Andres Iniesta arrived at Vissel Kobe amid plenty of fanfare in May 2018.

One of the most successful players in Barcelona's history, having won LaLiga nine times and four Champions League crowns among his haul of 35 trophies, Iniesta was brought to Vissel to deliver silverware.

Up until his arrival three years ago, Vissel had never won a trophy but during the Spain great's time in Kobe, the ambitious Rakuten-backed outfit have won the Emperor's Cup (2019) and Japanese Super Cup (2020).

Vissel also qualified for the AFC Champions League for the first time in their 55-year history in 2020, reaching the semi-finals.

Iniesta and Vissel are on track to feature in the Champions League again – Atsuhiro Miura's men are third in the J1 League this season and on course for their best finish in the top flight, three points clear of Nagoya Grampus in the race for the final qualification spot ahead of Sunday's showdown – as they seek to become kings of Asia.

"The team have been saying we want to become the number one team in Asia so the first big goal is to win the Asian Champions League," Vissel defender Leo Osaki told Stats Perform about the project in Japan.

"Of course we have to win the J1 League, we can't just be focused on the Champions League. But the biggest goal right now is to win the Champions League. We just have to finish third and hope we can play for the Champions League next season."

 

When Iniesta swapped Camp Nou to join captain Lukas Podolski at Kobe Wing Stadium, it brought more eyes onto the club and attracted a host of stars the following year.

Spain's all-time leading scorer David Villa, former Arsenal and Barcelona defender Thomas Vermaelen and Sergi Samper all followed Iniesta to Kobe.

Vissel's investment in Iniesta paid off in 2019 after conquering Kashima Antlers for their first ever piece of silverware before overcoming 2019 J1 League champions Yokohama F.Marinos on penalties in the Japanese Super Cup in 2020.

Since his debut, Iniesta has showed no signs of slowing down, with the 37-year-old maestro boasting 175 completed dribbles (second in the J1 League) and a 64 per cent success rate (third among at least 100 attempts) to go with 164 created chances (fifth) in 81 league appearances.

In total, captain Iniesta has scored 17 goals and supplied 17 assists to spearhead Vissel's cause under the ownership of Rakuten, who continue to dream big after buying the team from the Crimson Group in 2014.

"He didn't come here to finish his career. He came to win and you can see it in the training and locker room," Osaki said, with Vissel's 2021 squad including Vermaelen, Bojan Krkic and Samper. "I think bringing him into the team opened the path for other world-class players to come in and it attracted a lot of people to watch the J1 League and Vissel Kobe. In that point of view, it gave the team a positive reaction.

"For him playing with us, since the first day he came, there was a positive reaction. Watching him from behind, it's a dream come true because most of us were just watching him on TV.

"Playing wise, he demands a lot from everybody, not just players next to him but behind him, goalkeeper and strikers. In our bad times, he tries to talk to players and motivate them so the team doesn't fall apart.

"Winning that title changed everything in a good way," Osaki added. "Since it was the first title in the club's history, that boosted the confidence for everyone. Also the expectations got higher. Winning those two titles changed a lot."

"I think we haven't accomplished anything, so the job isn't finished. We have to play in the Champions League and become the number one team in Asia. We've made progress in terms of getting two titles. The team had never won any titles, so that was big progress," the 30-year-old said.

"Playing in the Champions League gave us experience and confidence, which has helped us this season. In the Champions League, we didn't end up winning but I think that experience gave us confidence and that's why we are in this position now."

 

Since Iniesta's arrival, Vissel have ranked third in the J1 League in possession (57.2 per cent), passing accuracy (85.5 per cent) and shooting accuracy (47.3 per cent), while they have outperformed their expected goals (xG) value of 171.4 by scoring 183 goals – the fourth most in that span.

"Bringing in Andres and all those world-class players always gives a positive reaction to the team but at the same time, fans are like 'you have these players, so you have to win'. But football isn't that easy," he added.

"Of course we have quality players and we play with 11 players, but it's a team sport. It takes time. Fans can't wait, they want results instantly. We struggled in the beginning and we were focused on possession and everything but now we are probably 50 per cent counter-attack and 50 per cent possession - and we started getting results."

He added: "I think sometimes we focus on the project too much in the past. Of course, we want to play out from the back, press the ball and dominate the game but sometimes we focus on that too much. At times we had 60-70 per cent possession but we couldn't get results or win. We're still working on that actually, playing out of the back. We kind of added a different kind of style, just go forward at times.

"Now, we're focused more on the result. At times we play good and at times we don't, but still focusing on the result is keeping us in this position now."

It is a new era under Ange Postecoglou at Parkhead.

Tasked with leading an embattled Celtic back to the Scottish summit, having been dethroned by bitter rivals Rangers last season, Postecoglou is slowly putting his stamp on the club.

Prised from Yokohama F.Marinos after ending the club's 15-year J1 League title drought in 2019, Postecoglou has returned to Japan to raid Andres Iniesta's Vissel Kobe for Kyogo Furuhashi.

Postecoglou knows Furuhashi well from their time together in Japan, where the 26-year-old forward has starred since arriving from second-tier outfit FC Gifu in 2018.

Regarded as one of the country's most exciting talents, the Japan international brings plenty of goals, pace, creativity and dribbling ability to Glasgow, with Celtic fans hoping he can follow in the footsteps of country great Shunsuke Nakamura - who won six trophies during his time in Scotland.

Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind Furuhashi, using Opta data.

Endorsed by Barca great

If there is one player who knows a thing or two about succeeding in Europe, it is former Barcelona captain Iniesta.

Iniesta - the most decorated Spanish footballer of all time thanks to 35 trophies at Camp Nou - was lured to Japanese club Vissel in 2018, the same year as team-mate Furuhashi.

Furuhashi tops the league's scoring charts this season with 15 in 21 appearances for third-placed Vissel, three more than ex-Brazil international Leandro Damiao (Kawasaki Frontale), Anderson Lopes (Consadole Sapporo) and Ado Onaiwu (F.Marinos).

He scored in his farewell appearance for Vissel on Saturday, the opening goal in the 1-1 draw with Cerezo Osaka.

Only Kawasaki's Yu Kobayashi (44) has scored more goals in J1 League than Furuhashi since his first appearance in the competition (August 5, 2018).

"To be honest, Kyogo absolutely has the talent to play in Europe," Iniesta said previously. "He's leading the J1's scoring chart, but it's not just that. He's got strong technique, and I believe he can succeed in Europe."

Since his J1 League debut three years ago, Furuhashi has been involved in 58 goals (42 goals and 16 assists), the most number in this period.

"I'm sure he's got scouts watching him already, but it's going to be tough for us because he scores a lot of goals," Iniesta added.

"It'll be tough but if he goes to Europe, I'll be incredibly happy for him, because for Japanese players it's a dream to play in Europe."

Ange turns to familiar face as Celtic rebuild

Furuhashi evidently left his mark on Postecoglou in Japan.

Coming up against Postecoglou's F.Marinos, Furuhashi scored three goals across all competitions.

On paper, Furuhashi seems to be the perfect fit for Postecoglou's high-octane, attacking style of football, having been involved in 106 shots (82 shots himself and 24 chances created) - the highest figure in J1 League this season.

Before his farewell appearance on Saturday, Furuhashi had the highest non-penalty expected goals (10.9), best non-penalty xG per shot (0.14), most shots following a carry (30) and most shot involvements following a carry (37) in the competition in 2021.

"We are delighted to bring Kyogo Furuhashi to Celtic. He is a player of real quality and clearly someone I know well," Postecoglou said after a four-year deal was agreed following the arrivals of Liam Shaw, Joey Dawson, Osaze Urhoghide, Liel Abada and Bosun Lawal.

Furuhashi - who has managed three goals in six appearances for Japan, with only two starts - will now test himself in Europe.

He has won the most points thanks to his goals and assists in the league this season (16 points).

Points won thanks to a player's goal is based on how many points a team would have accrued had a certain player not scored in that game at all. For example, a hat-trick in a 6-1 win gains no points, whereas one in a 1-1 draw gets one, two in a 2-1 win gets three, two in a 2-0 win gets two and so on.

"I think he will add something special to our squad and I am sure the way he plays will excite our supporters," Postecoglou said. "We look forward to welcoming him to Celtic."

Ange Postecoglou changed the landscape of Australian football and now the trailblazer is tasked with leading an embattled Celtic back to the Scottish summit, having been dethroned by bitter rivals Rangers.

Postecoglou – cut from the same cloth as Pep Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri – was appointed by Celtic last month amid some backlash in Scotland, but Bhoys fans are slowly starting to get an idea of why the former Australia manager is so highly rated.

With an emphasis on a high-octane style of attacking football and unrelenting belief in his philosophy, Postecoglou is the most decorated coach in Australian football history.

From South Melbourne to Australia and Japan, Postecoglou has won it all – a pair of National Soccer League championships, back-to-back A-League titles, a record 36-match unbeaten streak at Brisbane Roar, plus a ground-breaking 2015 Asian Cup triumph with the Socceroos and a J1 League crown with Yokohama F.Marinos - while silencing his doubters.

With fellow Australian Arthur Papas by his side in Yokohama, Postecoglou ended F.Marinos' 15-year wait for league glory in 2019.

As Postecoglou embarks on the biggest job an Australian coach has held in football, former assistant Papas – now in charge of A-League side Newcastle Jets – told Stats Perform: "It's a great achievement to be given a position of such stature.

"I'm ecstatic for Ange because the path to success is never a straight line. That is for everyone. The main thing is he's been consistent. Consistent in who he is as a person, how he approaches his work and what he believes in - and he believes in himself a lot.

"He is incredibly humble and hardworking, and full of self-belief. But he knows it's a big job, a difficult job. Celtic are another team who have fallen away in recent times and the pressure is immense, but I do think that's when he is at his best. He thrives under those conditions. It's a challenge after being so successful in Japan."

Postecoglou left F.Marinos with the highest winning percentage (49.2 – 58 victories in 118 games) in the history of the club. Since joining the Yokohama outfit, only two managers have a better winning percentage than Postecoglou from a minimum of 10 games: Toru Oniki (65) and Go Oiwa (50).

Despite the language barrier, F.Marinos bought into the Postecoglou way. Since 2018, the team ranked first for passing accuracy (86.5 per cent) and possession (63.2 per cent), while they were second for goals per game (1.9), expected goals per game (1.8), shots per game (15.2), shots on target per game (5.3), shot conversion rate (12.6), shooting accuracy (47.2), chances created per game (11.4), passes per game (619.4), passing accuracy in opposition half (82.4), big chance total per game (2.4), big chances created per game (1.8) and big chances scored per game (1.1).

Papas, who spent two seasons with Postecoglou at F.Marinos, added: "It's been well-documented the success in Japan but not really understood how difficult it is. People have asked me, for example, how will I deal with the pressure of being an A-League coach? I feel like saying, being in a country where not one player or staff speaks English and still getting a football message across and seeing it come to life so quickly, has more difficulty than maybe coming back here.

"Every job will have its challenge in the end. The main thing is [Celtic] have got themselves a world-class manager. A manager with a very clear philosophy and someone given the time, like every manager needs. Some use that time extremely well and you see progression, and others unfortunately – because the path isn't so clear, doesn't go that way. But given the time, he will be successful there for sure. He will be successful in his own unique way.

"Then, there will be another step after that because that's just Ange. He doesn't settle for that place and get comfortable. When he has had a bit of success, he wants more. That's why he is special at what he does."

Postecoglou, like Manchester City's Guardiola and former Chelsea and Juventus boss Sarri, pushes the boundaries. Firmly set in his belief of how football should be played, Postecoglou's approach never waivers and success follows the 55-year-old in his pursuit of excellence.

Asked about some of the initial negativity after Postecoglou's arrival at Celtic, Papas said: "Australian coaches, unfortunately, don't get start-up respect regardless, so there's always going to be someone that doubts you. What is important, is what you believe in about yourself.

"The thing is, he is so supremely confident in himself that it won't phase him. He knows it's just part of the challenge of where we are from and where we're going. He is a firm believer of it, we as Australian coaches probably get underestimated because of our passport not because of our competency. Having experiences across Asia, you see things and you're like wow.

"The passport unfortunately doesn't carry a lot of weight and definitely carries a lot of criticism at times, but he believes in himself.

 

"He will go there, it will take some time to engrain his ideas but there's no doubt they have a world-class manager that will turn that place upside down and get them on the right path."

During F.Marinos' triumphant season in 2019, Postecoglou's men covered the greatest distance in the J1 League (116.48km), ahead of Oita Trinita (114.79km). They also tallied the most total sprints with 191, more than FC Tokyo (174).

"Ange is the type that scours through every bit of information. If you're a staff member there, you need to be on top of everything because you'll get questioned at times about 'what was the data on this?', 'what were the statistics on this player?' He is obsessed with his work," Papas added.

"It doesn't matter how time progresses; he is just as obsessed as he's ever been in terms of details. There's a lot of work to get that engine going in the background to run that program in a way that he feels befits a world-class program."

Postecoglou oversaw a rebuild at the Roar and after asking to be judged a year from the time he replaced ex-Socceroos boss Frank Farina, his project culminated in the development of arguably the greatest footballing side the country had ever seen.

Playing an entertaining and possession-based brand of football, the Roar won the championship in 2010-11 and successfully defended their trophy the following season amid a 36-game unbeaten streak – an all-time Australian football code record for the longest undefeated run, surpassing rugby league outfit Eastern Suburbs' record set 74 years prior.

Postecoglou also coached Melbourne Victory before his Australia appointment in 2013. In the A-League, his teams scored 1.7 goals per game; only one head coach (minimum 30 games) has a higher average in the competition's history (Graham Arnold - 1.8).

The Greece-born boss left Australia's domestic competition with a 51 per cent win percentage as head coach – the joint-fifth best of any manager in the competition's history.

Named Australia boss in 2013, Postecoglou led Australia at the 2014 World Cup, conquered the Asian Cup the following year and also secured their position at Russia 2018 before stepping down. The Socceroos scored 86 goals in A-Internationals under Postecoglou – the second most they have scored under any manager since the beginning of 1965 (Frank Farina - 197).

Australia won 22 games during his tenure; only two managers have won more since the beginning of 1965 (Frank Farina - 34 and Holger Osieck - 23).

"I don't believe there is a certain timeline and it clicks," Papas said. "The process starts from day one and it's more about what is around you to implement that. Certain positions, you can go in and have the ability to make certain changes early on, which might fast track that progression. The only thing is that it's something that always grows and gets better. Because it's such a clear way of working and style of play that you're constantly working on everyday getting better at doing that.

"It's not, this week we're going to change it and sit back, these messages are so consistent that it just becomes something you get stronger at over time but that's why it takes a bit of time also. It's not a situational philosophy, it's a very clearly-defined progressive philosophy that has clarity and certain principles/frameworks that get reinforced on a daily basis."

"The biggest trouble with Celtic is trying to keep hold of Ange. In three or four years, you're going to have the same situation. He has won multiple titles and he will be trying to get a move to England or one of the big leagues. That is his pathway."

Ange Postecoglou is cut from the same cloth as Pep Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri – an emphasis on a high-octane style of attacking football, with an unrelenting belief in their philosophy.

But his appointment as Celtic manager has caused a stir in Scotland. Fans have questioned his ability and credibility to make the step from Asian to European football.

Postecoglou has been tasked with leading an embattled Celtic back to the Scottish summit after the Bhoys were dethroned by bitter rivals Rangers in 2020-21.

There are some parallels to legendary manager Arsene Wenger. Like Postecoglou, the Frenchman had history in Japan, having spent a year with Nagoya Grampus before being brought to the UK by Arsenal in 1996.

Social media was not around at the time of Wenger's Gunners arrival, though it would be safe to assume he would have been subjected to similar criticism from a supporter base desperate to wrestle the trophy back to Celtic Park.

Those questioning Postecoglou's pedigree should look no further than his CV – the most decorated coach in Australian football history, having also transcended and changed the landscape of the sport Down Under.

From South Melbourne to Australia and Japan, Postecoglou has won it all – a pair of National Soccer League championships, back-to-back A-League titles, a record 36-match unbeaten streak at Brisbane Roar, plus a ground-breaking 2015 Asian Cup triumph with the Socceroos and a J1 League crown with Yokohama F.Marinos, while silencing his doubters.

A former Australia international, Postecoglou – who delivered two NSL trophies within three years of his tenure in charge of boyhood club South Melbourne – truly announced himself at the helm of 'Roarcelona'.

After a brief and unsuccessful stint in Greece in 2008, followed by a short spell in the semi-professional state league in Victoria which resulted in relegation, Postecoglou landed in Brisbane the following year.

Postecoglou oversaw a rebuild and after asking to be judged a year from the time he replaced ex-Socceroos boss Frank Farina, his project culminated in the development of arguably the greatest footballing side in the history of Australian football.

Playing an entertaining and possession-based brand of football, the Roar won the championship in 2010-11 and successfully defended their trophy the following season amid a 36-game unbeaten streak – an all-time Australian football code record for the longest undefeated run, surpassing rugby league outfit Eastern Suburbs' record set 74 years prior.

Postecoglou also coached Melbourne Victory before his Australia appointment in 2013. In the A-League, his teams scored 1.7 goals per game; only one head coach (minimum 30 games) has a higher average in the competition's history (Graham Arnold - 1.8).

The Greek-born boss left Australia's domestic competition with a 51 per cent win percentage as head coach – the joint-fifth best of any manager in the competition's history.

Erik Paartalu was one of Postecoglou's first signings as Roar coach and the ex-Australia international told Stats Perform: "He will be absolutely buzzing. He isn't the type to take a job on lightly. He would've researched beforehand. I'm sure he's probably been offered jobs of this calibre before but wasn't ready.

"Ange has always been ambitious. This guy just doesn't stop. Any other Australian coach that would've won the J.League would've just stopped there and chilled out in Asia. The guy is in his mid-50s. He would've researched this whole situation at Celtic, who is leaving and who is coming, who can I get in? I know he's already thought about his next step from here."

"With Ange, it was the tactical side of it where he explained and broke things down so easily on the pitch, whether that be playing 11-v-seven, so you would have a huge overload and confidence in possession. Or if it was in a video session, always pointing out the good things about people," said Paartalu as he reflected on his Roar days. "He always pumped up the smaller details of the team. His way to getting us to feel, you just felt so confident."

Postecoglou, like Manchester City's Guardiola and former Chelsea and Juventus boss Sarri, pushes the boundaries. Firmly set in his belief of how football should be played, Postecoglou's approach never waivers and success follows the 55-year-old in his pursuit of excellence.

"That's what we loved about him," Postecoglou said. "We went on that unbeaten streak and then lost five in a row. Never even mentioned getting close to the record. It was just like 'if we play the way we play, we'll wipe this team off the park'.

"In the first grand final [2011 against Central Coast Mariners], the goal I scored in the last couple of seconds [of extra time, 120th minute to force penalties after 2-2 draw], it was the build-up before that showed everything that we're about. [Michael] Theo had the ball and could've gone long, but he throws it to [Massimo] Murdocca and we build up from the back and get a corner. That was so typical of the way he wanted us to play. Even in training, it was like, 'don't put the ball above waist height or in the air'. If you did that, you had to give the ball to the other team. So we were drilled into knowing short passes, through lines, everyone in the right position, movement off the ball, entry points on the edge of the box, guys overlapping, 4-3-3 and don't cross the ball in if you're not sure. That was his blueprint. We were going to play his way all the way to the death. When we lost five in a row, he never got angry. He was so clear, saying keep doing it, be confident, keeping passing the ball.

"He definitely improves players' game intelligence when they work under him. You feel 10-feet tall and just know your job inside and out because of the way he prepares you."

Handpicked to introduce style and substance to the Socceroos in 2013, Postecoglou led Australia at the 2014 World Cup. Undaunted by the 'Group of Death', Australia left Brazil emptyhanded, but took it to Chile, the Netherlands and holders Spain in stunning fashion.

Postecoglou delivered a first Asian Cup to Australia in 2015, while he secured qualification for the 2018 World Cup before stepping down prior to the Russian showpiece.

The Socceroos scored 86 goals in A-Internationals under Postecoglou – the second most they have scored under any manager since the beginning of 1965 (Frank Farina - 197). Australia won 22 games during his tenure; only two managers have won more since the beginning of 1965 (Frank Farina - 34 and Holger Osieck - 23).

Postecoglou eventually landed at F.Marinos – part of the City Football Group – in 2018.

Physical performance coach Gregory King was part of the team Postecoglou put together to accompany him on his journey in Japan, where he ended F.Marinos' 15-year wait for league glory in 2019.

Postecoglou left F.Marinos with the highest winning percentage (49.2 – 58 victories in 118 games) in the history of the club. Since joining the Yokohama club, only two managers have a better winning percentage than Postecoglou; Toru Oniki (65) and Go Oiwa (50) from a minimum of 10 games.

Despite the language barrier, F.Marinos bought into the Postecoglou way. Since 2018, the team ranked first for passing accuracy (86.5) and possession (63.2), while they were second for goals per game (1.9), expected goals per game (1.8), shots per game (15.2), shots on target per game (5.3), shot conversion rate (12.6), shooting accuracy (47.2), chances created per game (11.4), passes per game (619.4), passing accuracy in opposition half (82.4), big chance total per game (2.4), big chance created per game (1.8) and big chance scored per game (1.1).

"He definitely has a really good understanding from conditioning, strength and sport-science point of view," King told Stats Perform. "His attention to detail is optimal. You know you can't pull the wool over his eyes. He knows everything going on within his team but he lets you run your own department. He gives you a license to achieve the objectives of the team in your own way."

During F.Marinos' triumphant season in 2019, Postecoglou's men covered the greatest distance in the J1 League (116.48), ahead of Oita Trinita (114.79km). They also tallied the most total sprints with 191, more than FC Tokyo (174).

As Postecoglou prepares to take pre-season training with Celtic, King said: "They're definitely in for a lot of hard work. Really quality football sessions based around the principles of how he wants to play. But, there's no holding back in terms of intensity.

"I think they will enjoy the sessions, however they will be pushed physically. The football we played in Yokohama was extremely high intensity. The physical qualities have to be at their peak. We expected our best players to play regularly, so to be able to do that, the players have to have a lot of good hard work behind them and to be able to cope with it."

"I'd be very surprised if he wasn't looking closely at injury history, how many games they've been able to play over the past seasons in terms of durability. Speed is obviously a massive factor from the forwards and also the centre-backs being able to play really aggressive and a high line. You can only do so much when you have them. We feel we can improve them all physically but from a conditioning point of view, you have to recruit players strong in those areas already to be able to play the way we did."

Kylian Mbappe's future continues to dominate headlines.

The Paris Saint-Germain star is a long-term target of Real Madrid.

With speculation over Cristiano Ronaldo's future, the two players could impact each other.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE OUT, RONALDO IN AT PSG?

Kylian Mbappe potentially joining Real Madrid could see Cristiano Ronaldo swap Juventus for Paris Saint-Germain, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

Mbappe has long been linked with LaLiga giants Madrid and a blockbuster move could impact Juve superstar Ronaldo.

If Ronaldo – also linked with Madrid and Manchester United – joins Ligue 1 powerhouse PSG, it could see Mauro Icardi leave Paris and land at Juve.

 

ROUND-UP

- Former Inter and Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte is in talks with Tottenham over a move to London, reports Gazzetta dello Sport and other media outlets. Conte is available after leaving Inter following their Serie A-winning season. Spurs have been linked with ex-coach and current PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino, but they appear keen on Conte. Tottenham are also reportedly close to appointing former Juve sporting director Fabio Paratici.

- The Telegraph claims Manchester City are willing to sell Bernardo Silva. It comes as City look to raise funds to bolster their attack after Sergio Aguero's exit amid strong links with Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland and Tottenham forward Harry Kane. Eintracht Frankfurt's Andre Silva has also emerged as a target, though Atletico Madrid and United have also been linked.

- Miralem Pjanic could return to Italy via former club Juve or Inter, says Sport. Pjanic has struggled for game time under Ronald Koeman at Barca.

United remain interested in signing Atletico and England right-back Kieran Trippier, according to the Daily Mail. The Red Devils are also working on a deal for Madrid defender Raphael Varane and are still targeting Jadon Sancho of Dortmund.

- Football Insider claims Celtic have finalised a deal for Yokohama F.Marinos boss Ange Postecoglou to take charge of the Scottish giants.

Andres Iniesta has agreed a new two-year contract with J1 League side Vissel Kobe.

The Japanese club announced on Tuesday, Iniesta's 37th birthday, that he was extending his deal until 2023.

Iniesta moved to Japan in 2018 after a glittering 22-year career with Barcelona came to an end.

The midfielder helped Vissel Kobe win the Emperor's Cup final on January 1 last year and qualify for the AFC Champions League for the first time. They also won the Japanese Super Cup in February 2020.

"I'm still very motivated to continue this project," Iniesta told reporters. "I had a strong feeling when I came here three years ago, and I still have that same feeling now."

Iniesta, who scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final, won 30 major trophies in his storied career for Barca including nine LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues.

Vissel Kobe were purchased in 2014 by the billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani, whose e-commerce company Rakuten are major Barca sponsors.

After inconsistent results and tensions behind the scenes amid four changes of head coach, Vissel Kobe managed to reach the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League after the competition resumed following the coronavirus pandemic.

They were beaten 2-1 by eventual champions Ulsan Hydunai, with Iniesta sidelined due to a thigh injury.

"There have been some tough times over the past three years... but I realise we've made history with a first title and ACL appearance," Iniesta said.

"From myself and my family, I want to thank the people of Kobe and Japan. With their love, respect and hospitality, this place has really become our home."

Record-breaking Japanese star Kazuyoshi Miura has signed a new contract with J1 League side Yokohama.

'King Kazu', the oldest goalscorer in Japanese professional football, has committed to his 17th season with the club and the 36th overall in his storied career.

Miura turns 54 on February 26, the day before the J1 League campaign is due to get underway.

Last September, he became the oldest player in the top-flight's history against Kawasaki Frontale at the age of 53 years and 210 days – he went on to make three more appearances that season.

In a statement released via the club, Miura said his "hopes and passion for football are only increasing" despite making only seven league appearances in the past two years.

Miura's last goal came in March 2017, when he scored in a 1-0 win over ThespaKusatsu Gunma in Japan's second tier at the age of 50 years and 14 days. It made him the oldest player to score in a professional league match in Japan.

Having started his career with Santos in 1986, Miura became the face of the J-League after its launch in 1993, having been the first Japanese winner of the Asian Footballer of the Year award in 1992.

Miura, who scored 55 goals in 89 international appearances for Japan, also had spells with Genoa, Dinamo Zagreb and Sydney FC.

He is one of only three men to score more than 50 goals for Japan, along with Kunishige Kamamoto and Shinji Okazaki.

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