DUBAI // The forward Kenji Fukuda could become the first Japanese player to play for a Pro League club after Al Ain confirmed they were in talks to sign him. Al Ain, nine times winners of the domestic league and the only Emirati club to win the Asian Champions League in 2003, already have an impressive foreign line-up, led by the Chile playmaker Jorge Valdivia, along with the Argentine and Brazilian forwards, Jose Sand and Marcio Emerson.
Fukuda's signing will complete their roster of foreign playing staff following the Asian Football Confederation's "3+1" policy of adding a fourth overseas player of Asian origin. Fukuda, 31, joined the J League side Nagoya Grampus Eight in 1996 and helped them win the Sanwa Bank Cup, the Asian Cup Winners' Cup (both in 1997) and the Emperor's Cup (1999). He moved to FC Tokyo and later Vegalta Sendai.
He was loaned out from Sendai to a series of clubs in Latin America. Spanish club Las Palmas signed him on a permanent basis in 2007. In August 2008, he moved to Ionikos FC in Greece, scoring nine goals in 24 appearances. Fukuda has represented Japan at several underage levels. He was a member of the Japan team for the 1997 Fifa World Youth Championship in Malaysia and scored against Costa Rica in the group stage before Japan were eliminated in the quarter-finals.
"The two sides have come to an agreement but they are yet to sign the contract," said an Al Ain club official. "And if this deal comes through, it will be the first time ever a Japanese player signs up for an Emirati club. "Obviously Fukuda ensures that Al Ain make a mark on the record books with this historical signing, which would no doubt please more fans among the local Japanese community, who take their patriotism as well as their football very seriously."