The former Arsenal defender is currently in Qatar for the AFC Champions League…
J1 League outfit Vissel Kobe are currently flying high in the AFC Champions League East Zone tournament being held in Qatar. They have already qualified for the Round of 16 and leading the charge for them are two former Barcelona players.
Legendary midfielder Andres Iniesta and former Arsenal and Barcelona defender Thomas Vermaelen are two of the overseas stars in the Vissel Kobe ranks. Vermaelen, who joined the Japanese club in July 2019 from Barcelona, is enjoying life in Japan.
The 35-year-old has given a good account of himself in the J1 League and the Emperor’s Cup. While Vissel Kobe finished eighth in an ultra-competitive league, Vermaelen played a key role as the side won the 2019 Emperor’s Cup.
The Belgian started in defence as Vissel Kobe beat Kashima Antlers in the final, which also helped the club qualify for the AFC Champions League for the very first time.
Vermaelen is full of glowing praises for the standard of football in Japan, asserting that his stint in the East Asian country has been anything but ‘easy’.
“The thing which a lot of people don’t know and I have told this to others that for me personally I still get tested on a daily basis in training and during the games,” he told Goal. “It is not like I am seating on the sofa and taking it easy. I think I still have to work and make sure and win games.”
He revealed that he had spoken to former Arsenal teammate Lukas Podolski before coming to Japan. Podolski was at Vissel Kobe when Vermaelen joined the club. “I have got some advice from some of the players who have played here…Podolski and all.”
Vermaelen, who won four La Liga titles and a Champions League title with Barcelona, feels that the players in J1 League are extremely fast and agile and possess good technique.
“There are quite a few good players in Japan – very fast, very quick. Technically good as well. If I have to think, I remember one game this year. It was a very tough game away from home. There were some players who gave us a very tough time. I haven’t got like one name but they were quite impressive.”
However, one area he felt the J1 League can improve is on the tactical side.
“Of course there are things to improve. Compared to Europe, they need more experience, also the tactical side can be improved but in general, it is a good league.”
Interestingly, Vermaelen has continued to feature for Belgium even after moving to the J1 League. He says that the national team coaches have been keeping an eye on the J1 League.
“When I was in Japan, I was still playing for the national team. Unfortunately, I could not play in the last couple of months due to COVID. I am not sure how other coaches of other national teams think about the Asian leagues.
“I am at a certain age now and I am experienced. I am not sure when a talented 21-year-old player goes, it is a different case. For me personally, I am still in touch with the national coach they are still following the games. I can only speak for my case.”