. See Iniesta it costs a bit …

In the wake of Iniesta, another Spaniard joined the J-League for the 2018 exercise. Except that the logic is really different. When Iniesta signs into a rich club that wants to become a giant, Fernando Torres arrives in a very small club that fights for its maintenance and supported by two quite important sponsors. At Sagan Tosu, not really a long-term project, but a sporting blow to save a club that is getting closer to a relegation season after season. Nevertheless, El Niño already knows a little Sagan Prefecture, for being hosted with Atlético during an internship in 2015 as part of the partnership LaLiga World. However, he does not fall into a club as ambitious as Iniesta. Although Torres scored little, the Sagan fled. And to mix the useful and the pleasant, the former Colchonero is also part of a marketing logic since he dropped his Adidas for Mizuno after his arrival in Japan and it is certainly not to pay tribute to the career of Thiago Motta or Frankie Fredericks. Nevertheless, between the big city of Kobe and the village of Tosu, the projects are totally opposed.

A bit of Masia and a revival of the most beautiful Barca with David Villa and Juanma Lillo

In spite of disappointing sports results, the Vissel has again moved up a gear by announcing arrivals Juanma Lillo and David Villa for 2019. Guardiola's mentor arrived at the end of the 2018 season and aims to make a revival. one of the most beautiful Barça in history with two players who have beautifully heard on the field. Lillo was the mastermind of Guardiola, the Sampaoli frontrunner in Chile but who has never really been successful as number 1. Lillo began coaching when he was not 20 years old. He has revolutionized and theorized a number of precepts that have become references for many coaches who have taken it as an example to explode.

Credits: Besoccer

Mikitani had said about Iniesta: "We want him to be involved in the management of the whole club". CLillo's signature is a strong marker of its importance in the club. He's missing a prolific striker at the Vissel? Muy good! Iniesta picks up her phone and steps her former teammate David Villa. El Guaje said that Iniesta's call was decisive: " I spoke to Andrés when Kobe's offer arrived. I had a positive impression after he told me how nice Kobe was, how comfortable he was at the club and in team projects. ". Mikitani wants the best for his great environment, as long as the Vissel is at the top of Asia.

"A manager is at most a facilitator. A manager must be like God, to be everywhere but nowhere. At most, it makes things easier but no more. Players are what really matters. With good footballers, everything is easier » Juanma Lillo on her daily role

In its desire to inspire Japan and Asia, the Vissel Kobe is endowed with a magnificent weapon to attract both Europeans and Asians if it works. Hiroshi Mikitani said: "We are pursuing a new style of play and after talking with the coach, the name of David Villa has been described as an attacker who corresponds to this style of play. He is a great scorer." Juanma Lillo also spoke about her personal goals in Kobe: "The Vissel has all the necessary conditions for me to apply my football style." What will soon appear video clips of Vissel shares on social networks?


Iniesta has already dubbed Lillo by declaring: "With the previous coach, we did things but Lillo is now focusing on some things that are missing from the team." An ambition that is a sensation when compared to Tosu de Torres who is certainly less powerful financially but who also signed a Spanish coach in the person of Luis Carreras who did not achieve great things in Spain.

Villa-Iniesta: leading car of a J-League with long teeth

Tension is rising around the Vissel which begins its season at the end of February. Currently in training in the United States, the Japanese club is a pioneer, as the confession Don Andrés: " This is the first time in the history of Japanese football clubs that a J-League team travels to the United States to play friendly matches. A tour that allows above all to promote a new asset Rakuten blockchain, a storage technology and information gathering. With that, Iniesta must also grow local players: " We look forward to Andrés strengthening not only the team's performance, but also contributing to the development of the next generation of players through the introduction of the Iniesta methodology in the youth academy. " explained Mikatani. A little sports, a lot of marketing: this is the daily Iniesta in Japan between two croquetas.

As often with Spanish genius players, Iniesta looks like everyone else. He is neither the greatest nor the strongest, but he is the most intelligent. A style that pleases and can inspire many people in Japan. A logic that is the reverse of a project of a Japanese club that has launched a training structure in Barcelona, ​​composed mainly of young Japanese who are fighting in small local divisions with the same project: to emerge the new Asian star . For his first official league match in 2019, Villa's Vissel Kobe, Iniesta and Lillo will face Lotina's Cerezo Osaka. Japanese football speaks more and more Spanish and can be enjoyed with a caña and tapas.

Benjamin Bruchet

@ BenjaminB_13