Tokyo (AFP) – German World Cup winner Lukas Podolski has formally joined Japan’s Vissel Kobe, the J-League club said Thursday, bucking a trend of big-name players moving to cash-rich China.
The 31-year-old forward, who has played for Turkey’s Galatasaray since 2015, is expected to arrive in Japan in June.
Kobe did not give immediate details of the deal, although Podolski is understood to have signed a three-year contract worth $15 million.
Podolski, who joined Galatasaray from English Premier League club Arsenal, via a loan spell at Inter Milan, cost Kobe an estimated transfer fee of around $3 million.
The former Germany international’s decision to choose Japan comes as a surprise with many big-name footballers now moving to China for mega-bucks in the twilight of their careers.
It also represents something of a coup for the J-League, which used to attract luminaries such as Zico and Gary Lineker when it began in 1993 but has struggled to attract marquee players in recent years.
“We are delighted to welcome such a world-class striker to Kobe,” Vissel president Hiroshi Mikitani said in a statement.
“We expect big things from Podolski, who has played for some of Europe’s top clubs, as part of Kobe’s bid to win the title.”
Last December, Argentine forward Carlos Tevez became the latest foreign star to move to China when he signed for Super League side Shanghai Shenhua worth an eye-watering $84 million in wages over two years.
The former Manchester City and Juventus striker joined a slew of overseas stars lured by increasingly lavish sums that have triggered a backlash from Chinese authorities.
Podolski, who is set to continue to play for Galatasaray until the end of the Turkish season, himself had initially been linked with a big-money move to China’s Beijing Guoan.
The German has been troubled by niggling injuries in Istanbul and endured a lean spell in front of goal, while Galatasaray could only finish sixth last season.
The Turkish powerhouse currently occupies third, 10 points behind table-topping rivals Besiktas.
Podolski announced his international retirement last year after scoring 48 goals in 129 appearances for the world champions.
He also played a part in Germany’s 2014 World Cup triumph in Brazil, although not as a first-choice striker.
As if to prove age is no barrier to success, Podolski even reached the top of the German pop charts last December with the rap song ‘Liebe deine Stadt’ (Love Your City), recorded with hip hop star Mo-Torres and the band Cat Ballou.