Teruo Iwamoto, the 34-year-old former Japanese international, recently departed for New Zealand to sign a seven-week deal with Oceania club champions Auckland City.
Iwamoto came of age internationally in the mid-90s, when he played nine times for Japan, scoring twice, during the tenure of Paulo Roberto Falcao. Blessed with a superb left-foot, something he frequently put to good use with his imaginative free kicks, the midfielder has long been a popular figure with fans, never more so than at Vegalta Sendai, the team he helped win promotion to the J-1 in 2001.
Teru joined Nagoya Grampus Eight in 2004 but was unable to shine due to the persistence of an acute ankle injury that kept him on the sidelines for the best part of two years. After being released by the club in 2005, he underwent four operations in a bid to return to fitness, keeping busy in the interim with work as a football commentator. Now, however, he is ready to pull his boots on again and is hoping to help Auckland City cause a shock or two at Japan 2006, with a goal of his own a primary objective.
FIFA.com: You are just about to depart for New Zealand. How are you feeling right now?
Teruo Iwamoto: I'm so happy. I can play football for the first time in ages and also achieve my ambition of playing overseas. I'm excited at the prospect of being able to train and play in competitive matches.
Is it true that you made a proposal to Auckland City to play for them?
Yes, it's true. I made the initial approach to the club through an acquaintance, though I didn't speak to anyone directly myself. When I spoke with others about this, they all said there was no way that I'd be able to go (laughs), but I knew my own condition better than anyone and knew I could do it.
How did people react when it was announced you would be joining Auckland City? For example, were there any words of encouragement from your former coach at Vegalta Sendai, Hidehiko Shimizu?
I got a lot of e-mails and phone calls from people I didn't even know (laughs). Shimizu told me, "I'm sure you know it, but your greatest asset is your left-foot shot, so make the most of it."
This being your first stint playing abroad, are you concerned about the language, your new environment or the possibility of a reccurrence of your injury?
I studied a bit of Spanish, but I'm afraid I can't speak English (laughs). I want to use this chance to pick up some English. Yes, I am concerned about my injury, but if it's going to recur, it's going to recur - there's nothing I can do about it. My joy at being able to play again outweighs these concerns.
Did you study Spanish with a view to joining a club in Mexico?
Yes. I would have liked to have gone even for just a year, as I think it would have suited me. Now though, I've ended up going to New Zealand (laughs). I've heard it's a great country however, and I'd like to look around the city if time permits.
With your popularity, you had the option of retiring and becoming a commentator or a television personality. Why did you decide to keep on playing?
I simply want to play football. There was the feeling that I couldn't just quit after the injury, and I also felt that if I'd gone into a different career, I'd always have had that nagging suspicion I could have achieved more in the game. I had to get back out on the pitch once more to make good on my promise to my fans.
Were those two long years out of the game tough for you to get through?
Looking back now, it feels like it passed by in a flash. Having said that, there were times when the struggle seemed endless, and there were also many occasions when I felt like giving up. However, this time out allowed me to do a number of things I couldn't have done had I been fit and playing. I learned Spanish, took part in training with a Mexican club and a Korean K-League team, and went overseas to watch teams such as Barcelona play. So, in that respect it was a good thing.
What are Auckland City expecting of you and what do you feel you can offer them?
I think they are expecting me to score goals with my left foot, and I want to be able to create chances with my crossing and find the net from set pieces. It would be amazing to score a goal from a free-kick in the FIFA Club World Cup. I hope the fans enjoy watching me play.
Given that some commentators have suggested your taking part in the FIFA Club World Cup may be for the purpose of attracting spectators to the tournament, how do you feel about playing for Auckland at Japan 2006?
There are pros and cons to doing anything. It would be a great honour if people came to the matches to see me play (laughs). This is my first time to play in a major tournament like this since 1994, so I'll be putting everything into it. I hope to play well enough and score from a direct free-kick so that people who aren't fans of mine will get to know me. It would be fantastic to score in a tournament as big as this.
Are you confident you can regain match-fitness over the next month and perform well in the FIFA Club World Cup?
Even I don't know how I'll perform. However, I can get myself match-fit in a month, and I hope to return to Japan in December in top shape after playing five league matches in New Zealand. I'm very serious when it comes to football, and I'll really work hard to pick my fitness up over the next month.