Iniesta driving Vissel Kobe as ambitious Japanese side dream of becoming kings of Asia

By Sports Desk October 21, 2021

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."

Related items

  • Melbourne City 1-0 Perth Glory: Late Atkinson header wins it for champions Melbourne City 1-0 Perth Glory: Late Atkinson header wins it for champions

    Nathaniel Atkinson's late strike gave Melbourne City a 1-0 victory over Perth Glory at AAMI Park on Wednesday.

    Defending champions City, smarting from a first defeat of the A-League season at the hands of Western United, dominated the game but Glory goalkeeper Cameron Cook denied them time and again.

    Atkinson finally broke the deadlock in the 88th minute, nodding home from close range after Connor Metcalfe timed his run to perfection and headed into the substitute's path.

    Melbourne had 23 attempts and thought they had opened the scoring in the first half, but Andrew Nabbout's deflected strike was ruled out for offside.

    While Melbourne will point to their domination of the game, Atkinson's winner was a cruel blow for Cook, who made six saves.

    Victory for Patrick Kisnorbo's side moved them up to second place, with Perth sitting into sixth spot after four matches.

  • 'He's just been in attack mode' – Davis lauds in-form Lakers star Westbrook 'He's just been in attack mode' – Davis lauds in-form Lakers star Westbrook

    Anthony Davis says Russell Westbrook's aggression has been key to his return to form for the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Westbrook, a Los Angeles native, signed for his hometown team ahead of the 2021-22 season, having spent last campaign with the Washington Wizards.

    The nine-time All-Star struggled at the start of his Lakers career, but is averaging 23.5 points, 8.9 assists and 6.9 rebounds across the past eight games.

    He turned in a star performance on Tuesday as the Lakers claimed a convincing 117-102 victory over rivals the Boston Celtics.

    Westbrook accumulated 24 points and provided 11 assists, and only Davis (24.1) and LeBron James (25.9) are averaging more points per game this season for the Lakers than the 33-year-old (20.4).

    "I think at the beginning of the year, Russ was a little bit passive," Davis said, as reported by ESPN.

    "He was trying to get guys involved, pass the ball. We told him, 'The more you're aggressive, the more it will open up for everyone else.'

    "The last seven to 10 games, he's been very, very aggressive, and when he does that, it opens up the floor for everyone else as far as shooting.

    "He's just been in attack mode. That's why we brought him here, to be Russell Westbrook and not anybody else but that."

    Westbrook is well aware of the storied rivalry with the Celtics, given his Los Angeles upbringing.

    "As a player like myself, you want to make sure you approach all games the same while also understanding the significance of this particular game," Westbrook said.

    "That makes it a good win for us."

    The Lakers are sixth in the Western Conference with a 13-12 record, while the Celtics (also 13-12) sit 10th in the East.

    "We're disappointed as far as we were outhustled, out-toughed a little bit," Boston coach Ime Udoka said.

    "It hasn't happened in a long time. They would put their head down, get to the basket and get whatever they wanted. We're better than that defensively, but a lack of effort and a lack of toughness showed tonight."

  • Ashes 2021-22: 'It's all gone to plan so far' – Australia captain Cummins reflects on 'pretty crazy' opening day Ashes 2021-22: 'It's all gone to plan so far' – Australia captain Cummins reflects on 'pretty crazy' opening day

    Pat Cummins reflected on a "pretty crazy" first day as Australia's Test captain after his side dismantled England at the Gabba to start the Ashes in style.

    Mitchell Starc bowled Rory Burns with the very first ball in Brisbane on Wednesday and the hosts went on to skittle England out for just 147 before rain and bad light stopped play.

    Cummins, who replaced Tim Paine as captain following the wicketkeeper's resignation last month in the wake of a lewd texting scandal, led the way for Australia, taking 5-38.

    The 28-year-old became the second pace bowler to take five wickets in a men's Test innings as captain of Australia, after George Giffen (three occasions in December 1894, February 1895 and January 1895), and has taken 133 wickets in the longest format since the start of 2018, more than any other player.

    England skipper Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat on a green pitch in Queensland, and though Cummins acknowledged he would likely have made the same decision, he had no regrets over losing the coin flip as he looked back on a wonderful day for Australia.

    "Pretty crazy... it's all gone to plan so far," Cummins told BT Sport.

    "Really proud of all the guys. I was probably going to have a bat. I genuinely wasn't upset and we made the most of it.

    "[The pitch] is a little bit soft. You're always in the game on the morning of day one. It got a little bit quicker after lunch but the ball got a little bit softer. It's a pretty standard Gabba wicket."

    Asked to comment on his five-for, Cummins added: "The body felt decent. I've bowled better before and haven't got as many rewards. I kept it tight and got the ball up there."

    Starc's 2-35 and Josh Hazlewood's 2-42 were added to by a first Test wicket for Cameron Green (1-6) as England were cast aside with ease - only four of the tourists' side making it into double figures.

    The selection of opening bowler Starc had come under some scrutiny, but he responded in perfect fashion when his first delivery crashed into Burns' leg stump.

    It is only the second time in Ashes history that a batsman has been dismissed with the first ball of the first Test.

    "Really happy for him, he really held the attack together," Cummins said of Starc.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.