“Konnichiwa, Podolski desu.” With that Lukas Podolski, the German World Cup winning striker, greeted fans and media in Japanese (“Hello, I am Podolski”) at his unveiling as a Vissel Kobe player.
Poldi, as he is known to millions of fans around the world, will wear the number 10 jersey for the J1 side having signed a two-and-a-half year contract with the club earlier this year. It marks the latest step in what has been an illustrious career.
Along the way the 32-year-old German native has played with some of the top clubs in the world, including Bayern Munich in Germany, Inter Milan in Italy and Arsenal in the English Premier League.
In 2014 he helped Germany to win the World Cup in Brazil.
Rakuten CEO Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani was on hand to welcome Podolski at a special reception for fans and the media in central Kobe. Vissel Kobe is part of the Rakuten Group.
Speaking in front of a full house, Mickey called Vissel’s newest signing a “superstar.”
“Podolski will bring new life and vitality not only to Vissel Kobe, but also to the J League,” said Mickey, who was instrumental in bringing Podolski to Vissel.
Mickey also hopes that with the arrival of a player of Podolski’s caliber the J1 league will become more attractive to other top quality players.
Immediately prior to his official unveiling, Podolski was greeted by hundreds of fans at the Hirata Gakuen Kobe Air Center, where he had landed by chartered plane. Many fans had started gathering from as early as 7 o’clock in the morning.
“I was really happy to see so many fans,” Podolski said, “especially the kids.”
Asked about the challenges of playing in a new league and a new country, Podolski said that every game is a challenge, no matter where you’re playing.
“In every game you have pressure, whether in training or in a stadium in front of 50,000 people.
“It’s a big challenge for me, it’s a big move, but I have a target: I want to help my club, and my first target is to fight for one of the the top three places to qualify for the (Asian) Champion’s League.
“It’s also a nice chance for me to see other countries, and to play against other teams.”
But, Podolski was quick to recognize that football is fundamentally a team sport.
“I am not alone,” he said. “I know my teammates will help me.
“We know we have to train hard, fight hard on the pitch for 90 minutes and try to get three points from every game.”
Although Vissel Kobe are currently sitting in 11th place in the J1 halfway through the season, Podolski wants the team to be top-three finishers.
Asked what message he has for young players in Japan, many of whom follow him on his social media accounts and look up to him as a role model, Podolski jokingly encouraged them to visit Germany in the future.
“I love playing soccer with youngsters,” Podolski said, explaining that there needs to be a good system for training and discovering talent.
Wrapping up his appearance on stage, Podolski was asked what his plans for the day were. “I want to go and eat Kobe beef,” he said, to laughter.
However, before he could leave he was presented with a different edible surprise: a cream cake resembling a miniature football field complete with a replica figure of himself. In true Podolski style, he offered the first bite to a photographer.