Iniesta confident Japanese club Vissel Kobe can recover

FILE - In this July 22, 2018, file photo, Vissel Kobe's Andres Iniesta, right, of Spain controls the ball during their J-League soccer match against Shonan Bellmare in Kobe, western Japan. Iniesta is confident he can help his struggling Japanese team turn things around after a disappointing start to the season. (Yohei Nishimura/Kyodo News via AP)

KOBE, Japan — Andres Iniesta is confident he can help his struggling Japanese team turn things around after a disappointing start to the season.

After finishing 10th in the 18-team J-League last season, Vissel Kobe spent lavishly over the winter when it signed Iniesta and his former Barcelona teammate David Villa.

But things have just gone from bad to worse two months into the season.

Former Germany international Lukas Podolski stepped down as captain last week, hinting at turmoil after manager Juan Manuel Lillo left the club.

In a statement through the club, former Real Sociedad manager Lillo said he had made the "difficult decision" to leave the team.

The club has named its former manager Takayuki Yoshida as Lillo's replacement and Iniesta will wear the captain's armband when the team faces Kawasaki Frontale at home on Saturday.

"Even though there have been a lot of changes we have to stay positive as professionals," Iniesta said on Thursday. "The team is in a difficult situation now but we have to move forward."

Owned by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten Inc., Vissel has tried to establish itself as one of the J-League's premier clubs with the signing of players like Podolski, Iniesta and Villa.

Despite boasting one of the league's most expensive rosters, Vissel has just three wins this season, along with a draw and four losses and is currently 11th in the standings.

"There will be a lot of opinions about what we need to do," Iniesta said. "The new manager has previous experience and knows this team. From a personal perspective, I feel we are making progress and there are no negatives."

Vissel will play 25-time Spanish champions Barcelona on July 27 at Kobe's Noevir Stadium.

While in Japan, Barcelona will also play English Premier League club Chelsea on July 23 at Saitama Stadium.

Iniesta said he is looking forward to facing his former team.

"Personally, It will be a special game for me," he said. "It will be special for Vissel Kobe and all of our fans so we want to play our best."

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