Yoichi Takahashi has blown the whistle on Captain Tsubasa
Yoichi Takahashi has blown the whistle on Captain Tsubasa. AFP

The Japanese creator of "Captain Tsubasa" said on Friday that he was blowing the final whistle on the beloved cartoon series after a run of 43 years.

Yoichi Takahashi began writing the comic strip about 11-year-old football prodigy Tsubasa Ozora in 1981 and it grew into a global smash hit that inspired future superstars such as Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.

Known as "Holly e Benji" in Italy and "Super Campeones" in Spanish-speaking Latin America, it spawned animated films, video games and even statues in Takahashi's hometown in eastern Tokyo.

But the 63-year-old announced in the latest edition of Captain Tsubasa Magazine that the series will end in April, citing his worsening health and changing conditions in the manga industry.

"It was not an easy decision and it might make those who enjoy reading Captain Tsubasa disappointed and sad, but I hope you understand my decision," he wrote in a letter to readers.

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

More than 100 countries are believed to have tuned into the series and the stories have sold more than 70 million copies in book form in Japan, and more than 10 million overseas.

Takahashi also serves as managing director of a real-life football club who play in Japan's fifth tier.

The club were renamed Nankatsu SC -- after Captain Tsubasa's fictional school team -- when Takahashi came on board.

Takahashi became hooked on football after watching the 1978 World Cup on television.

He created Captain Tsubasa with the intention of helping to popularise the sport in Japan, which did not have a professional league at the time.

"I had no idea that people around the world would see it," Takahashi told AFP in an interview last year.