Football around the globe / Lineker joins growth industry: Terry McCarthy reports from Tokyo on the new wave of important imports aiming to make the J-League a success

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The Independent Online
GARY LINEKER is due to arrive in Japan today to take up his post with Nagoya Grampus Eight, one of 10 teams in the new J-League. The season starts on 15 May, and Lineker is one of the prime attractions, as Japanese football is still in its infancy and is relying on foreign stars to attract interest in the game.

Advance publicity for the J- League has been heavy. Two weeks before the season opens, Lineker is going to face a former team-mate, Paul Gascoigne, in a high-profile warm-up game. Gascoigne's Italian team, Lazio, is to play Grampus Eight in Tokyo on 2 May. Sheffield Wednesday and three Brazilian teams are also scheduled to make guest appearances in Japan in the run-up to the league's opening.

Several other foreign stars have been signed up, including the Brazilian Zico and most recently Pierre Littbarski, from Germany, who is due to join JR East Furukawa later this month. His contract was reported by the local press to be worth just under pounds 1m per year.

Football is a very new game to Japan, which has up to now imported most of its interest in sports from the United States. The biggest spectator sport is baseball, followed by sumo and golf. But younger Japanese have begun taking an interest in football, as it has an air of internationalism about it.

Also a large number of second and third generation Japanese from Brazil have been returning to Japan and bringing their favourite sport with them. Several of the J- League players are Japanese returnees from Brazil.

But the most powerful impetus behind the new sport is money. Each of the teams has a powerful business sponsor, from the car, electronics, steel, transport or mass communications industries. Multi- million-pound sponsorship deals have already been concluded, making Lineker's reported salary of pounds 3m for two years appear modest.

Eight companies have been designated official game sponsors, giving them the right to use the J- League logo and to advertise on billboards at the games - that deal is worth pounds 20m. A drinks company is paying a team pounds 5m to show its name on the players' shirts.

Before leaving London, Lineker paused to reflect on English football. 'There are various people involved in running the game: the Premier League, the FA and the Football League. It would be nice if the game could be run by one set of people. We have got to reduce the number of fixtures for the sake of the game. The game here is getting faster. That is one of the reasons I got out; physically it was becoming impossible for me to keep up.'