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Vissel Kobe

Iniesta providing inspiration to New York native Sakai as World Cup winner stars in Japan

3:40 PM IST 30/09/19
Andres Iniesta Vissel Kobe
The man born in the United States is now back in Asia and looking to take as many lessons as possible from his legendary World Cup-winning team-mate

Andres Iniesta has been an inspiration to millions during his iconic career, with the Barcelona legend now passing on priceless experience to the likes of Gotoku Sakai at Vissel Kobe.

The World Cup winner, who is a product of the famed La Masia academy system at Camp Nou, left Catalunya for Japan in 2018.

He is now 35 years of age, but remains a classy performer and has been showcasing his ball-playing ability in Asia.

Those around him, including summer signing Sakai, are delighted to be buying into the knowledge of an all-time great.

New York-born Japan international Sakai told Goal of working alongside Iniesta: “Andres is not the type of guy who demands things from other people, he just gets on by himself.

“In fact, about after two days after I started, I couldn’t react to his passes in training. It was a different dimension for me, like, ‘can a pass be made at this speed?’

“Andres was apologetic, but it was clearly my mistake. So I asked the interpreter to tell him that I would run and get it next time, so please continue.

“During the games, I shout out to him ‘Are you alright? Not too tired?’ or ‘Shall I go for it?’ when we are defending, and when we are attacking. And since the match against Tosu, around that time, I started understanding where Andres would be, or where he would make a pass to, those kind of things, and it became very easy to play with him.”

Sakai added on adjusting to the demands of playing in the same side as a player whose sporting brain moves so much faster than most: “He is just an amazing player, he makes everything look so easy and makes those around him play better too.

“While there are many occasions that you have to dribble, because Andres can move the ball with one touch, that creates rhythm for the team and that makes me able to move things with one touch when I am supporting him.

“He has a playing style that always makes players around him involved. He shows us how to make rhythm. There are so many things I can learn during training. I am really having a great time.”

Iniesta is not the only World Cup winner on Kobe’s books, with fellow Spaniard David Villa and former Germany international Lukas Podolski also part of a star-studded squad.

Asked what can be taken from those who have graced the very top of the game, Sakai said: “Just everything. Especially for the young ones, not only humility, attitude to training and technique, but also why they have such high levels. Of course, there is a reason.

“For me, there are so many things I want to ask. Like, ‘What were you doing when you were young?’ or ‘Is there anything I can start doing now?’

“If I was still 19-20 years old, I would stick with Andres and be questioning him all the time. In fact, when I was in Niigata that’s how I developed, by sticking with my seniors and listening.”

Sakai, who started out at Albirex Niigata and spent time with Stuttgart and Hamburg before returning to Asia, added: “The players of Kobe are fortunate to have the players like him [Iniesta] and must learn from him.

“Super first-class players are super first-class in every aspect. In fact, all the super first-class players I’ve ever played with were all the same like that, both in their humility and how they approach football.

“I would love to learn a lot from them. It doesn’t mean that I want to go and play for Barca now, but if I can rise a little higher than I am now, I want to listen to everything and learn anything.”