Today Vissel Kobe took one step closer to their goal of becoming the top club in Asian soccer, with the announcement that Sergi Samper would be joining the J1 League side. At Vissel Kobe, the Catalonian will reunite with his countrymen and former teammates at FC Barcelona, Andres Iniesta and David Villa, marking yet another high-profile signing for the Rakuten group team.

A unique Barca pedigree

Samper is an FC Barcelona product, through-and-through. Dubbed by fans as the “mini Busquets,” the defensive midfielder spent 18 years at his hometown club and is one of only three players in history to have progressed to the FC Barcelona first team after starting at Barca Escola — the flagship FC Barcelona school offering training in the renowned Barca methodology of football.

Making the Move to Kobe: the Iniesta effect

Samper first joined the school as a 6-year-old during the 2001-02 season, where he played 2 seasons before being recruited by La Masia coaches to join FCB’s famed youth squad. A regular in the Spanish national team’s youth squads, Samper eventually worked his way up to the Barcelona first team, making his La Liga debut in 2015 as a substitute for none other than Andres Iniesta.

“Vissel Kobe is the place where my former teammate Andres Iniesta is playing, so I’m looking forward to meeting him again,” commented Samper at the March 7 press conference in Tokyo announcing his move to the club. “The team also has other famous global players, such as Lukas Podolski, as well as incredibly talented Japanese players, such as Hotaru Yamaguchi, so I’m looking forward to playing with them here in Japan as a member of the team.”

Fittingly, the Barca legend played a pivotal role in Samper’s move to Vissel Kobe as well. According to Samper’s comments at the press conference, Iniesta shared his experiences with the club and life in Kobe and suggested that the move would be a great next step in his soccer career.

Iniesta also explained to Samper that Japan’s top J1 League is highly technical and competitive, and after watching Vissel Kobe’s 1-0 victory over the weekend — where David Villa notched his first goal for the club — he was convinced.

Rakuten CEO Mickey Mikitani with midfielder Sergi Samper at the press conference announcing his signing to the club

Rakuten CEO Mickey Mikitani with midfielder Sergi Samper at the press conference announcing his signing to the club.

A bright future ahead

Rakuten founder and CEO Mickey Mikitani, who was on-hand in Tokyo to welcome Samper, was thrilled to see another FC Barcelona player join his hometown club and excited about the change he will bring to Japanese soccer. “I think a young European player like Samper at an early stage in his career with a bright future ahead of him may be a first for the J1 League… Having the opportunity to see Samper’s play in person will have a massive impact on youth team players.”

With Vissel Kobe continuing to bolster its talented international roster, the signing of Samper is yet another reason to keep an eye on the club, and on Japan’s top pro league. We’ll be watching!


For Vissel Kobe’s upcoming schedule, visit here.