Vermaelen joins Vissel Kobe from Barcelona

The Belgian central defender has moved to Japan on a free transfer after his contract expired with the La Liga champions

Thomas Vermaelen has called time on his five-year Barcelona spell by joining Vissel Kobe on a deal that runs until December 2021.

The 33-year-old, whose career has been severely hindered by injuries, links up with former Barca team-mates Andres Iniesta and Sergi Samper, ex-Blaugrana man David Villa and one-time Arsenal cohort Lukas Podolski.

Vermaelen joins the J-League side on a free transfer after his contract with the La Liga giants expired, having been pushed down the pecking order for a spot alongside Gerard Pique by the arrivals of French defenders Samuel Umtiti and Clement Lenglet, while Marc Bartra and defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano were often preferred options at the heart of the defence as well.

"When I came here, I had a very warm welcome and a lot of support," Vermaelen said upon signing for his new club.

"I can't wait to start. I'm excited about it. I would like to do my best to improve the team."

The Belgian made just 53 appearances in all competitions in four seasons in Catalunya, spending the 2016-17 campaign on loan at Serie A outfit Roma, playing just 12 games.

His time at Arsenal was more successful, however, making 150 appearances, winning the FA Cup, scoring 15 goals and taking the captain's armband before injuries took their toll following his departure from the Premier League in 2014.

He also won a league title and two domestic cups with Ajax, the club where he began his career, making 143 appearances and scoring 10 goals.

Vermaelen did play 12 games last term as Barcelona claimed another La Liga title but were stunned in the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.

The Blaugrana saw a 3-0 lead overturned at Anfield in the semi-finals of the Champions League by eventual winners Liverpool, before Valencia shocked them in the final of the Copa del Rey by a 2-1 scoreline.

Vissel Kobe, despite their array of household names, are actually involved in a relegation battle in the Japanese top flight.

Kobe sit 15th of 18 teams in the division, just one place and three points above the relegation play-off place, having lost their last three league games.