Gary Lineker scored his last goal in English football against Manchester United’s Peter Schmeichel in a 3-1 loss for Tottenham Hotspur on 2nd May 1992 before his final swan song in the Far East.
The striker had been banging in goals in both England and Spain for well over a decade as well as being the star of the Mexico 86’ World Cup when he won the Golden Boot after scoring six goals before moving to the land of the Land of the Rising Sun.
One of England’s finest ever strikers decided to accept a contract in central Japan to try something new in playing for Nagoya Grampus Eight in the inaugural J. League in 1993 after a fine career in Europe.
It was a move that came as a great surprise to many fans and media alike – after all, Lineker scored 28 goals in 35 Division One games for Tottenham Hotspur in his final season in England, second only to Ian Wright of Crystal Palace and later Arsenal after his transfer to Highbury.
In the same season, the feared striker also moved up to 48 international goals for England, just one behind legendary midfielder Sir Bobby Charlton before being acrimoniously substituted by Graham Taylor with half an hour remaining in a decisive game against Sweden during in the team’s ill-fated Euro 1992 campaign in the Scandinavian country.
It was to be the striker’s final game for the national team and with it, the chance to become England’s all-time record goal scorer.
Lineker was the marquee signing that the embryonic J. League wished for and with the financial backing of Toyota Motors, signed a lucrative contract with Nagoya Grampus Eight who were originally a team that represented the company before the professional J. League was established.
If the England international was not a household name before his transfer, Toyota made sure he was when he arrived in Nagoya to start his career in Japan. The automobile giants had already heavily used his image in advertisements and merchandising in a bid to raise the company’s global corporate brand.
Expectation was high – not only from the mass hysteria that the marketing had created, but Lineker was still a world class striker who had scored over 270 career goals before arriving in the country.
The pre-season started well with a goal in the 2-1 victory against Shimizu S-Pulse but sadly for the player and Nagoya Grampus Eight, Lineker’s career in Japan never really hit the high standards that he had reached during his career in Europe. The main problem was a persistent toe injury that was sustained against Gamba Osaka just a month into his Grampus career – a reoccurrence of a previous injury.
Lineker would be out on the side-lines for 3 months after scoring only once for his new team. It would be September before he returned to the team before breaking another toe to side-line the striker once more.
It was a poor season for Grampus Eight after finishing ninth out of the ten teams that took part in the first championship with Kazuyoshi Miura’s Verdy Kawasaki taking the title. Interestingly, only Urawa Red Diamonds who have gone on to develop into perennial title challengers had a worse record than Nagoya in the first season of the J. League.
After being convinced to stay on another year instead of retiring, Lineker’s second and final season in Japan fared similar. Injuries restricted him to just twelve appearances scoring only three goals.
In scoring just a total of eight goals in 24 appearances in two seasons in Japan, Lineker retired from professional football at the end of the 1994 campaign and returned to England to pursue a career in the media.
Although the Japanese experiment didn’t go as planned, Lineker retired a legend and will go down as one of the best strikers of his generation and in the history of the English national team.