KOBE – Vissel Kobe on Wednesday announced the signing of World Cup defensive midfielder Hotaru Yamaguchi from neighboring J League first-division side Cerezo Osaka.
A fan favorite at Yanmar Stadium, Yamaguchi has played his entire J League career with Cerezo, punctuated by a short stint with German side Hannover in 2016. The Cerezo youth academy product was again named club captain this past season.
Yamaguchi, a Mie Prefecture native, played at his second straight World Cup this summer in Russia, bringing his total number of Japan caps to 45.
But the 28-year-old was left out of the squad for the Asian Cup starting next month in the United Arab Emirates, with new Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu opting to rebuild the team around younger players.
Vissel hope Yamaguchi, a tactically astute defender with a nose for the ball, can help improve a defense that allowed 52 goals this past season.
The club, owned by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten Inc., finished 10th after winning just two of its last 11 league games.
The lackluster result came despite the addition of Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta to a lineup that already included former Germany international Lukas Podolski.
After grabbing international headlines with their midyear acquisition of Iniesta, Vissel made another splash at the end of the season by signing Spain’s all-time leading goal scorer David Villa.