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J.LEAGUE News

J.LEAGUE to not implement VAR in the 2020 season

J.LEAGUE announced that the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will not be implemented in the 2020 season. The decision has been made at the sixth board of directors held today in consideration of its tight schedule and limited number of referees.

 

J.LEAGUE News

International Japanese players in their J.League Days: #5 Yuto Nagatomo

Yuto Nagatomo was an ordinary football boy during his high-school days, but when he started to play full-back at Meiji University, he developed dramatically and was suddenly called up for the Japan U-22 selection.

He signed a professional contract with FC Tokyo in 2008 while he was still a student at Meiji, and immediately won a starting spot as the season began.

He was called up for the Japanese national team as early as May of that year and represented Japan at the Beijing Olympics in summer.

In his first year as a professional, he scored three goals in 29 league appearances, making a big contribution to FC Tokyo’s positive season.

In 2009, Nagatomo played an important role for both FC Tokyo and Japan, as the national team qualified for the World Cup. To maximize his abilities, he played not only as full back but at times also as wide midfielder. 

FC Tokyo had another good year, they finished fifth in the league and won the league cup. Nagatomo’s impressive performance over the season was widely recognized, and he was selected in the J.League Team of the Year.

He stayed at FC Tokyo for the 2010 season as well, and he was called up for the Japan squad that traveled to the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He played all Samurai Blue’s four games and helped the team advance to the knock-out round.

After displaying impressive performances against world-class opponents, he received an offer from Italian side Cesena and decided to cross the ocean and to begin his adventure in Europe.

Over two and a half seasons in J.League, Nagatomo had helped FC Tokyo grow into one of the powerhouses in the league, especially thanks to his speed and physicality. The fact that FC Tokyo sadly got relegated the year they lost him is another sign to the importance of his presence.

 

 

J.LEAGUE News

International Japanese players in their J.League Days: #4 Shinji Ono

Shinji Ono played for Feyenoord for five seasons and contributed to their victory in the UEFA Cup in the 2001/02 season. He then moved to German side VfL Bochum for the 2007/08 season and later also played for Western Sydney Wanderers, in Australia.

The Japanese attacking genius who brought his football around the world, had started his professional career in 1998, choosing Urawa Reds out of many offers he had received after high school.

He immediately won a starting spot and registered his first professional goal already in his second match. He was also called up for the Japanese squad for the FIFA World Cup in France at the age of 18.

In his rookie year, Ono bossed Urawa’s attack with his extraordinary skill, scoring nine goals in 27 league appearances. As a result, he was awarded the Rookie of the Year prize, and he was also and selected in the Team of the Year.

In 1999, he only saw 14 appearances due to injuries, and Urawa were relegated to J2. Next year, Ono was appointed captain, though he was only 20 years old! Within a season, he led the team to promotion.

Back in the top flight, he was playing an important role for his club, but moved to Feyenoord at the end of the First Stage, in 2001.

After five years at Feyenoord, he returned to Urawa in 2006 and helped the team win many titles such as the 2006 J1 League and the 2007 AFC Champions League.

His second return to J.League was after a stint at Bochum, when he joined his local club Shimizu S-Pulse. Although he could not win any title with them, he provided a huge contribution as a captain, displaying strong leadership.

Ono then spent 2 seasons in Australia (2012 and 2013) before joining J2 side Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in 2014. He helped the team get promoted to J1 in 2017.

In the summer of 2019 with his game time in Sapporo decreasing, he moved to Okinawa. He is still is a player at FC Ryukyu, and in a good shape at the age of 40. In fact, he made an appearance as a substitute on the opening match of the season.

 

 

J.LEAGUE News

J.LEAGUE to conduct PCR testing on registered players

J.LEAGUE announced the start of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing on all registered players in the league, officials, etc., prior to the resume/start of the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE, MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE and MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE, using saliva.

The PCR testing will be done as one measure to reduce the risk of infection as much as possible on the pitch, given the competitive nature of football which involves physical contact. The J.LEAGUE will establish a testing center managed by the league and a specialized organization will do the testing about every two weeks until the end of the season in December. Only those who are tested negative in the most recent PCR test designated by the league will be eligible for entry to the matches.

■Overview of PCR testing
- To whom:
 Registered players/team staff in all 56 J.clubs, registered referees, etc.
- Period:
 Friday 19 June 2020 to end of December (*exceptional testing done on 18 July)
- Number of samples:
 Up to 3850 per once (up to 60 per team/up to 100 per referees and other officials)
- Disclose of results:
 1. number of tests conducted
 2. number of tested positive
 *The testing will be conducted on the premise that it does not cause any inconvenience to the public and medical care.

 

J.LEAGUE News

Nagoya’s Langerak wants his Japanese-born son to play for the Samurai Blue

text by Yoichi Igawa

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■Part 1■

After hearing of the contract renewal between Mitchell Langerak and Nagoya Grampus in December 2019, there must have been quite a few relieved fans of the club. Since joining in January 2018, the Australian goalkeeper had established himself as first choice between the posts and made many great saves for the team. Given the fact that Nagoya survived relegation battles in each of the last two seasons, they could now be aiming for promotion back to the first division if Langerak hadn’t been there.

As this interview was taking place before the contract renewal Langerak’s future was on hold, but he had to be fully focused on the final fixture of the season because Nagoya still had a slight chance of relegation (Nagoya lost 1-0 to Kashima Antlers, but survived in 13th due to other results on the same day).

During the conversation, however, he talked cheerfully about his positive impressions of Japan and the J.League, so I was guessing he would extend his stay in this country.

“Everything is very clean and safe in Japan, and people are very polite and friendly,” Langerak said cheerfully. “You can enjoy a quality life here, even foreigners like me because they are very kind to us. My family and I do enjoy life in Japan. We are very happy.”

Langerak always talks loudly and honestly. No matter what he’s asked, the frank and nice guy replies straightforwardly with what he likes or doesn’t know. Regarding the reasons why he decided to come to Japan, he was similarly forthright.

“It wasn’t that I went chasing the opportunity to come to Japan,” Langerak said in his high voice. “After playing in Germany for seven years (five with Borussia Dortmund, two for VfB Stuttgart), I moved to Spain (Levante UD). It was four or five months after moving there and we were still planning to stay in Europe for two or three more years, but I got a phone call out of nowhere. It was the offer from Nagoya and I thought it was a great opportunity because I knew a little bit about the city and the club through Josh Kennedy (former Australia international striker who played for Nagoya for six seasons). My agent took care of Josh Kennedy as well and they said everything is fantastic in Nagoya.”

His wife also urged him to accept the offer, excitedly saying, “Let’s go to Japan!”

“I’d been to Japan a few times for AFC Champions League matches when I played for Melbourne Victory and with the national team. But it was the first time for my wife and she was very excited. I knew it would be a great experience for all of us and promised her that.”

In the beginning, however, it took a few months for them to adjust to their new surroundings, “because Japan is completely different to Australia or Europe.

“For example, I could get by with English a lot better than I can here in Japan. So, at the start, it was intimidating because I didn’t know anything around my neighbourhood. But we got used to it as we walked around and now feel at home. Now we feel completely normal, even though I can’t understand Japanese characters and signs. I can say it’s my home town.”

Langerak appreciates not only daily life in Japan but also the “fantastic football and packed stadiums at the J.League matches.

“I don’t see negative aspects of living here,” Langerak continued. “If I have to say something, there aren’t many rubbish bins in public so I have to carry things after use. This was a bit surprising in the beginning, but I realised there are no rubbish bins but also no rubbish either on the streets! It’s unbelievable.

“Especially for us having a little baby, it’s great to live here in terms of safety and cleanliness. My son, Santiago, was born in Nagoya. I hope he will become a member of the Samurai Blue in the future.”

As a result of hearing such positive words from him, I believe Langerak will remain in Japan for a few years and will continue to make big saves and shine in the J.League.

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■Part 2■

Although Mitchell Langerak revealed that he was, “not chasing the opportunity to come to Japan” in the first part of this interview, he has many connections with the country ─ and they are rather strong.

Langerak played for Borussia Dortmund for five years from 2010, where he met Shinji Kagawa, and after that he also played alongside Hajime Hosogai and Takuma Asano at VfB Stuttgart. The clubs arranged the players closely in the dressing room, possibly due to their common Asia-Pacific origins.

“It’s actually funny because I sat next to Shinji at Dortmund for three or four years, and then I went to Stuttgart and it was Haji and Taku next to me as well in the dressing room. They are really good guys and friends of mine, and we all get along well. They were among the first people to congratulate me by sending messages when I moved to Nagoya. My impression was that if all Japanese are similar to those guys, I would have no problem in Japan.”

Langerak owes his great progress to Ange Postecoglou, the manager of Yokohama F.Marions, the current champions of the J.League (they were on the verge of winning the league at the time of this interview). The Australian tactician was the first coach to call Langerak up for the national team.

“He selected me for the Under-20 Australia national team, and when he became the national team coach I was there as well. So I’ve played four or five years under him, and we still have a good relationship.”

For Langerak, it was no wonder that Postecoglou succeeded in the J.League in his second season.

“He has left big impressions on players, fans, and the people around him everywhere he’s been. I am not surprised at all that he’s done very well in Yokohama ─ now only one more game to go (until they win the league title). You’ve watched his teams play for nearly two years now – an attacking, exciting, free-flowing, nice style of football. If it’s not Nagoya winning the league, I am happy enough that another Australian has the chance to do so.”

In Langerak’s view, Postecoglou has many distinguished qualities in football coaching.

“Obviously his tactical approach is something special, and he is a very intense coach who can bring the best out of his boys with great speeches to motivate them. In this regard, I was interested to see how he would do it in Japan because there must be some language barrier. But they’ve had no trouble whatsoever with a translator, and we can see how his messages clearly get across to the team.”

Postecoglou was criticised, fiercely sometimes, for his radical and revolutionary approach in both Australia and Japan before he ended up winning major titles. According to Langerak, who had seen his compatriot up close for several years, Postecoglou will have especially enjoyed those times ─ something the manager himself admitted at the press conference right after the J.League triumph.

“I think those criticisms made him more determined,” Langerak continued. “He believes in his way and style of football, which is very difficult to perfect. So I think criticism is normal, but he showed how he could get through the tough periods. He sticks to his principles; that’s very important.”

Not only a J.League winner, but the world champion coach has also trained Langerak ─ Jurgen Klopp, who won the Club World Cup with Liverpool in 2019, was the manager of Dortmund while he was there.

“As a coach, he is very intense and fair,” Langerak said of the top German manager. “He always wants everybody to give 100 percent in every training session and game. He treats all the players like his sons, communicating a lot with the players, getting onto their personal level, and speaking about everything. Then the players are highly motivated and want to play for him. When the team play well, he is the happiest guy but when things go the other way, he is very sad, just like a real player or a devoted fan. I really think he is a perfect coach because he is great as a coach as well as a person. He speaks to anybody and gives everybody a lot of respect.”

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■Part 3■

Mitchell Langerak names Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas as his biggest idols, and he has aimed to become a top goalkeeper just like the Italian and Spanish veterans.

But his home country, Australia, has also produced many great keepers who have thrived in the top European leagues, such as Mark Bosnich and Mark Schwarzer, while Mathew Ryan currently defends the goalmouth of Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League.

It is fair to say, at least in Asia and the Pacific region, that Australia is a goalkeepers’ nation. With that in mind, I asked him the same question I posed Krzysztof Kamiński in a previous interview in this series ─ why do you think your home country is able to develop such good goalkeepers?

“I don’t know the exact reasons,” Langerak replied. “Maybe because in Australia, we play many sorts of sports using our hands from a young age, and learn catching, throwing, diving around, making saves and so on. Also, there are a lot of ball sports such as rugby, Australian football, and cricket, and I think all these sports teach you good hand/arm coordination. I myself have played many kinds of sports in addition to those I mentioned, like swimming and tennis.

“But I’m not too sure about it. I think each professional goalkeeper has a different story about how they became who they are. Obviously there is a lot of hard work, as I have done as well.”

Langerak was born in a sports-oriented family that urged him to play many kinds of sports. With natural athleticism and constant hard work he grew into a professional keeper, moving to Germany where he was trained by the finest coaches including Jurgen Klopp and had the chance to play in the Bundesliga and the Champions League. For the custodian with first-hand knowledge of the highest level, the J.League is also a quality stage.

“The standard of the league is very high,” Langerak said in his typically optimistic tone. “For goalkeepers like me, it’s always a big challenge, really. The players are truly skillful, pacy, smart, tactically intelligent overall, and their shots are so powerful and precise. So, even for foreign players with top-level experience, it’s not a walk in the park. Some top players like (Andres) Iniesta and (David) Villa came to play in the league and they raised the standard.”

While Langerak faced many great attackers such as Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in Germany, he acknowledges there are also many tough strikers in the J.League, including Fernando Torres (now retired), Douglas, and Leandro Damiao. As a foreign player himself, Langerak would like to see more arrive in the near future, and has some advice for possible newcomers from overseas.

“If you have the chance, you should definitely come to Japan,” he said clearly. “It’s obviously intimidating to move to a new country in a new continent. But once you are here, it’s a really fantastic place to live and play football. You will get looked after, will get treated very nicely, and you won’t have to worry about anything.

“The majority of the stadiums are big, new, clean, and have many spectators. As a player you want to play in full stadiums, and you can enjoy that often in the J.League. Apart from Germany, where most matches are full houses, there are not many other places in the world where the stadiums are full week in week out, but you get that in Japan. I think this is one of the coolest things about playing in the J.League. It’s the opposite in Australia, unfortunately ─ we have big and nice stadiums, but not many people come to watch. So I’m very happy to play in Japan.”

 

J.LEAGUE News

J.LEAGUE International Youth Cup cancelled for 2020 season

J.LEAGUE announced the 2020 J.LEAGUE International Youth Cup will not be held in the 2020 season.

The decision has been made along with the cancellation of the J YOUTH CUP, a nationwide tournament in the youth category, taking account the situation of the COVID-19 crisis and the safety of all those involved.
J.LEAGUE will further work to design a plan for the development of individual players as the highest priority and details of the tournaments for next year will be announced as soon as decided.

■Tournament cancelled
2020 J.LEAGUE International Youth Cup
 In aim to provide J.club youth teams to play with world-class teams from other countries, the tournament started in 2015. The tournament consists of eight teams (top four teams of J Youth Cup and four teams from overseas) starting with a group stage and decide on the winner in a playoff format.

 

J.LEAGUE News

2020 J.LEAGUE Match Schedules

J.LEAGUE announced the new match schedules for the 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J.LEAGUE and 2020 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP. Please see below links for details.
The first 2 matches in each league (J1 2nd-3rd sec. J2 2nd-3rd sec. and J3 1st-2nd sec.) will be held without spectators.

2020 MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE
2020 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP
2020 MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE
2020 MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE

  Announcement Details
2020 MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE 2nd – 13th sec. ・Fixture schedule  (incl. kick-off time)
・Venues
・TV/Internet Broadcast
14th – 34th sec.*1 ・Fixture schedule*2
2020 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP Group Stage
2nd – 3rd sec.
・Fixture schedule  (incl. kick-off time)
・Venues
Prime Stage ・Dates
2020 MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE 2nd – 15th sec. ・Fixture schedule  (incl. kick-off time)
・Venue
・TV/Internet Broadcast
16th – 42nd sec.*1 ・Fixture schedule*2
2020 MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE 1st – 12th sec. ・Fixture schedule  (incl. kick-off time)
・Venues
・TV/Internet Broadcast
13th – 34th sec.*1 ・Fixture schedule*2

*1 Kick-off times for 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE: 14th – 34th sec., 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE: 16th – 42nd sec., and 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE: 13th to 34th sec. will be announced in early August and early October.
*2 Dates will be possible dates

 

J.LEAGUE News

The reason why Sendai’s Simao Mate says “Japanese fans are the best”

text by Yoichi Igawa

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■Part 1■

Thanks to his explosive physical strength and adhesive marking ability, Simao Mate became the talisman of Vegalta Sendai’s backline in 2019. As his first season in the J1 League it took some time for him to adjust new surroundings, but after returning to the starting 11 early in the summer Vegalta won all of their J1 matches in June and Simao was selected as the league’s monthly MVP. Since then, he has been a regular centre-back for the team, and even assumed the captain’s armband in the latter part of the season. His debut season in J1 saw him make 24 appearances and score three goals – produced by headers unleashed from a strong muscular base. The fans and media chose him as Vegalta’s player of the season. 

On the pitch, Simao has sometimes cast his fierce glare upon opponents, while also intensely inspiring his teammates. I therefore wondered what kind of personality he is, and prepared questions that could be altered if the man from Mozambique turned out to be sullen or quiet.

That, however, was a needless concern. In November 2019, when we visited him at a Sendai clubhouse basking in warm sunshine, Simao was always smiling and as radiant as the sun overhead. The interview was supposed to be conducted with a Portuguese translator, but when I asked him, “Do you speak English?” he replied, “Yes, no problem at all! It’s actually better for us to speak directly.” He smiled brightly and gave the translator a wink as if to say, “It’s fine”.

Having left his home country in his teens, Simao played for Panathinaikos (Greece), Shandong Luneng (China), Levante (Spain), and Al Ahly (Qatar) before coming to Sendai in January 2019. Along the way, he has competed at the highest level, including the Champions League and La Liga. Why, then, did he choose Vegalta and the J-League? 

“Well, I had the chance to come to Japan six years ago (when at Shandong),” Simao said. “I ended up taking an offer from Spain instead, but my wife was very interested in Japan. She is Italian and I met her when I played in Greece. In Italy and Greece, Japanese food is very popular and my wife has good knowledge of Japan as well. She repeated many times, ‘Let’s go to Japan if you have the chance again!’ And you know the world speaks very highly of Japan, especially in recent years, so I had been interested in Japan as well. So it was a dream for my wife and I to live in Japan.”

Simao continued gently and peacefully. 

“And now, the dream came true after six years! It wasn’t only my wife but I also wanted to come. Of course, there is no guarantee of success, but I wanted to come anyway and see how things went. 

“I think most professional soccer players (Simao calls the sport ‘soccer’ like a Japanese, not ‘football’) are motivated by new challenges. I like challenges too, and my career has been built by them. I went to Europe at a young age and jumped into different countries and cultures. I have been a foreigner everywhere I have played, but have had many interesting experiences as a result. That also means you can be open-minded.”

Although Simao talked in a unique singing flow, he confessed to having slightly struggled to adjust to life in Japan. The stats show as much, with him only starting three J1 games up until the 13th round of games at the end of May.

“To be honest, I found it a little strange,” Simao said drily. His tone and voice were still the same though, mellow and happy, and reminded me of the teatime, which is very popular in his country. In Maputo, the capital of Mozambique where he grew up, there are stunning coastlines as well. Those made him a broad-minded and relaxed person, and for such an individual life in Japan can be totally surprising, especially when it comes to time-keeping and scheduling. 

“First of all, I was so surprised that the subway arrives precisely on time! I don’t think that happens in any country. Also, in my opinion, Japanese people have to set their entire schedule before the day begins. You don’t like sudden invitations, right? But soccer players like me want to call friends to go to lunch after training sessions. If I want to go out with you, maybe I have to let you know at least one week in advance, right?

“And the way they respect others was shocking to me. Of course it is good manners and shows values, but for me it is a little too much. For example, I want to speak loudly – that is natural for me – on the subway or in a restaurant, but there is nobody doing so. Then I thought I must follow the custom and be quiet. 

“It’s different at the training ground or stadium where you can talk loudly though I couldn’t speak Japanese at all at the time, so that was difficult too. But luckily, my teammates at Vegalta were very welcoming. They accepted me as I am and said, ‘Simao, you can speak loudly if you want. Scream if you want!’”

With that help, Simao started showing his real ability to become the indispensable cornerstone of Vegalta Sendai’s defense. 

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■Part 2■

“The standard of the J-League is higher than I imagined,” Simao Mate said of his first impression of the league. 

“I’ve played at the top level of soccer including La Liga and the Champions League, so I think I know what the highest level is. My impression is that the standard of the J-League is of course below those examples, but not that far. Honestly, I was surprised by the skills and pace of Japanese players.”

In particular, the individual talent in both his team and the opposition was beyond his expectations. 

“There are many players with big potential,” Simao continued. “In general, the level of players’ fitness is very high, and they can maintain it throughout the season, which is not easy. Overall their skills are also good, as well as their professionalism. They concentrate highly in every training session and match.

“At Vegalta, we have some exceptional players like Katsu (Katsuya Nagato, now at Kashima Antlers), Yoshiki (Matsushita), Hira (Yasuhiro Hiraoka) and so on. As for opponents, (Shinzo) Koroki of Urawa Reds, Yokohama F. Marinos’ number 23 (Teruhito Nakagawa), and the number 16 of Vissel Kobe  (Kyogo Furuhashi, now number 11) were very good players with pace and movement, and I struggled to cope with them.”

In fact, Simao had a hard time at the start of his debut season. In March, Vegalta lost all three of the matches he started as a midfield anchor. After that, he had to bide his time until June for another start. 

At that time the media and fans had doubts about his physical condition, as he seemed almost to be in slow motion compared to the best form he went on to show. Simao, however, thinks differently. 

“I don’t think my condition (in spring) was so bad at the time,” Simao continued gently. “We lost those games because the opponents were better than us. And yes, I had to sit on the bench after that, but sometimes you have to wait for your chance. The manager decided the starting 11, and I just followed that.”

During that time, Simao gradually got used to life in Japan. He and his wife had originally liked Japanese food and found new favourites such as ox tongue, the local specialty of Sendai. Based on that adjustment and with help from his teammates, Simao was then able to perform well when he returned to the starting lineup in June.

“My teammates were so nice to me from the first day,” Simao said appreciatively. “Thanks to them, I was selected as the J1 league player of June. I’m very grateful to them for everything. I know some people thought I was one of the key players for our perfect results in June because they started when I came back into the starting lineup, but I think it was just chance. I rather see it as the whole team becoming hungry again at the time. It was not me that revived the team.”

The man who has lived in three continents – Africa, Europe, and Asia – always respects and thanks others, saying that football is, “a sport of respect”. For him, football is joy and love but also a job and a tool to explore many places around the globe, as well as to make friends.

Having played for five years in Greece, the longest run in his professional career, he still has a lot of friends there and goes to the Mediterranean for holidays. 

“When I played in Greece, the financial crisis had yet to occur and the standard of the league was high. Especially teams like my club at the time Panathinaikos, Olympiakos, and PAOK, who competed well in the Champions League. Throughout that experience, the toughest opponent for me was Zlatan (Ibrahimovic), who was at Inter Milan at the time. He was a monster, a beast. I also played against (Lionel) Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but marking Zlatan was the hardest thing for me.”

In Greece, Simao enjoyed exchanges and friendship with fans, some of whom are, “a bit crazy”. They are, “fanatically singing, chanting, and laughing out loud” from the stands, and a few of them came to talk and made friends with him. 

On the other hand, he “couldn’t feel that kind of close connection with fans in China, even though there was a good number of supporters in the stands”. And in Qatar, where he played before coming to Japan, “there is only a small group of spectators for league games, and 15 or 20 of them are family members, friends, or agents of players.” 

But now he appreciates feeling close interaction with the fans in Sendai, just like he did in Greece. 

“For me, Japanese fans are the best,” Simao said with sincerity. “It’s for real. They keep singing throughout the matches to support the players and to give us power. Japanese fans have energy, love, and respect. We, the players, can feel that strongly on the pitch and that makes us give everything.”

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■Part 3■

Patrick Mboma, Seydou Doumbia, Peter Utaka––.

Simao Mate respects these African pioneers in the J-League. He feels he is able to play in the league because of the paths they carved.

“They made the way to the J-League for African players,” Simao said. “Because of their efforts and great performances, African players are acknowledged in Japan”

For long-term fans of the J-League, African players have produced some great scenes, especially Mboma in the late 1990s. In the fifth J-League season in 1997, Mboma –– dubbed the “Black Panther of Naniwa (Osaka)” –– showed many stunning performances, which were not only unforgettable but also raised the standard of the league. 

With great athleticism, physical flexibility, and freedom of the mind, the African players could sometimes perform beyond our imaginations. If more players were to join the league from the continent, it could become even more fun and full of colour.

“Yes, I hope so,” Simao happily agreed with me. “There are still many players with big potential in Africa. Some European clubs realised that a long ago and have founded local academies or agreed partnerships with local clubs. In Portuguese-speaking countries like Mozambique and Angola, Portuguese clubs such as Benfica, Sporting, and Porto have made close connections and scouted good young players.

“So I hope some Japanese clubs or people will do the same. Geographically, Africa is far away from Japan, but such a move could bring it closer. Although it could of course bring some risk, it would be of great benefit to Japanese clubs and the J-League in the future. There are many players from South America in the league, especially Brazilians, but I would like them to pay attention to the opposite continent.”

What kind of advice would he give to any foreign players thinking of moving to Japan?

“Just come here!” Simao said, before laughing naturally. “You can enjoy high quality life and high level soccer here. Very convenient and nice living, a highly competitive league, professional clubs with no delay in payment, great teammates and fans… What else do you need? If you hesitate, decide it now and do the hard work. If you can prove yourself on the pitch, the supporters will give you great respect.”

That is also what Simao experienced. He only started a few matches in the beginning and struggled a little afterwards, but returned as a starter and became the lynchpin of Vegalta’s back line. That is mainly because of his adjustment to Japan, and he still wants to know more about the country. 

“Now I am mostly used to life in Japan, but I will try to understand more so I can enjoy it more and perform well.”

Based on his own experience, he seemed so sure about that ── something that could also apply to Japanese players wishing to move to Europe. 

“Many Japanese players try their chances at European clubs, especially in recent years,” Simao continued. “Most of them are youngsters who have great potential, and if they can display their ability it is not very difficult to play or start games in most of the European leagues. In order to do so, you have to adjust to the different culture, surroundings, and mentality. Even if you have great talent, you can’t succeed without that adjustment.

“After all, Japanese players in general should believe in themselves more. If you are not confident, you can’t succeed professionally. In my impression, Japanese people, including professional athletes, care too much about what others think. Especially in professional soccer, you can’t wait for something ── you have to grab it yourself. Decide, act voluntarily, and maintain your will all by yourself. Soccer is not only about chasing the ball but also scrambling for chances. I think the important things are focusing on what you do, believing in yourself and your teammates, and heading towards your goal without fear.”

 

J.LEAGUE News

About schedule announcements of the 2020 J.LEAGUE

The J.LEAGUE will make announcements of its 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J.LEAGUE and 2020 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP match schedules on the following date.

Date   Announcement Details
17:00
Monday
15 June
(TBD)
2020 MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE 2nd – 13th sec. ・Fixture schedule  (incl. kick-off time)
・Venues
・TV/Internet Broadcast
14th – 34th
sec.*1
・Fixture schedule*2
2020 MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE 2nd – 15th sec. ・Fixture schedule  (incl. kick-off time)
・Venue
・TV/Internet Broadcast
16th – 42nd
sec.*1
・Fixture schedule*2
2020 MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE 1st – 12th sec. ・Fixture schedule  (incl. kick-off time)
・Venues
・TV/Internet Broadcast
13th – 34th
sec.*1
・Fixture schedule*2
2020 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP Group Stage
2nd – 3rd sec.
・Fixture schedule  (incl. kick-off time)
・Venues
Prime Stage ・Dates

*1 Kick-off times for 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE: 14th – 34th sec., 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE: 16th – 42nd sec., and 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE: 13th to 34th sec. will be announced in early August and early October.
*2 Dates will be possible dates

 

J.LEAGUE News

Change of competition format of the 2020 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP

J.LEAGUE announced the change of competition format of the 2020 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP on the account of the COVID-19 outbreak. The details of change are as follows:

■Change of the Competition Format 

New format
-Group Stage
16 teams (15 J1 teams* and J2 team Matsumoto Yamaga F.C.**) will play in a round-robin format in 4 groups. 
Top teams in each group and top 1 team in second place will qualify to the Prime Stage.

*3 teams participating in the AFC Champions League (ACL) will play from Prime Stage.
**Matsumoto will not play from sec. 2 and their group will be made up of 3 teams. 2 teams that will not play 
against Matsumoto will be given 3 points.

-Prime Stage
8 teams (5 qualified teams and 3 teams participating in the ACL) will play a knockout format.

Original format
-Group Stage
16 teams (15 J1 teams* and 1 J2 team) will play in 4 groups, top 2 teams in each group and top 2 teams in third place will qualify to the Playoff Stage.
*3 teams participating in the ACL will play from Prime Stage.

-Playoff Stage
10 qualified teams will play in a home-and-away format and top 5 teams will qualify to the Prime Stage.

-Prime Stage
8 teams (5 qualified teams and 3 teams participating in the ACL) will play in a home-and-away 
knockout format and the final is played once to decide the cup winner.

■Schedule

    New Original
Group Stage Sec. 1 16 Feb 16 Feb
Sec. 2 TBA 26 Feb
Sec. 3 TBA 4 Mar
Sec. 4 - 8 Apr
Sec. 5 - 22 Apr
Sec. 6 - 6 May
Playoff Stage 1st Leg - 27 May
2nd Leg - 17 Jun
Prime Stage Quarter-final TBA 2 Sep
  - 6 Sep
Semi-final TBA 7 Oct
  - 11 Oct
Final TBA 24 Oct

 

J.LEAGUE News

About withdrawal of F.C. Tokyo U-23 from the MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE

J.LEAGUE announced that F.C. Tokyo U-23 will withdraw from the 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE after the third extraordinary board of directors held today.

■Reason of withdrawal
Due to the spread of the COVID-19, matches will be held in a tight schedule and it is difficult for F.C.Tokyo to ensure booking of stadiums for its home games after the league starts.

■Change of the Competition Format
  2020 MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE

  New Original
# of teams 18 19
# of sec. 34 38
# of matches 306 342
# of matches per 1 team 34 36

 

J.LEAGUE News

Change of Competition Format of the 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J.LEAGUE

J.LEAGUE announced further change in the format of the 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J.LEAGUE after the third extraordinary board of directors held today. 

■Change of the Competition Format
1. Schedule
 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE: Friday 21 February – Saturday 19 December
 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE: Sunday 23 February – Sunday 20 December
 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE: Saturday 27 June – Sunday 20 December

2. Matches
 As a safety measure to prevent infection, matches featuring teams from the same geographical area will be taken priority in scheduling.

3. Number of substitutes
 - increase the maximum number of substitutions from three to five
 - can make substitutions up to three times (excluding during half time)

*Previously announced changes: https://www.jleague.jp/en/news/article/16961/

 

J.LEAGUE News

Visiting Japan even after his retirement! - Fernando Torres reveals why he chose J.League

text by Yoichi Igawa

■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■

PART 1

After his retirement from professional football, Fernando Torres has returned to Spain but still remains closely connected with Sagan Tosu, his last club, as an advisor. On 23rd August 2019, he played his very last game against Vissel Kobe, in which his friends Andres Iniesta and David Villa, saw off their World Cup winning teammate with a goal rout (Kobe beat Tosu 6-1). Though Torres and his family went back to Spain immediately after that, he wants to “help Tosu, which has huge potential” and “try to come to Japan as much as I can” to advise on training, youth development, and other areas.

In late November 2019, we had the chance to talk when Torres came back to Japan for the first time since his retirement. He visited Mitsuru Murai, the chairman of the J.LEAGUE, and in his presence, I asked Torres the reason he decided to come to Japan to conclude his professional career.

“When the contract with Atletico Madrid expired,” Torres began, “I was thinking of the next destination and, to be honest, Japan was not my first choice at the time. There was one guy who urged me to play in Japan though, and because of him I started to think about the J.LEAGUE and researched Japan. When I asked my friends who knew about Japan, everybody said it is fantastic country – respect, kind people, high privacy.

“Then I started to watch the J.LEAGUE and realised the standard is high. And my family told me it was probably best to go to Japan due to the quality of life and its football. We knew, however, it would be a challenge as a person and a footballer because the culture and lifestyle are very different from that we had become accustomed to. Looking back now, it was a good decision. I played in the J.LEAGUE for about a year and finished my career here. Everything went well and I am happy now.”

Then, what was his first impression of Japan and the lifestyle?

“It was a completely different lifestyle from what I had experienced before,” he said. “If you compare life in Europe and Japan, it is totally different – culture, custom, the way of thinking etc. For example, I was very surprised to see elementary school kids go to school by themselves. My children made a lot of friends in Japan and learned important values here, which I think they will keep in their minds.

“We’ve also discovered many things in this country. I traveled with my family to Miyajima, Takachiho, Fukuoka and so on, and found many beautiful places. It was nice to visit serene temples and be tranquil, something which is difficult to do in big cities. Our days in Japan were very positive. That’s why I want to keep my contacts here and come back as much as possible.”

Torres’ idol in his youth was famously Tsubasa Ozora of Captain Tsubasa (called Oliver in the Spanish version of the animation, Oliver y Benji). Was the popular Japanese show another reason he came to Japan? Actually, it was even more fundamental than that for the World Cup winner.

“It was not the reason for coming to Japan,” Torres said, “it was the reason I started playing football. When I was five or six years old, I played football on the streets, almost no television channels showed football matches. And very young children didn’t have many chances to go to the stadium either. Then came Oliver.

“We were watching it so passionately every time. The story goes that one guy moves to another place where he makes friends, gets used to his new surroundings, and kicks the ball everyday. Oliver faces many obstacles and overcomes them all, becoming a professional footballer, being selected for the national team, and playing at big tournaments. The story gave me a dream to become a professional footballer, and taught me what it is like. In other words, it gave me hope. I loved that cartoon.”

Listening intently his words, Murai added that superstars such as Torres, Iniesta, and Villa have inspired many players in the J.LEAGUE.

“Japanese players have learned many things from the World Cup winners,” Murai said. “Playing together in the league means living together, so they have surely gained a lot. Also, the likes of Torres and Iniesta grew up in the academies of their respective clubs, so people in youth development should have learned a great deal too.”

■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■

PART 2

Fernando Torres’ classy winner in the Euro 2008 final opened the door to the so-called Spanish golden era. After becoming top scorer at the tournament, he and his national teammates completed the maiden international treble by winning the World Cup in 2010 as well as Euro 2012. Needless to say, he is a genuinely top footballer.

During his long elite career, Torres has faced many strong opponents. Among others, he remembers the tough defenders the most.

“In the Premier League, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United, and Chelsea’s John Terry were the hardest ones for me,” Torres recalled. “I was very lucky to have good opponents throughout my career and it is difficult to choose just one. But if I have to, it was Carles Puyol for Barcelona.

“He was not only a tough defender but also a fair player, so I liked to play against him very much. Defenders like him gave me plenty of motivation and I prepared myself properly every time I faced him. It was also huge pleasing when I managed to score after breaking free of his tight marking.”

In the J.LEAGUE too, there are several defenders who troubled him.

“(Tomoaki) Makino at Urawa Reds was the most impressive defender in the league for me,” Torres continued. “He was a tough opponent but we always exchanged nice words after games, and sometimes talked off the pitch too.”

Before coming to Japan, Torres spent a lot of time watching J.LEAGUE matches, and he has a few favourite players. Predictably enough, they are skillful midfielders similar to those from Spain.

“Kengo Nakamura from Kawasaki Frontale,” Torres said without hesitation. “His playing style is attractive and I loved watching it. Receiving the ball between the lines, making beautiful turns, and then playing sharp, penetrative passes to trouble the opponents – I like that and can watch it for a whole game.”

Torres, of course, also acknowledges Takefusa Kubo, who is currently playing for Mallorca on loan from Real Madrid in Spain.

“Now he is having a great experience in Spain,” Torres said of the Japanese teenager. “Certainly, he’s got huge talent and potential and I hope he will become the player he should. I think it’s possible because he is clever and humble. I can see that in his interviews. He already knows about Spain and can speak Spanish after previously spending many years in Barcelona’s academy.

“I think he has everything to succeed in Spain. If he plays consistently, his talent will develop for sure. There is a bright future ahead for him.”

Having taken on a new role as an advisor, Torres has some suggestions for Japanese football, especially concerning youth development.

“There are many good players in Japan,” Torres said. “I’ve seen some great talents as well, but they tend to fail to develop due to improper coaching. They have to coach the right way, because those kids like football and want to be professionals. Coaches have to teach not only training but also daily life and behaviour. I’ve seen some young professional players who still have a childish mentality. That has to be changed in order for Japanese football to get better. Football is more competition than entertainment. They must understand this.”

For the J.LEAGUE, here are his honest impressions.

“I think there are teams that don’t meet the players’ ability,” Torres said. “Having a few great players is not enough to build a good team. It could perhaps win a trophy, but could also lead to relegation the following season. That has happened in Japan many times. In football, consistency is the key. It’s very important. If your team has less quality but has unity and consistency, you could win the league.”

■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■

PART 3

“Unfortunately, our aim was only to avoid relegation in my first season in the J.LEAGUE. When I arrived, Sagan Tosu were in the relegation zone. It was a tough situation but the players, staff, and fans didn’t give up, and we achieved our goal for the season.”

Just as Fernando Torres said, Tosu were in danger of relegation when he joined them midway through the 2018 season. It took four games for him to record his first win in the league and four more matches for the World Cup winner to notch his maiden goal. In the game against Gamba Osaka in August, he scored one and set up two, leading Tosu to a 3-0 win. Although it was one of the best performances of his time in the J.LEAGUE, it is another match he remembers most.

“I will never forget the game against Yokohama F. Marinos in November,” Torres said. “I think that is my highlight in the J.LEAGUE. Yokohama opened the scoring in the first half and if it finished that way, we were going to be relegated. But once we scored in the second half, the atmosphere in the stadium changed completely. The supporters were getting louder and louder, started believing again, and I saw the light of hope in their eyes. I remember the scene very clearly.

“Then I scored the winner. Many people were overjoyed and some of them were even crying. Just before that, they were so anxious about the possible bad result and so disappointed, so I understood their delight. Of course my teammates and I were feeling the same. I will never forget the happy faces on the people. I think that game represented what football is. We experienced various emotions in one game. That is football -- football draws out the emotion.”

In the end, Tosu avoided relegation on the final day of the season after a draw against Kashima Antlers, but Torres’ winner in the game against Yokohama was crucial. While Torres only scored three times in 2018 and twice in 2019, some of his performances were vital for the club.

J.LEAGUE chairman Mitsuru Murai was listening to Torres speak and commented upon the impression he made in the league.

“I was impressed by Torres’ presence up front – it was as if he was calling to his teammates, ‘Pass the ball to me!’” Murai said. “I felt his aura. Maybe it sounds like a cliché, but I did. All the people in the stadium were watching Torres. He is a player you are drawn to.”

Still involved with Tosu as an adviser, Torres envisages more foreign players in the J.LEAGUE in the future, especially from his home country.

“I would like to share my experience in Japan, such as the quality of life and the competitive league,” Torres said. “There are many kind people, good food, and a beautiful culture in this country. Also, every player can improve in this league, and due to its high level, some players may see it as a step up towards the big European leagues. I think a lot of foreign players will come, especially my compatriots because Spanish players like myself were able to smoothly adjust to living here.”

While nodding next to him, Murai also sent a message to foreign footballers around the world.

“Though Europe and South America are the epicentre of football, Asia should be next to them,” Murai said. “There is a huge population and room for development in the region, with Japan and the J.LEAGUE playing leading role.

“Although it’s very basic, all the clubs pay wages on time to their players, the stadiums are very safe, and there has never been match fixing in the 25-year history of the league. Given the fact that the Japan national team has played in six consecutive final tournaments of the World Cup, we can also say that youth development has improved in the country as a whole. All in all, we have good fundamentals. Therefore, we would like to welcome not only top-level players but also developing youngsters from overseas -- please knock on the door!”

Torres also talked about the current position of the J.LEAGUE in world football.

“Big names such as Andres (Iniesta) and David (Villa) helped to attract attention for the J.LEAGUE from all over the world,” he said. “I think players are aware of that and it is a good stage for their next step. And again, you can enjoy a fantastic life here in Japan. I recommend those young players who hope to transfer to Europe to come and play in the J.LEAGUE for that reason.”

Perhaps this is also a message to Japanese players – they should aim to play in the national team and/or European leagues beyond the J.LEAGUE. Murai hopes so too.

“While more foreign players are coming to the J.LEAGUE, I want to see more Japanese players going abroad,” he said. “Such interactions should make Japan football better and better.”

 

J.LEAGUE News

Remarks by Mitsuru Murai, J.LEAGUE Chairman, in Media Briefing on 29th May 2020

 J.LEAGUE held an extraordinary executive committee on 29th May and J.LEAGUE Chairman Mitsuru Murai spoke to the media, about the resumption/opening dates of the J.LEAGUE.

 “Today, we decided on the schedule for the resumption/opening of the J.LEAGUE. We will resume the MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE and start the MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE on the weekend of 27 June, while the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE will resume on 4 July.

 The committee was held for an extended period of time, as I had all the executive committee members have their say about their thoughts and preparations done towards starting the league. With the dates confirmed, we are making a number of guidelines put in place. The point we stress is to ensure the safety and health of our players.

  Starting in March making guidelines protecting our player’s fitness, checking their temperature, managing their daily activity logs, we are almost at the point to be ready for the case to hold matches without spectators. In addition, we plan to give PCR tests to all of our players to manage their health, on the premise it does not cause inconvenience to the public.”

 

J.LEAGUE News

About the resumption/opening dates of the J.LEAGUE

J.LEAGUE announced to resume the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE on 4 July and the MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE on 27 June. The MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE will also start on 27 June.

The matches will be held without spectators but the league will continue preparations to allow spectators to the stadiums in the future, taking into account the situation with the COVID-19 in the country.

All fixtures will be rescheduled and the league will take priority to schedule matches featuring teams from the same geographical area as one safety measure to prevent infection. Further details are scheduled to be announced on 15 June.

The 2020 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP Play-Off 2nd Stage scheduled on 17 June will be postponed. Further details on the tournament format and the resumption date of the 2020 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP will be announced as soon as they are determined.

■Matches to be rescheduled

  Sec.
2020 MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE 2nd sec. – 34th sec.
2020 MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE 2nd sec. – 42nd sec.
2020 MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE 1st sec. – 38th sec.

 

J.LEAGUE News

Kamiński’s thoughts on why his home country Poland can produce many great goalkeepers

text by Yoichi Igawa

■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■

PART 1

It’s mid-September 2019 in Iwata, Shizuoka, and the weather is still warm and humid like mid-summer. The air-conditioned interview room with a nice view of Jubilo Iwata’s training pitch is basking in the warm sun.

“Hello!”

After Krzysztof Kamiński enters the room, it feels even brighter due to the Polish goalkeeper’s natural smile and cheerful manner.

“Will it only take 30 minutes?” he said. “Well, let’s talk more as I have a lot of time today!”

As you can see, Kamiński faces everything keenly, and his footballing career began as a positive challenge.

“To be honest, I didn’t initially want to be a goalkeeper,” he confessed. “I started as a winger, but when I was 12 the coach urged me to play between the posts. I didn’t know why he asked me to do that, but I gave it a go and it was great fun! People around me praised my goalkeeping and I got into it.”

A mischievous child who “played lots of pranks” with his brother started aiming to become a professional goalkeeper shortly afterwards, something he achieved at 20 years old. After playing in the fourth division of Poland in his first two seasons, Kamiński stepped up in consecutive years and reached the first tier when he joined Ruch Chorzow, one of the most successful clubs in the country. His contract was set to expire in his third season there, which is when Iwata came calling. That was December 2014.

There weren’t many Polish players having played in Asia though, let alone the J.LEAGUE. Therefore, it took some time for him to make a decision. However, with his naturally positive personality and ardent persuasion from Jubilo, Kamiński determined to head to the Far East for the first time.

“(Toshihiro) Hattori-san (football director of Jubilo) told me their interesting project,” he said. “Although Jubilo were then competing in J2, it is a prestige club with great history and many titles. The club needed to win promotion and he asked me to help them. I couldn’t imagine being in Japan though, because it is very far from my country and I had only played in the Polish leagues, so I asked him to give me some time to think about it. During that time, I heard about the J.LEAGUE from people with more knowledge of the competition. They said there are many skilful players and that the standard of the league is high. I also wanted to live abroad and had never had the chance before. I think if you put yourself in a different culture and circumstances, you develop not only as a player but also as a person. With that in mind, I felt like, ‘why not try?’”

Right after arriving in Japan, Kamiński felt sure he had made the right decision. The club is well organised and everyone welcomed the new comer from Eastern Europe. His teammates, coaches, and others at Iwata have gladly helped him on the pitch as well as off it.

“It was my first time to live outside my country, moreover it is Japan, which has a very different culture to Europe. But there have not been any problems because people here in Iwata have been very helpful.

“One thing I can’t really get used to is this heat,” Kamiński laughed. “The first summer was especially hard for me. I’d never experienced such high temperature and humidity before. Now I’ve gotten gradually used it, but my face easily turns red in training sessions, which my teammates often play make fun of me about.”

While Kamiński is still struggling to adapt to the climate after four and a half years in Japan, he has otherwise completely adjusted to life in the country. When talking about his daily life, he looks very happy.

“Japanese people in general are very kind and helpful. When I was struggling in town, they would come over and offer to help. I also admire their culture, especially with regards to respecting others and their elders. It’s very safe, so my wife can go out by herself even at night. I actually got so used to it that when I went back to Poland my wallet got stolen from my shopping basket. That’s my fault, but it would never happen in Japan for sure.”

His wife is also Polish, but now cooks some Japanese food.

“She likes gyoza (Japanese dumplings) and we eat it once a week at least. Both of us love Japanese food like ramen, katsu-don, sushi, yakiniku as well as eel, the specialty of Shizuoka. One thing I can’t eat is natto, but I’m fine with umeboshi, which is good for recovery.”

Kamiński talked quickly and pleasantly until this point, but on his days off he was struggling to keep his spirits up on account of Jubilo having a very difficult season in 2019. That’s only natural considering the fact they were at the bottom of the league when we spoke. Even so, he was incredibly open to an interviewer he was only meeting properly for the first time. Why was that?

“When you are outside of your home country, as I’m sure you understand, you realise that you become more open. In different circumstances to those you are used to, you have to be open-minded. I think that is development. It was the right decision to come to Japan.”

■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■

PART 2

“That’s a very good question,” Krzysztof Kamiński replied. “But I’m not sure of the reasons either.”

Why has Poland been able to consistently produce such good goalkeepers?

There are many Polish keepers playing regularly for prominent European clubs, including Wojciech Szczęsny at Juventus, West Ham’s Łukasz Fabiański, Bartłomiej Drągowski of Fiorentina, Łukasz Skorupski for Bologna, and Union Berlin’s Rafał Gikiewicz. Also, looking back a little further, one of the heroes of Liverpool’s famous Champions League triumph in 2005 - the so-called ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ - was Jerzy Dudek, another Polish keeper who saved Andriy Shevchenko’s double blitz in the final minutes and then made great saves in the penalty shootout, inspired by Liverpool legend Bruce Grobbelaar.

In the J.LEAGUE too, Kamiński was first choice for Jubilo Iwata for several years, while his compatriot Jakub Słowik immediately became the No.1 after transferring to Vegalta Sendai in July 2019.

That’s why I asked the question. Kamiński honestly replied, “not sure”, before considering the matter with me – leaning forward a bit and sitting straight, staring with cobalt blue eyes, as he continued to speak.

“In Poland, many people complain about falling behind in terms of youth development,” Kamiński said. “So I guess those conditions are not the reason. Additionally, in recent years most young players admire Robert Lewandowski and goalkeeper is not a popular role. But I think goalkeeper is an individual position, and if there are good coaches, good keepers can be produced. In comparison to outfield players, goalkeepers can be improved by individual training, perhaps a lot.”

A nice coincidence occurred at this point.

Poland has a great football history. The national team took third place at the World Cup in 1974 and 1982, as well as winning gold and silver at 1972 and 1976 Olympics, respectively. I wondered if the legendary goalkeepers who starred for the national team during the ‘Polish Golden Era’ might have inspired the following generations, and included this question in my list. Kamiński delightedly revealed that he was coached by one of them - Józef Młynarczyk, who shone at the World Cup in 1982.

“When I was called up to the U21 national team, Młynarczyk was the goalkeeper coach,” Kamiński said. “In my country, he is acknowledged as one of the two greatest goalkeepers along with Jan Tomaszewski, who played at the World Cup in 1974. In club football, Młynarczyk won the European Cup with FC Porto in 1987 so he is admired not only in Poland but also in Portugal.

“He was a great coach too. His demands on the players were extremely high, and we had to work very intensely. But thanks to that, despite the training camp only being two weeks long, I improved a lot. His instructions are still alive in me. Although he taught me goalkeeping, what I remember most from his teaching is how to use my brain - anticipating the flow of the game and the direction of the ball, keeping my concentration at all times. For goalkeepers, that is very, very important.”

When a specific sport flourishes in one country or area, there tends to be an inspirational figure - a role model in another words. For instance, it is said that there are many top-level tennis players like Novak Djokovic in the western Balkans because of the influence of Monica Seles. Also, in Japan, Midori Ito has inspired many figure skaters to go on and become first-class competitors. Could that also apply to a certain position? Kamiński agrees with the hypothesis.

“Yes, I think so,” he nodded. “Everyone knows Tomaszewski in my country, a true legend. The match against England in the preliminary round of the 1974 World Cup, which Poland won due to his fine performance, is the most famous football game in my country. Maybe some Polish players have chosen the position, thanks to the influences of him, Młynarczyk and so on. And us, Polish goalkeepers have been trained with traditional but refined coaching methods across successive generations, which has made us better and better.”

That includes Kamiński and Słowik in the J.LEAGUE. Though there are not many players from Eastern Europe in the league, the two Polish keepers are thriving (at the point we spoke, at least). Concerning this situation, Kamiński helped, “a little bit”.

“When Słowik was approached by Vegalta Sendai, he contacted me and asked some questions,” he said. “I don’t know about Sendai, but I told him honestly what I had learned about the J.LEAGUE and life in Japan. That it’s a high-level league, that there are kind people, nice food, and a fantastic culture.

“He responded that he would give it serious consideration, and ultimately did move to Sendai. When we played against each other in August for the first time, he said, ‘You were right. Well, actually, it’s better than I expected. I enjoy the life and football here. Thank you!’”

■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■

PART 3

“I think the standard of the J.LEAGUE is higher than the Ekstraklasa, the first division in Poland,” Krzysztof Kamiński said. “Japanese midfielders in particular have good skill, vision, and creativity – they are much better for sure than Polish midfielders in general.”

“I would tell anyone who asks me the same I was told by people with good knowledge of the J.LEAGUE when I was thinking of moving to Japan: come here with a serious attitude and be ready, because the level of the J.LEAGUE is very high.”

Kamiński compared the J.LEAGUE, where he spent five years, and the Ekstraklasa, his country’s top league. During his time in Japan, he also learned many things.

“In Poland, there are not many teams that try to build up from the back. Most of them, including the teams I played for, still mainly play long balls aimed at physically strong forwards. On the contrary, many J.LEAGUE sides play a modern passing game, so I need to have good skill with my feet. I feel I have improved a lot in that regard since I came here.”

The J.LEAGUE consists of 18 teams which, “mainly play possession football with an attacking mindset, which is enjoyable for the fans and players”, he continues. Regarding the fans, Kamiński also has a positive impression.

“In Europe, the fans – and people in general - don’t hold back if they are frustrated. Although Polish fans are not so aggressive, they speak up when they want to. Therefore, when a team loses or performs badly the players are criticised.

“But in Japan, many fans encourage the players all the time, even after bad results. The supporters of Jubilo must have had a lot of frustration due to our results and performances. We have, of course, heard boos from the stands sometimes, but most of them show their support as the 12th men. I really appreciate that.”

But that sort of affectionate attitude could spoil the players. “Maybe, it could,” he replied and continued speaking fast. He seems to be a person who likes to think and talk at the same time.

“Generally, I think Japanese players are mentally weaker than European players. In Europe, professional footballers are always under pressure from fans, the media, rivals, coaches and so on - both in a good way and a bad way. Because of that, they become more resilient in order to overcome the pressure and improve themselves. On the other hand, there is not such pressure in Japan. That could have a negative effect, such as spoiling the players, but the players can perform freely with less pressure. I think both are true and the players with weaker mentality need more support than criticism. So I don’t think we can judge which fans are better.

“That could apply to the playing styles too. Japanese players tend to pass the ball when they could shoot, which sometimes attracts criticism. But if the receiver is in a better position, the decision is correct. And the fans enjoy attacking football based on passing and moving, so I think that is also fantastic.”

Kamiński is a big fan of the league and has some favourite players.

“Kengo Nakamura from Kawasaki Frontale,” he names first. “I can’t say we are friends as we haven’t talked properly, but I always feel a sort of affinity with him because he looks like a very friendly person. We played against each other but I regard him as a teammate in a broader sense. Kosuke Nakamura of Kashiwa Reysol can speak a bit of English and we talked a few times. He is a good goalkeeper with big potential.”

For foreign players the language barrier is always a challenge, but Kamiński is actively learning Japanese in order to further understand the culture. On vacation he often goes on domestic trips with his wife, and the destinations are “more local” because they want “to feel the real Japan.”

“Of course, Tokyo or Kyoto are fantastic,” Kamiński said. “But the places I remember most in Japan are the smaller towns. Once we visited a potter’s atelier in Shikoku, which was a great experience for both of us. The artisan has devoted himself to making potteries since his youth, and was a positive man who was smiling all the time and very proud of his profession. I remember clearly the passionate way he showed me how to make one.

“I think professional footballers are similar to him in terms of their attitude. The potter does what he loves, it’s not just a job. This is the same for me. I love football, which is fortunately my job. We live in a dream. The dream where I can continue to do what I love came true.”

Though it was “not easy” to make pottery for the first time using a potter’s wheel, Japanese people told him his work “looks very nice” with “typical Japanese kindness,” he smiled.

***After this interview, Kamiński lost his place between the posts and eventually left Jubilo Iwata for his home country in February 2020***

 

J.LEAGUE News

Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Company signs a “special sponsorship” agreement with J.LEAGUE

 On 22 May, J.LEAGUE announced an agreement on a "special sponsorship" with Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Company (President: Akio Negishi; Head Office: Tokyo, Japan), in addition to its existing title partner agreement.

 Since 2015, Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Company has not only supported the J.LEAGUE as a title partner, but has also signed individual sponsorship agreements with all 56 clubs, to engage in a variety of community activities.

 Based on this new "special sponsorship" agreement, the J.LEAGUE will work with clubs in various regions to promote health and to help revitalize communities, and encourage people to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.

■Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Company
■Contract Period: June 2020 to December 2021

Comment from Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Company:

 “In support of the J.LEAGUE’s goal to be “community-based and to be loved by the community,” Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance has been the title partner of the league since 2015. We signed individual sponsorship agreements with all the clubs through our regional offices and has been contributing to the respective communities and regions.
 In the past five years with the J.LEAGUE, we believe we have deepened our bond by sharing our appreciation to the community for their support and our will to continue contributing to them.
 Although the J.LEAGUE is currently postponing matches due to the spread of the COVID-19, we believe that the energy when cheering the clubs and the excitement that sports bring to the fans will give a strong boost to the community and its people, and will also help revitalize the economy.
 We would need an environment where the J.LEAGUE and the clubs can focus on their preparations to resume their activities and we would need to send a message to the communities. Thus we decided to sign a “special sponsorship” agreement with the J.LEAGUE and work together on activities to support the communities.
 We, Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance, will continue to support the J.LEAGUE and the communities with the slogan "everyone is a supporter," and to help ensure development of a healthy and energetic communities all around Japan.”

Comment from Mitsuru Murai, J.LEAGUE Chairman:

 “The challenge continues fighting against COVID-19, but I hope to overcome this challenge with our partners and fans & supporters. I cannot express my gratitude enough and I myself received great encouragement. We received a photo panel filled with warm messages from the regional offices of Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance. All of us from J.LEAGUE, including the executive committee, have all agreed to make our utmost efforts to meet their expectations.”

 

J.LEAGUE News

Comment by J.LEAGUE Chairman Mitsuru Murai on the lift of state of emergency

Comment by J.LEAGUE Chairman Mitsuru Murai:

“To our fans and supporters,

 Today, the state of emergency has been fully lifted.

 I would like to sincerely thank all the fans and supporters across the country, who have been practicing “STAY HOME” to prevent infection.

 Clubs are starting to resume their training by taking safety measures. While it is encouraging to see positive signs, we will continue to be cautious as we prepare plans to restart the league, putting the health of the people as top priority.

 I hope everyone will continue to take measures to prevent infection and to protect your loved ones and hometowns.”

 

J.LEAGUE News

International Japanese players in their J.League Days: #3 Shunsuke Nakamura

Shunsuke Nakamura started his professional career in 1997. After developing into a top young player at Toko Gakuen High School in Kanagawa, he signed a professional contract with Yokohama Marinos (currently: Yokohama F.Marinos), the club where he had played when in junior high school.

Since his rookie year, Nakamura was a regular starter and scored goals, often through his excellent free-kicks. He started to wear the number 10 jersey in 1999, his third season as a pro, and led the team as Marinos’ key player.

In 2000, at the age of 22, he won the J.League MVP when Yokohama won the First Stage, and he helped the team win the league cup in 2001. Then he joined Italian side Reggina in the summer of 2002.

After playing for to Celtic (Scotland) and Espanyol (Spain), he returned to Yokohama F.Marinos in 2010. In the 2013 season, although his team failed to win the league title, Nakamura was awarded the J.League MVP for the second time, also bagging his personal record of 10 goals. He was the first player to win the MVP prize twice in the Japanese top flight. 

He left Yokohama F.Marinos in 2017 and played for Júbilo Iwata. He then moved to J2 side Yokohama FC in the summer of 2019 and helped the team get promoted to J1.
He still plays for Yokohama FC at the age of 41, and made his comeback on the J1 stage at the beginning of this season.

The left-footed legend has marked a number of milestones in the J.League history, but what makes him special is his accurate free-kicks: no other player has scored more than him (24) in J.League.

 

 

J.LEAGUE News

International Japanese players in their J.League Days: #2 Shinji Kagawa

Shinji Kagawa signed a professional contract with Cerezo Osaka when he was only 16, still in his second year of high school. He did not get to play in any match in 2006, his rookie season, but he made his debut against Sagan Tosu in April 2007 after his club had been relegated to J2 (the Japanese second division).

The young starlet started to increase his appearances after new manager Levir Culpi, appointed in May, discovered his pure talent. Kagawa scored five goals in 35 matches that season, mostly playing as left midfielder. The then 18-year-old also represented Japan at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada.

Kagawa improved even further in 2008 and became the most decisive player of the team. His finishing ability also improved and stats say he netted 16 goals in 35 appearances. Even though he was playing in J2, he was called up for the Japanese national team and participated in the Beijing Olympics as part of Japan U-23.

In 2009, he wore Cerezo’s iconic “number 8” shirt and kept scoring goals from the beginning of the season, showing a natural understanding with his teammate Takashi Inui. Although he was involved in less games toward the end of the season, mostly due to injuries, he scored 27 goals in 44 appearances, to become the top scorer of the league and to help Cerezo to get promoted back to J1.

Kagawa kept his top form up at the beginning of his first J1 season, in 2010, but left the club in May to join Borussia Dortmund. In the first few months of the 2010 season, he had already scored seven goals in 11 matches.

The native of Kobe spent the first four years of his professional career in J2, and so far he has played in the Japanese top flight for only three months. However, his overall performance was impressive enough to catch eyes of the best clubs Europe… The rest, is history.