'Captain Tsubasa' is the creator of the final whistle in football comedy

TOKYO (AFP) – The Japanese creator of „Captain Tsubasa” said Friday that it will blow the final whistle on the beloved cartoon series after 43 years.

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Yoichi Takahashi began writing a comic strip about 11-year-old soccer prodigy Tsubasa Ozora in 1981, and it grew into a worldwide smash hit that inspired future superstars like Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.

Known as „Holly e Benji” in Italy and „Super Campeones” in Spanish-speaking Latin America, it created animated films, video games and figurines in Takahashi's hometown in eastern Tokyo.

But the 63-year-old captain announced in the latest edition of Tsubasa magazine that the series would end in April, citing his poor health and changing conditions in the manga industry.

„This is not an easy decision and it may cause disappointment and sadness to those who read Captain Tsubasa, but I hope you will understand my decision,” he wrote in a letter to readers.

Takahashi hopes the character will live on in some form and wants to develop ideas that can be used for future adaptations.

The series is believed to have been performed in more than 100 countries, and the stories have sold over 70 million copies in book form in Japan and over 10 million overseas.

Takahashi also serves as the managing director of a real-life soccer club that plays in Japan's fifth tier.

When Takahashi came on board, the club was renamed Nankatsu SC — after captain Tsubasa's fictional school team.

Takashi became interested in football after watching the 1978 World Cup on television.

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Captain Tsubasa was created with the intention of helping popularize the game in Japan, which did not have a professional league at the time.

„I didn't know people around the world would see this,” Takahashi told AFP in an interview last year.

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