Spurred by Iniesta arrival, J.League considers loosening foreigner limits

The J.League is considering changes to its current limits on former player signings in light of an expected influx of high-priced imports from Europe and elsewhere, Nikkan reported on Wednesday.

Club representatives were informed of the deliberations, which appear to have been accelerated by the anticipated signing of Andres Iniesta by Vissel Kobe, by vice chairman Hiromi Hara at a May 22 meeting of the league’s executive committee.

“We are discussing repealing the limits for foreign players and will be asking clubs to offer their opinions once we have reached our conclusion,” Hara is said to have told the committee. “We don’t want to spend too much time on the subject.”

Currently, J.League clubs are allowed to sign up to five foreign players and play up to four, including one with an AFC member association passport, per match. Exempt from the limits are players hailing from countries with which the league has signed partnerships, including much of Southeast Asia and Qatar.

While officials had initially feared that an influx of foreigners would reduce minutes for Japanese players, the buzz surrounding Iniesta’s impending arrival now has clubs eyeing higher attendance and a chance to increase the popularity of the league amongst younger Japanese fans.

Vissel, who are owned by Barcelona uniform sponsors Rakuten, saw last season’s average attendance increase to a club-high 18,272 per match after signing former Germany international Lukas Podolski in June.

It is unclear how the J.League would implement any chances to current foreigner signing limits, or whether they would introduce a Premier League-style ‘homegrown player’ rule or other similar regulations.