Football: New life looks good to Lineker: Terry McCarthy sees Britain's goalscoring ambassador to Japan arrive in Nagoya on an early fact-finding mission

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The Independent Online
GARY LINEKER arrived in Japan yesterday for a three-day familiarisation tour before settling in to play next February, and one of the first questions he had to settle with the Japanese press was his name. Was it Gay-ree Rineka or Gah-ree Rineka? 'You can call me whatever you like,' he said, adding with a laugh 'as long as it is polite.'

Declaring that the move to Japan would be 'an adventure' for him and his family, and brushing off concerns about medical care for his 10-month-old son who is being treated for leukaemia, Lineker appeared to be looking forward to his role as a promoter of football in Japan. Tomorrow, he plays for Nagoya Grampus Eight in a friendly against the Brazilian club, Corinthians.

Lineker is to be the 'star' of Grampus Eight, one of the new professional teams set up to compete in the Japan League, which starts next season. The club, largely funded by Toyota Motor Corporation, has reportedly offered Lineker a two-year deal worth pounds 3m, although officials from the company are not commenting on the financial details. 'We have great expectations from Mr Lineker,' Ryuzo Hiraki, the manager of the team, said. 'We hope his being here will make soccer very popular in Nagoya.'

Lineker plans to move to Nagoya with his wife, Michelle, and his son, George, next February. His son's leukaemia is in remission, but a team of Japanese doctors from Nagoya is to travel to London to meet the specialists who have already treated him, and will always be on hand at a Nagoya hospital once the Lineker family arrives.

Lineker, ever the nice guy, charmed the Japanese press at their first meeting, apologising at the beginning for not being able to speak Japanese. 'I will soon start an intensive course in Japanese, and hope to speak to you in Japanese by next spring,' he said. He is to have a private tutor in London, and said he realises it will be more difficult than Spanish, which he learnt while in Barcelona. If he manages to learn one of the world's most complex languages in six months, he will earn more than just the applause of his home crowd at Nagoya.

The crowd should have plenty to cheer about, and already a team song has been composed to get their vocal chords into the spirit of things. Compact discs of the song, entitled 'Here we go' and written by Gota, an aspiring Japanese musician, were duly presented to the press yesterday. When Lineker was asked by a Japanese reporter whether he felt Japanese fans might be 'a bit shy' compared to the performance of their British counterparts, he said the crowd should cheer as they saw fit. 'Whatever helps them to enjoy themselves and get behind the team.

'It is important the game can spread to countries like Japan. I know the Japan League is very ambitious, and Japan has a good chance of hosting the World Cup in 2002.'

Football is still in its infancy in Japan, where the major professional team sport is baseball. However, there are signs that the Japanese youth is losing interest in baseball, seen as a legacy of US influence, and is playing more and more football at an informal level.

For Lineker, Japanese football 'is a bit of an unknown. But I am confident of adapting to the game here.' He said that, from what he had already seen, 'Japanese football is technically good. I hope it will improve immeasurably.'

He said he had no regrets leaving Spurs ('it is nice to leave a club when they don't want you to go') and that he was honoured to be chosen by Grampus Eight. 'It flattered my ego. It's nice to be at the start of something new, and it arrived at the right time in my career.'

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