By Jack Tarrant
KOBE (Reuters) – Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen was announced on Saturday as the fourth former Barcelona player to sign for Japanese side Vissel Kobe.
The 33-year-old joins former Barca players Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Sergi Samper at the club, who are currently 15th in the 18-team J.League.
“When the offer came I was very excited to come to this team,” said Vermaelen at his unveiling.
“I think it is a very ambitious team, if you look at the signings that they have done in the past, with Andreas (Iniesta), David Villa, Sergi Samper and Lukas Podolski.”
“I know them all very well and for me that is a big part also of why it will be easier to come in to the team.”
Kobe are owned by Hiroshi Mikitani, the CEO of Rakuten, Barcelona’s main shirt sponsor, and Vermaelen’s move is the latest indicator of the growing connection between the two clubs.
Barcelona are due to play Kobe in a pre-season friendly later on Saturday.
“I played the last couple of years in Barcelona and I learnt a lot there,” said Vermaelen.
“I think that is what they ask of me, to bring the experience of what I had in Barcelona, to bring that over here, I think that is what the owner wants.”
“I will also play out from the back, like I learnt in Barcelona and also play aggressive defensively so I will try and bring the complete package into this team.”
Vermaelen, who has 70 caps for Belgium and also played for Arsenal from 2009-2014, had been without a club since leaving Barcelona at the end of the season.
Plagued by injuries and behind the likes of Gerard Pique in the pecking order at the Nou Camp, Vermaelen only made 34 appearances for the Catalan side.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)