Col­lec­tion of age­ing su­per­stars

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Football -

re­spec­tive Rugby World Cup matches, and a bar which sells Ini­esta’s epony­mous wine (ap­par­ently, Kobe in­dulged the mid­fielder’s re­quest to in­clude a deal with his fam­ily’s wine com­pany, Bodega Ini­esta, as part of his 3bil­lion yen (£23mil­lion) an­nual con­tract).

Ver­mae­len is wait­ing for his English wife, Polly, and their two

‘The stan­dard is good. Tech­ni­cally it is very quick. I think peo­ple would be sur­prised’

chil­dren, Raff and Ace, to ar­rive. “They should ar­rive at the start of De­cem­ber,” he says. “It’s been hard to find a house so we de­cided to keep the kids in Barcelona for a while, to keep them in school for a few months more.”

In the mean­time, Ver­mae­len has been get­ting to know the city and the lo­cal cus­toms. If he needs a guide, Podol­ski seems to have tried pretty much every­thing. The Ger­man’s so­cial me­dia fea­tures shots of him in a Ja­panese on­sen (hot spring), in the sumo ring grap­pling with a rik­ishi (wrestler), travers­ing the fa­mous ze­bra cross­ing in Shin­juku Tokyo, and at the rugby with Dan Carter.

Ver­mae­len has also been to a World Cup game, go­ing to watch Eng­land’s vic­tory over the United States at Kobe Misaki Sta­dium last week. “I never went to a match be­fore,” he said. “I know it’s big in Eng­land. And Wales – Aaron Ram­say used to love it. When the Six Na­tions was on he would al­ways watch it on the team bus. I was im­pressed. Wow, it’s com­pet­i­tive. You could hear the col­li­sions from the stands.”

The ques­tion is, how com­pet­i­tive is Ja­panese foot­ball? Is it just an­other re­tire­ment home, a fi­nal pay­day, for play­ers near­ing the end of their ca­reer? Or could it grow? Could the pres­ence of stars such as Podol­ski and Ini­esta help at­tract oth­ers un­til it be­comes an Asian su­per­power? Ver­mae­len is un­sure. “The stan­dard is good here,” he in­sists. “Tech­ni­cally good, very quick. A guy like Ini­esta still stands out. He doesn’t lose that qual­ity, be­lieve me. But I think peo­ple would be sur­prised.

“I re­mem­ber Kevin De Bruyne telling me when we last met up with the na­tional squad, that he was out here with [Manch­ester] City and they played Yoko­hama, I think. And he was very im­pressed. Maybe peo­ple mis­judge Ja­panese foot­ball be­cause they don’t see it. I can as­sure you the level is good.”

Ver­mae­len still de­scribes him­self as “an Ar­se­nal fan” al­beit one who “no longer knows any­one on the team”. “They’ve all gone since my day,” the 33 year-old says. “[Theo] Wal­cott, Ram­sey. It’s good to see Aaron do­ing well at Ju­ven­tus”. He looks back fondly on those days. “They were prob­a­bly the best of my ca­reer. Mak­ing the PFA team of the sea­son in my first sea­son, win­ning the FA Cup in my last. We should have won a ti­tle though.

“The Pre­mier League is so dif­fi­cult,” he says. “Ev­ery­one is spend­ing so much now. And there are no easy games. I re­mem­ber trav­el­ling away to places like Stoke and Wi­gan. It was al­ways a fight. Never just a 5-0.”

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