In the world of our round ball chasing cousins the MLS in America has signed some huge stars over the years. Peter Beardsley, Lothar Matthiaus, George Best even Pele have plied their trade on the other side of the pond. More recently, Robbie Keane, Thierry Henry and, perhaps the most famous star of modern football, David Beckham have gone transatlantic in an attempt boost the popularity of the game states side with some, if limited success.
With the Rugby World Cup due to touch down in 2019, Japan has taken to similar tactics to raise the profile of the game. Many an international player have made appearances in the Japanese Super League including Jaque Fourie and Brad Thorn, but the real coups came with the signings of serial retiree Shane Williams and his, part time pugilist, namesake Sonny Bill.
The latest linked to the land of the rising is Irish back row Stephen Ferris.
Ferris' career has been blighted by injury and that is the driving force behind this move, with the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) understandably reluctant to offer any large sums to a player soon to turn 28 and who has missed more games than he has played. Instead, the IRFU are reported to want a pay as play for Ferris. Ulster will, no doubt, want to cling on arguably the best Ulsterman of the professional era. However, it is unlikely to be their decision with the Irish centrally contracted player system.
Many will see the move as the bottom of a very fast decline. Ferris was one of the stars of 2011 in New Zealand, a back row enforcer and master of the 'choke tackle.' He continued his form into the regular season, eventually be crowned the European Player of the Year and helping propel Ulster to the Heineken Cup final against Irish rivals Leinster.
However, a career in rugby is a short one and the affluence of Japanese teams is a difficult dangling carrot to resist and short duration of their season could suit Ferris' rehabilitation perfectly.
Ferris' sharp downward drop is similar to that of Aussie number 8 Rocky Elsom, but should Ferris overcome his injury, he could become Japan's the best signing yet as he clearly still has a lot offer and Japan has a lot to offer him.
Turning Japanese - The Vapors