International Japanese players in their J.League Days: #1 Keisuke Honda
Keisuke Honda spent his early days in Gamba Osaka’s academy, and enrolled in Seiryo High School (Ishikawa prefecture) when he failed to get promoted from Gamba’s junior youth team to the youth team. After significant improvement during his high school days, Honda signed a professional contract with Nagoya Grampus upon graduation.
In 2005, his first professional season, he made his debut as a starter since the opening day, and immediately provided an assist. Following the impressive debut, Honda scored his first J.League goal on Match-day 8, against Tokyo Verdy.
He made 31 appearances in his rookie season, playing not only in his natural position of left winger, but also as fullback. However, his team had a tough season, struggling to stay in the top flight.
In the same year, he was called up to represent Japan at U-20 level, and participated in the FIFA World Youth Championship in Netherlands.
Honda regularly played a more important role as one of the key attacking players in his second season. Blossoming under Dutch manager Sef Vergoossen, he scored six goals in 29 league appearances.
After playing 30 league matches in 2007, Honda left Nagoya at the end of the season to join Dutch side VVV Venlo.
During his three seasons at Nagoya, Honda scored 11 goals in 90 J1 appearances. Although he did not win any titles individually or with his team, he showed great potential through several memorable performances and displayed great shooting skills, leaving a strong impression among Japanese football fans.
Consadole’s little giant Chanathip talks about the differences between Thailand and Japan
text by Yoichi Igawa
I asked a question to Chanathip in Japanese, which his interpreter then translated into Thai. The Thailand superstar smiled and thought about the question for a while, before staring into my eyes and replying.
Just like his gaze, I’m sure he must have trained and played football uprightly since childhood, always with a smile and a positive attitude.
“As you might know, Thai people are cheerful and always smile,” he said. “We like to share excitement with others and get to know new people.”
In the summer of 2017, the diminutive attacker came from so-called “the land of smiles” to Japan to play for Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. At the time, Chanathip’s value was doubted by some, standing as he does at just 158 centimetres and weighing a mere 58 kilograms. Could a player who only had professional experience in Thailand shine in the J.LEAGUE? Is he too small after all?
Chanathip has completely silenced those critics. The maiden Thai J-Leaguer adapted to his new environment in the first six months, before becoming a key player in the team’s attack and scoring eight goals in 30 J1 matches in 2018. During that season, it was agreed that his contract would be converted from a loan to a permanent deal from the following year, and he was chosen by his teammates as Sapporo’s player of the season as well as being selected in the J1 team of the year.
Chanathip first visited Japan in November 2013. His then-club, BEC Tero Sasana (now Police Tero), had a partnership programme with Shimizu S-Pulse, which enables him to join the J.LEAGUE side in training.
“My first impression of Japan was that it is very clean. Everything is neat and tidy, and the air is clear. The food is so delicious and you can get anything you want in this country. Japan is one of the best destinations for Thai people and they like to visit Japan – I now understand the reasons why.”
Although Shimizu did not ultimately offer him a contract, three years later Sapporo did make a move.
“Sapporo offered to sign me because they highly rated my performances. I was delighted about that. When I trained with Shimizu, I felt I really wanted to play in the J.LEAGUE one day. I thought I would improve in the league, and the dream came true. I just said yes to them without any hesitation.”
As he imagined, Japan and the J.LEAGUE made him a better player. The numbers tell: in his first season (admittedly having joined in mid-season) his record was no goals and one assist; in his second season (2018) he recorded eight goals and two assists; and his third season (2019) Chanathip produced four goals and six assists.
“I’ve improved in all aspects,” Chanathip says. “Especially under the guidance of ‘Mischa’ (Mihailo Petrovic, the manager of Sapporo), my positioning has become much more efficient and I have learned about defending and discipline. Also, my shot has gained more power and precision. In short, Mischa’s style ensures all the players attack and combine smoothly. I like this ultra attacking football. The players enjoy this and it entertains the fans.”
How does he feel about the league as a whole then?
“Each club has quality and it’s a close competition,” he says with smile. “Lower ranked teams often win against clubs higher up the standings. I think the best quality in the J.LEAGUE is players’s discipline in general. All the players work very hard for their teams. And the league operations are truly professional, with every stadium and pitch immaculately prepared. Other Asian leagues such as the Thai Premier League should look to emulate this.”
During the interview, Chanathip was relaxed with an innocent smile on his face, but the 26 year-old national team player showed confidence as well. Asked who were the toughest defenders he’d faced in the J.LEAGUE, he answered with a grin, “Nobody”.
That could be percieved as an arrogant attitude, but in this case everyone in the interview room burst out laughing due to the light tone of Chanathip’s voice and his charming smile. Once the laughter subsided, he continued.
“Kashima Antlers and Kawasaki Frontale are strong in terms of their team quality,” he said. “Kashima is very aggressive when attacking and defending, pressing so hard, and their counter-attacking is acute. Kawasaki play very good passing game, making and using space, which means they can easily make a lot of scoring chances.”
Although Chanathip is able to analyse opponents like this, he seldom watches football from outside of the pitch. His idol was Diego Maradona who retired before Chanathip was aware of the Argentine legend – his father showed him Maradona’s clips many times - but he has never been keen to watch other players’ perform live. Though the Premier League is very popular back in Thailand, he has rarely sat down and watched a whole game.
“I like to play football,” he says, “but I don’t like to watch. I am a professional player and think professional footballers should want to be watched rather than to be watching themselves. I used to like Maradona and now like (Lionel) Messi, but I don’t watch any of his full games.”
Chanathip used to be called “the Thai Messi” in the media when he arrived in Japan. When I told him this, he smiled again and replied.
“No, I am not Messi from Thailand. I am Chanathip from Thailand.”
Putting his right thumb and forefinger around his chin, the superstar from Thailand grinned again.
“Sapporo is a wonderful place to live. It’s a big city but the air is very clean. I sometimes go out on my days off, taking pictures of the streets and relaxing at nice cafes. I like the local foods as well, my favourite is jingisukan.”
Chanathip is fond of living in Sapporo, where his club Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo is based. Since his move in July 2017, he has been used to “the good life” out there as well as the standard of the J.LEAGUE. The Thailand superstar likes to live a “normal life”, not that of a celebrity.
“In Japan, the life is very comfortable,” he said with obvious satisfaction. “But in my daily life, everything follows the same cycle – training, meal, training, meal, sleeping, and matches. I repeat this so there are not many differences from day to day during the regular season.
“Sometimes on days off I’ll go shopping, take a walk around the city, or drink a café latte. I only go traveling during long vacations. ‘Chana’ is a late riser and seldom goes out with friends.”
The diminutive attacker, who refers to himself as “Chana” from time to time, doesn’t experience any stress with life in Japan. However, he does feel restricted at times.
“I think it’s a little too strict when it comes to rules,” he says. “For example, the maximum speed on the highway is 80 or 100 kilometres-per-hour in Japan, which is kind of slow for us because we can drive at 150 in Thailand.
“Also, in general I feel Japanese people are not very keen to communicate with others, perhaps it’s due to the high level of privacy. There are many people living alone, which is different to Thailand. In my country, people tend to live with their families and like sharing fun times.”
Even so, Chanathip doesn’t feel homesick. When in Thailand for international matches and so on, he “can relax but that’s it”. Conversely, he feels itchy because of the difference in humidity when coming back to Japan from his home country. However, the light tone of his voice proves this is not an especialy serious matter, just a natural feeling.
On the pitch as well, he tries to “play naturally” and has gained “confidence” by recording good statistics in the J.LEAGUE. So, what is the 26 year-old aiming for next?
“I want to win titles in Japan,” Chanathip says. “Personally, I want to score more goals and play in the AFC Champions League. It would be fantastic if we were able to play there as representatives of the J.LEAGUE.”
In recent years, Thai clubs are gradually becoming more of a threat in Asian football. When asked about this, Chanathip grinned with confidence again.
“I don’t think Thai teams could cope with us,” he says mischievously. “For me, Japanese sides are the strongest in Asia.”
But including him, there are currently several Thai players in the J.LEAGUE, and more hoping to play in Japan. What advice does he have for them?
“Try hard - that’s it,” he jokes at first. “Sorry, I’m just kidding. If someone receives an offer from a J.LEAGUE club, it proves he is already a good player. But it is also very important to gain trust from your teammates and manager. Especially in Japan, discipline and attitude are basic demands. Therefore, you have to train so hard everyday and obtain better results.”
It sounds convincing from a player who adjusted in his first half-season in Japan and was then chosen in the team of the syear in his second. It’s interesting now to see what steps he will take in the future.
“If I get a chance, I would like to play in Europe one day,” he says. “As I said, I don’t watch a lot of football matches on TV, so I don’t have any favourite clubs or leagues. But I am not sure I’d be able to play in the biggest leagues such as England, Germany, or Spain because I have only played in Thailand and Japan. That’s why I think it is better to take things step by step. Anyway, there haven’t been any offers from Europe so far. I want to succeed here in the J.LEAGUE and gain attention from there.”
Until the interpreter finished translating, Chanathip stared into my eyes before putting his palms to his face and nodding. The little giant from Thailand then went back to his normal circulating life in order to keep improving.
A special chat between Jay Bothroyd, Michael Olunga and Mitchell Langerak will be released on May 16th! Three players discuss their lives with J.League!
This year’s MEIJI YASUDA J1 League is being on hold since late February because of COVID19. While teams are forced to limit their activities, players are training at home, preparing for the restart.
Meanwhile, “J.LEAGUE CHAT,” an online talk between J.League international players was held on YouTube: "J.LEAGUE International"! The participants are Jay Bothroyd (Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo) from England, Michael Olunga (Kashiwa Reysol) from Kenya and Mitchell Langerak (Nagoya Grampus) from Australia. The three players, coming from different countries and different clubs, talked about a variety of topics including life in Japan, playing in J.League and their current situation.
As they shared their impressions, Jay Bothroyd and Michael Olunga revealed a behind-the-scene story from the opening match of the season. They also discussed how they stay at home as requested by authorities, and how they maintain positive attitudes in this tough situation.
In addition, they had an honest talk about what surprised them in Japan, the level of J.League, as well as players to watch.
In the segment in which they asked questions to each other, striker Jay Bothroyd and goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak told interesting stories about penalty kicks, each from his point of view.
The special chat between the unlikely trio will be released at 19:00 JST on May 16 at YouTube: “J.LEAGUE International”. Don’t miss out!
Why I play in Japan: Jay Bothroyd "J.League is not easy. Even with Iniesta in your team you're not guaranteed to win"
Why I play in Japan: Jay Bothroyd ‘J.League is not easy. Even with Iniesta in your team you're not guaranteed to win‘
“It was one of the best decisions of my career.”
This is what Jay Bothroyd said of his move to Japan in 2015. As usual, the tone of his voice was clear and slightly high. The Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo striker then smiled, raised his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth, and shrugged softly - habits of his when he answers questions - as if to confirm he is not lying.
“Because for me it is very good experience - I’ve enjoyed my football and living here. These have made me a better person.”
It’s the beginning of August 2019 in Sapporo which has been hit by an unusual heatwave by the standards of Hokkaido. Before the interview, during the team’s training under the harsh sunshine, Bothroyd’s interpreter Harry Bissell told me wryly of that “it’s unbelievable weather”. Once the training had finished Bothroyd also came over to me and said, “it’s hot!”
“It is, but I am happy today because I can finally have a proper interview with you after some conversations in mixed-zones,” I replied. “Me too,” Bothroyd said as we shook hands. After entering the dressing room and taking a short time to shower and get changed, Bothroyd appeared in the interview room right on time – just like a Japanese man. Maybe this is one of the reasons Bothroyd thinks he has become a better person.
After four-and-a-half years in Japan, the 37 year-old striker is regarded as the most successful English player ever in the J.LEAGUE, both in name and in reality. Having been capped once for the national team of the birthplace of football, he has scored far more in the league than the English legend, Gary Lineker.
Bothroyd is still netting at a high rate, even at his age. In his fifth season in Japan, the veteran attacker’s tally is eight goals at the time of writing (after Matchday 25th). Although that leaves him 13th in the J1 goal rankings, his minutes-per-goal ratio is 123, the third highest in the division. Furthermore, his average tally over the four seasons including this one is in double figures. Bothroyd is one of the most consistent strikers in recent years in the J1 league.
But his first club was Jubilo Iwata, who then played in the Japanese second division, J2. Why did he choose that team?
“When I was at Queens Park Rangers and we did a pre-season tour to Malaysia. Before that, I didn’t really have experience in Asian football and hadn’t seen the stadiums and so on. Of course that’s not Japan but it gave me a sense that playing in Asia might be something that I’d be tempted to do that in the future. The facilities were better than I had thought, and the fans seemed to be really into football, very passionate about it.”
Then, in 2014, he moved to Thailand to play for Muangthong United. Things there, however, were far from straightforward.
“I didn’t really enjoy it there as the league and club were disorganised and the standard was poor, so I told the club I wanted to leave. Then there was the opportunity to come to Japan, to play for Jubilo. I also spoke to a few other teams, but decided to come to Japan. And that was the right choice.”
Of course there were confusions in Japan, too. For instance, Bothroyd feels there is less flexibility in daily life.
“Those little things, ” he says. “Such as you have to follow the rules all the time in society. For example, if you are short a few pence when shopping in England, people don’t care and they will let you off. But here, you can’t do that. If you want painkillers here, you have to see a doctor, whereas in England you can get them at petrol stations. Also, at restaurants here in Japan, if you want to get less of something, they won’t make the change because it’s not on the menu.”
It is easy to imagine that a professional vegan athlete from London has been confused by such scenes in this country. Nevertheless, the footballer who has lived in Perugia of Italy, Cardiff of Wales and Muang Thong Thani of Thailand has been gradually adjusting himself to the culture of Japan. In fact, he used to be a vegan before but now only avoids eating meat due to the inflexibility.
On the pitch, though, his adjustment was faster. Bothroyd scored 20 goals in his first season and became top scorer in the J2 League to help Jubilo earn promotion to the first division as runners-up. By that point, he had become familiar with the virtues of the country.
“Of course it’s culture, respect, safety, cleanliness. If you compare it to other countries, there is much less violence, almost no homeless people, no stray dogs. Even in England it is very dangerous in some areas, where violence such as stabbings is not rare. I think the situation is getting worse there these days. In Italy things are bit more similar to Japan, in that there is a sense of respect, close families and good foods. Plus there are four seasons like here - in England you get summer and the rest is almost all grey.”
“Thailand is different, because things only seemed to be good or not; nothing in between. It is very different from Japan, where a lot of people are middle class. That’s good and you can have a good quality of life here. You don’t have to worry about pickpockets even when you put your wallet in your back pocket. Every time I go back to London, I appreciate having my life in Japan. One thing my wife and I do always talk about is that it would be much nicer if there were more English speakers. But overall Japan is a lovely country.”
Bothroyd grew up in a rough part of London. The capital of England, London – it sounds cool and attractive for most Japanese like me, but in reality there are rougher areas too.
“My upbringing was around violence and drugs and so on,” Bothroyd continues. “Many of the friends I went to school with have been in prison for drug offences, robberies and even for murder, so for me football was my sanctuary and that kept me focused on what I wanted to do in life. Of course there is great culture and history in England as well, but my family wasn’t privileged so I never got to experience the nice parts of what England has to offer.”
Therefore, he appreciates his current life in Japan, especially now because of his little baby.
“We are very happy to be here in Sapporo,” Bothroyd said. “I am grateful for having a quality and calm life. There is a lot of sunshine and we go to parks to enjoy the slides and swings with our baby boy. Sometimes I am surrounded by fans for autographs and pictures, but that’s okay for me as it’s part of my job and Japanese people are very polite. As I said, I have become a better person here.”
Again, Bothroyd smiles as he said so.
What abilities are needed to make a good striker?
You could reply that the skills required include speed, calmness, precision and so on but foremost in Jay Bothroyd’s mind is “being selfish”.
The former England international, who netted many times in the Premier League and Serie A after developing at Arsenal’s academy, thinks strikers should be egotistic, in a positive way.
“My playing style has changed throughout my long career,” Bothroyd said. “Especially under ’Mischa’ (Mihailo Petrovic, the manager of Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo), where I’ve learned the importance of the passing game and combinations with teammates. But I still have an ego for finishing. When facing the goal, I would only pass the ball if a teammate is clearly in a better position, because I believe I have the best finishing ability in this team, and take responsibility for scoring. For that reason, I think strikers need to be selfish.”
Having played five seasons in Japan, the 37-year-old Bothroyd feels the quality of the J.LEAGUE is “quite high”. Although the top league in Japan does not have such a long history, he doesn’t think the standard of all round performance is very different to that in the European leagues. H also believes there must have been a lot of effort centred upon diligence and passion to enable such fast improvement over the past few decades.
However, there are not many prolific Japanese strikers in and the J.LEAGUE or oversees. If you look at the scoring rankings, domestic strikers are usually low down on the list. The reasons for this are rooted in social and cultural factors.
“I think the Japanese are basically sharing people, unselfish people. That is why you have a fantastic society with many middle class people. But if strikers have a such mentality, it is difficult to succeed, because strikers are evaluated by the number of goals. In Europe, goalkeepers defend the goal, defenders break up opponents’ attacks, midfielders and wingers create chances, and strikers score – there are responsibilities for each position. But in Japan, many think that if any player contributes for the team in any way, it is OK.”
Then what do we need to do in order to produce top-level strikers in Japan? For Bothroyd, the main thing is mental strength.
“We have seen many good Japanese midfielders. There are also a lot of good wingers, fullbacks, and central midfielders. The likes of Takefusa Kubo, Takashi Inui, Makoto Hasebe, and Yuto Nagatomo have played in Europe and are quality players but they are not strikers. Given the fact that Japan has produced such good players, if you could change their mentality, especially in front of goal, good strikers could appear.”
Strikers need to have a tough mentality as well as footballing ability – they have to want the ball even if they have missed many chances. That is exactly what Bothroyd embodies.
For instance, Bothroyd missed several clear chances in the J1 match against Sanfrecce Hiroshima in August 2019, and Sapporo lost the game 1-0. After the match, television images captured him hanging his head at the bench, seemingly feeling guilty and showing that he felt responsibility.
But, having remained in the starting eleven, he scored a hat-trick in the following game against Shimizu S-Pulse, and including that hat-trick, he netted in three consecutive matches.
Also, after getting injured in the spring of the same year, Bothroyd was back amongst the starters for the J1 match at Kawasaki Frontale in June. After the game one journalist told him that, “Many fans are waiting for your goals!”, to which he replied with smile, “No worries, I have always scored goals and always will.” We felt his confidence in himself as a striker in that moment.
It would not, however, be easy for Japanese players to have this kind of mentality. In this society, if you make a mistake or fail at something, there are not many second chances. For example, if graduates miss opportunities at the bulk hiring of corporations it would then be difficult to find a proper job. Besides, in youth sports, there are still very rigid coaches who get angry at young players’ mistakes, which means youngsters feel then feel afraid of making errors. That is what Fernando Torres saw in Japan and when he retired he said to young players, “Don’t be afraid of mistakes”.
Bothroyd acknowledges Japanese players’ quality and said the only thing they are missing is a strong mentality.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Japan made it to the quarter- or even semi-finals at the World Cup; and I’m not just saying that. But Japanese people get so excited and happy when the national team qualifies for the final tournament. Maybe because they are humble. But in reality, it is a normal thing for the Japan team to play at the World Cup. We have seen so many quality players in Japan, so I think Japanese people should aim higher than just making it out of the group stage.”
Although it was just a single friendly match, Jay Bothroyd considers playing for England as his highest honour.
“It’s obviously the biggest achievement of my career,” he says. “It wasn’t only great for me but also my family and friends, they were delighted. I was so honoured”
In 2010, Bothroyd was playing well for Cardiff City in the Championship and scored in six consecutive matches in the autumn. Fabio Capello, the then-England national coach, sent his assistant to watch some league games.
“I knew Franco Baldini, Capello’s right hand man, was in the stands for those games, and I was fortunate to score goals when he came. I was very happy just being called up for preliminary squad with 30 players or so. It was for a friendly match against France.”
At that time, he was happy but did not expect much because lower league players are seldom called up to the final team from the preliminary squad. With that in mind, he went to watch a boxing match, David Haye against Audley Harrison, and then got a text message: “You have been selected for the England national team”.
“I thought it was a joke at first,” Bothroyd laughs. “So I replied to them, ‘Who is this?’ and they said ‘It’s the England FA’. ‘For real?’ and they said, ‘Yes, you are called up to the national team, and will meet us at this hotel…’ It’s funny, that’s how they did it!”
The next day, Bothroyd went to the hotel and the then-captain Steven Gerrard introduced him to all teammates. Rio Ferdinand was also very nice to him, but of course he was overwhelmed by Capello’s authority.
“He is a bit smaller than I imagined, but he has a big aura. When he walked into the room, everybody was chatting but became quiet. I actually nearly got into trouble at the first meal. I was coming down in my flip-flops and Steven Gerrard came to me and said, ‘Go upstairs and change them because the boss doesn’t like that’. He gave me the advice to avoid possible trouble. He was a great captain, and it was very nice to train with such top players.”
Bothroyd played the final 18 minutes of the friendly against France, earning his first cap. That was to be his only national team game experience at 28 years of age, but it marked a huge achievement brought about by a change in attitude.
“When I was younger my attitude was not great. I almost wasted my talent. When you are young, you don’t think about your long-term career, you just think you can play football forever. But professional football is a short career, you have to make the most of each day. When you’re young you waste your time, and then you are 26 or 27 and realise you are not young anymore. Sometimes it can be too late. But for me I realised that at good age, and I built my strategy and mind to get where I wanted to be - taking steps, getting to the highest level, and playing for my country and in the Premier League.”
Throughout his career, who were the toughest defenders he faced? Bothroyd’s face takes on faraway look before he replies.
“Paolo Maldini, Rio Ferdinand, and Ivan Cordoba, who is small but jumped really high and played very aggressively. I didn’t like playing against him. In the J.LEAGUE, (Gen) Shoji, who went abroad from Kashima Antlers, was a tough defender, and (Tomoaki) Makino is always strong.”
Bothroyd would like to see more foreign players coming to the J-LEAGUE, but thinks they need to not only have good quality but also high motivation, a good physical condition, and a proper attitude. Otherwise, he doesn’t feel they can succeed in Japan.
“I came here with desire and a hunger to do well. I did not come here to just play out the end of my career, just kicking the ball around one last time. I wanted to prove myself. As a foreigner, if you come here to play and want to improve, to be successful, you can do so. But, take the current Vissel Kobe side, for example, it looks like the senior team of Barcelona. If you look at the table, though, that says a lot. The name doesn’t matter. What matters is what you can do now. Don’t get me wrong, (Andres) Iniesta and (David) Villa are playing really well, but J.LEAGUE is not that easy. On paper, they should be at the top of the league, but in reality they are not. So if you want to come to the J.LEAGUE, come here with the right attitude to want to succeed, not for a holiday.”
text by Yoichi Igawa
J.LEAGUE PLAYBACK Watch the best 20 matches of 2019 in full!
Starting on May 9, the J.League official SNS will stream 2019 season's full matches. (*Unavailable in some regions including Japan)
These 20 best matches will be rerun.
Watch them here!
J.League Official YouTube account (International)
J.League Official facebook account (English)
J.League Official facebook account (Thai)
1.Yokohama F･Marinos show their incredible attacking ability on the opening match of the 2019 season!
2.Anderson Lopes with an incredible four-goal haul!
3.Thai stars Chanathip and Thitiphan face each other!
4.Chanathip scores his first goal in this match!
5.A winner in the additional time! Sendai striker scores a dramatic goal against his former club
6.A golazo by Leandro Damião! Kawasaki beat Shimizu
7.Shonan complete an incredible comeback!
8.Villa and Iniesta each score a brace!
9.An equalizer in the additional time! Yoshifumi Kashiwa nets two goals
10.Torres scores a brace in his first match after announcing his planned retirement
11.Douglas helps Shimizu beat Kobe, despite Villa's beautiful goal
12.Jay displays his world-class aerial strength
13.Iniesta scores in the Hanshin derby!
14.Sapporo beat Shimizu with a goal show! Chanathip scores a brace
15.Torres' final match. Watch his countryman Iniesta's beautiful skill!
16.The beginning of Yokohama F･Marinos' incredible streak! New signing Erik shows a stunning bicyle kick!
17.Theerathon scores his first J.League goal!
18.Cerezo win the intense Osaka derby
19.Unstoppable speed! 'MVP' Nakagawa scores an incredible goal!
20.The final showdown between the top two teams! Yokohama F･Marinos become champions for the first time in 15 years!
J.LEAGUE extends suspension of matches
J.LEAGUE announced to suspend matches below on account of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and to prevent cluster of the coronavirus from expanding further.
The resume of matches scheduled on and beyond 13 June has not yet been determined and further announcement will be made as soon as the decision is made.
|Sec.||Date||# of matches|
|2020 MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE||16th sec.||Saturday, 30 May
Sunday, 31 May
|2020 MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE||18th sec.||Saturday, 30 May
Sunday, 31 May
|19th sec.||Saturday, 6 June
Sunday, 7 June
|2020 MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE||11th sec.||Saturday, 30 May
Sunday, 31 May
|12th sec.||Saturday, 6 June
Sunday, 7 June
J.League Historic Goal: #2 Pure world-class skill: the Brazilian ace’s ‘keepie-uppie’ goal!
1994 FIFA World Cup champion Leonardo joined the J.League in the summer of the same year. As the successor of Zico at Kashima Antlers, the Brazilian international midfielder did not disappoint the Japanese fans.
The most memorable individual moment of his experience in J.League came when he scored an amazing goal against Yokohama Flügels on November 1, 1995. As he received the ball on the edge of the box, Leonardo avoided the first defender’s tackle by lifting the ball. He then kept juggling the ball, teasing the Flügels defenders one after another, to then finish with a stunning left-footed volley.
Despite the pressure, Leonardo showed his sublime skill, to deliver a truly world-class goal. In fact, it was chosen as the best goal in the first 20 years of history of the league in the ”J- Chronicle Best” awards that commemorated the 20th anniversary of the J.League.
Leonardo scored 30 goals in 49 appearances in his three years in the J.League, and later showed his brilliance in Europe at Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan.
J.League Historic Goal: #1 The artistic lob that brought the second consecutive title to Verdy Kawasaki
In 1994, the J.League was divided into two stages. Suntory Series (First Stage) winners Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Nicos Series (Second Stage) winners and defending champions Verdy Kawasaki faced each other in two Championship finals.
Verdy Kawasaki won the first leg 1-0 away from home but struggled in the second leg. While Hiroshima aggressively tried to pull a comeback, Verdy were unable to display their usual attacking football.
The match had reached the 80th minute without goals, when Verdy were attacking from the right flank. Bismarck’s attempt to sneak into the penalty area off from a rebounded cross was frustrated by a defender, but Ruy Ramos reacted quickly.
As the goalkeeper rushed out to prevent a decisive goal, Ramos calmly opted for a lob. The ball slowly flew above the desperate goalkeeper’s outstretched hand and landed into the goal.
The artistic lob scored by the 37-year-old skipper brought the second consecutive championship to Verdy Kawasaki and is still popular among fans as one of the most beautiful goals in the history of J.League.
J.League Classic Match: #5 Aggregate score 4-3 – Hiroshima lift the trophy for the third time
The 2015 season was the first campaign since 2004 in which clubs competed over two stages. At the end of the season, the "Championship Stage” was played among winners of half-season and highly ranked teams on overall standings.
The qualified clubs were Urawa Reds who won the First Stage and came in second on the overall standings, Sanfrecce Hiroshima who won the Second Stage and finished at the top of the overall standings, and Gamba Osaka who came in third on the overall standings. Gamba beat Urawa in the semifinal to face Hiroshima, the top team of the overall table, in the two legs final.
The first leg at Gamba’s home was a goal galore. Gamba broke the deadlock early in the second half, thanks to a mistake of the opponents, but Hiroshima showed an incredible fighting spirit in the final of the match. In the 80th minute, substitute Yoshifumi Kashiwa scored an equalizer from Douglas’ cross. Although Gamba regained their lead immediately, they were reduced to 10 men in the 86th minute when one of their players got sent off. Sho Sasaki pulled level in the first minute of the additional time, and in the 90+6th minute, Kashiwa found the winner though a close-range shot. Sanfrecce won the first leg 3-2 thanks to the two goals in additional time.
With three away goals, Hiroshima were in a comfortable position in the second leg at home. After Gamba took the lead in the 27th minute, Takuma Asano equalized in the 76th minute. Their solid defense endured Gamba’s intensive attacks, and the match anded on the 1-1 result.
The aggregate score was 4-3. After showing their strength throughout the season, Hiroshima pushed aside Gamba’s great effort, and became the league champions for the third time.
J.League Classic Match: #4 Tragedy in the dying minutes – First league title slips away from Cerezo Osaka
It was the most important game in the history of Cerezo Osaka. On the final day of the 2005 J1 League, after climbing to the top of the table, they hosted FC Tokyo at Nagai—their home stadium. Three points would have secured them their first league title. With Gamba Osaka only a point behind in second place, a draw could mean a good chance that Cerezo would lose the trophy and deliver it to their crosstown rival. The players entered the pitch under huge pressure…
However, only three minutes after kickoff, they took the lead through striker Akinori Nishizawa’s header. FC Tokyo’s answer came quite soon, as they equalized in the 20th minute. Cerezo then missed a huge opportunity, failing to convert from the spot and the first half ended on the 1-1 score.
Early into the second half, Nishizawa struck again to recover Cerezo’s lead. They then endured FC Tokyo’s intensive attacks and their first league title was right in front of them, but an unexpected turn of events awaited in the end. In additional time, Yasuyuki Konno tucked in a rebound from a corner and FC Tokyo equalized. The match ended 2-2. Cerezo’s first ever league title slipped away in the last minute, as Gamba had earned three points to win the league in a dramatic way.
It was the second time Cerezo experienced such “tragedy,” as they also had failed to clinch the title in the first stage of the 2000 season by losing the key match conceding a golden goal.
Change of competition format of the 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J.LEAGUE
J.LEAGUE announced the format details of the 2020 MEIJI YASUDA J.LEAGUE after the extraordinary board of directors held today.
■2020 MEIJI YASUDA J.LEAGUE League Format
1. Clubs finishing in first and second place of the J2 LEAGUE will be automatically promoted to the J1 LEAGUE and J1/J2 Play-Offs will not be held.
2. Clubs finishing in first and second place of the J3 LEAGUE will be automatically promoted to the J2 LEAGUE.
3. If either of the top two finishers do not possess a requisite license, promotion will not carry down to any clubs in third place or below.
4. The above rules apply only when each category holds more than 75% of its total matches and 50% of each team's games. However, it may be further discussed at the board of directors to meet a contingency.
5. If the above criteria are not met, the season will not be considered as completed. The ranking in each category will not be determined and there will be no promotion. Hence in the 2021 season, the number of clubs in each category will be 18-20 clubs for J1, 20-24 clubs for J2 and 14-18 clubs for J3.
【Prize Money and Awards】
1. If the season is not completed, prize money will not be paid and awards and presentation ceremonies will not be held.
2. If the season is not completed, scoresheets of the matches will be used as reference data. Player's stats (appearances, goals, etc.) will be counted as records.
J.League Classic Match: #3 Okada’s Marinos win the title thanks to their ace’s header
The Second Stage of the 2003 J1 League was another very close contest. Ahead of the final match-day, league leaders Júbilo Iwata, Kashima Antlers who were in the second place, Yokohama F.Marinos in third and JEF Chiba in fourth all had a chance to clinch the stage’s victory. And on that final day, Iwata and Yokohama FM faced each other!
To claim the title, Yokohama FM needed to top Iwata and Kashima not to win against Urawa Reds. But only two minutes after the showdown kicked off, under torrential rain, Yokohama FM conceded. To make things even worse for them, in the 15th minute, they were reduced to ten men as goalkeeper Tatsuya Enomoto got sent off. It was a tough situation for Yokohama FM, but from then on they showed their incredible fighting spirit.
Marquinhos equalized in the 50th minute, and they kept putting pressure on Júbilo as if they had the same number of players on the pitch. Finally, in additional time, the “miracle” happened. Yokohama’s ace Tatsuhiko Kubo quickly reacted as the ball was bouncing in front of the goal, beat a defender with an incredible leap and scored with a header.
The match ended 2-1. But the drama was far from over. A few minutes later, Urawa equalized against Kashima, again in the dying minute! And in that very moment, Yokohama FM became the second stage’s champions.
By wining both first and second stage, Yokohama FM won the championship in perfect style, just as Iwata had done the year before. In the first year under former Japanese national team coach Takeshi Okada, one of the most historic clubs in Japan showcased their comeback in amazing fashion.
J.League Classic Match: #2 Young playmaker secures second league title in a row for Kashima Antlers
In the 2001 J.League Division 1 Championship finals, the two contenders were Júbilo Iwata, who had won the 1st Stage with only one defeat; and Kashima Antlers, who had won the 2nd Stage and were determined to defend the title won the previous season.
Iwata were the dominant side in the 1st leg at home. After taking the lead from the spot, in the 11th minute, they outnumbered Kashima who had a player sent off in the 37th minute. When Masashi Nakayama extended the lead from a counterattack early in the second half, it seemed certain that Júbilo would snatch the first leg.
However, 10-men Kashima didn’t give up. Yutaka Akita’s header off a corner cut the deficit in half in the 79th minute, and only 4 minutes later, substitute Tomoyuki Hirase scored a crucial equalizer. As a result of these late goals, the first match ended in a 2-2 draw.
The 2nd leg in Kashima was also a close match. Both teams created chances but failed to find a winner, and the scoreline was still nailed on a 0-0 result after 90 minutes. With aggregate score of 2-2, the match went into extra time.
In the 100th minute, Antlers obtained a free-kick right outside the penalty box, and it was Mitsuo Ogasawara who stepped up and scored the winning goal. Thanks to the young playmaker’s incredible execution, Kashima were crowed champions for the fourth time, securing back-to-back league titles.
J.League Classic Match: #1 Shizuoka Derbys for the Championship
In 1999 when the J1 League season was divided into 2 Stages, the 1st Stage winners Júbilo Iwata and the 2nd Stage winners Shimizu S-Pulse met in the Championship final to decide the overall winners of the J1 League.
Iwata took the lead in the first leg at home when Masashi Nakayama scored in the 30th minute. 4 minutes later, Shimizu equalized through Masaaki Sawanobori’s powerful left-footed shot. No other goal was scored in the rest of the 90 minutes, and the game went into extra-time. In the 98th minute, Iwata won a penalty off a handball by a Shimizu defender. Nakayama scored the golden goal winner from the spot to lead Iwata to a 2-1 first-leg victory in the first leg of the final.
Júbilo got one step closer to the title when they took the lead in the second leg in Shimizu, and things got worse for the home side when Alex was sent off in the 35th minute. However, Sawanobori stepped up again, and scored a wonderful free-kick in the 37th minute, to bring back hope for S-Pulse.
The game entered extra-time again, and Shimizu claimed the victory when substitute Fabinho scored the golden goal in the 99th minute with a right-footed volley.
A 3-3 tie after the two golden goals meant that the champions were to be decided on penalties, and it was Iwata’s goalkeeper Yushi Ozaki who became the hero by saving a shot by Shimizu’s second taker Santos. While Iwata’s four penalty kickers all found the net, Shimizu’s fourth kicker Fabinho as well missed the target.
Iwata won the J1 League for the second time in their history, topping their local rival in Shizuoka.
J.LEAGUE to further push suspension of matches
J.LEAGUE announced to suspend matches below on account of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and to prevent cluster of the coronavirus from expanding further.
The resume of matches scheduled from 30 May has not yet been determined and further announcement will be made as soon as the decision is made.
|Sec.||Date||# of matches|
|2020 MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE||13th sec.||Saturday, 9th May
Sunday, 10th May
|14th sec.||Friday, 15th May
Saturday, 16th May
Sunday, 17th May
|15th sec.||Saturday, 23rd May||9|
|2020 MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE||13th sec.||Saturday, 2nd May
Sunday, 3rd May
|14th sec.||Wednesday, 6th May
Wednesday, 13th May
|15th sec.||Saturday, 9th May
Sunday, 10th May
|16th sec.||Saturday, 16th May
Sunday, 17th May
|17th sec.||Saturday, 23rd May
Sunday, 24th May
|2020 MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE||7th sec.||Saturday, 25th April
Sunday, 26th April
|8th sec.||Saturday, 2nd May
Sunday, 3rd May
|9th sec.||Wednesday, 6th May||9|
|10th sec.||Saturday, 16th May
Sunday, 17th May
|2020 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP||Playoff Stage 1st leg.||Wednesday, 27th May||5|
Comment by J.LEAGUE Chairman Mitsuru Murai on the government declaring a state of emergency for seven prefectures
Comment by J.LEAGUE Chairman Mitsuru Murai:
“To our fans and supporters,
Today, the government has declared a state of emergency for seven prefectures. I believe the tension among fans and supporters increased, but I hope everyone stay calm and take necessary measures to prevent infection.
J.LEAGUE will need to hold profound discussions and take prompt actions to protect the society from this crisis. We have been exchanging opinions and sharing information with the clubs. Specific measures shall soon be decided by the governors of each prefectures, but it is also crucial for us to keep working with the clubs based on the protocols in place to prevent further spread of the COVID-19.
We hope we can ask the fans and supporters to join us to think about what the J.LEAGUE and sport can do at this time. Days may continue with frustration, but most importantly, please take care of your own health and that of those around you. Your continued support to lead us towards a bright resumption is greatly appreciated.”
Comment by J.LEAGUE Chairman Mitsuru Murai on a player tested positive for COVID-19
Comment by J.LEAGUE Chairman Mitsuru Murai :
“Today, we received a report from Vissel Kobe that one of its players, Gotoku Sakai, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
It is reported that he is losing his sense of smell and taste but is in a stable condition. First and foremost, we convey our wishes for his speedy recovery.
The J.LEAGUE will continue to work and make every effort with the clubs to protect the players, their families, club staff, spectators and the society, and prevent further spread of the COVID-19 infection.”
Introducing the J.League Legends. #6, Lukas Podolski
After scoring several goals in European top leagues and for the German national team, the world-class striker Lukas Podolski joined Vissel Kobe in the summer of 2017. He made an immediate impact by scoring a brace in his J.League debut, against Omiya Ardija.
Powerful yet accurate shots blasted from his left foot into the back of the net were a constant threat to the opponents, and fans were fascinated by a kind of power that is not often seen in Japan.
“Poldi" scored five goals in 15 appearances in his first season with Vissel Kobe, and he wore the captain’s armband in his second year. However, things not always went as he hoped, also due to injuries. Still, the German striker had his moments: for example, the volley scored from a lob provided by Andrés Iniesta against Nagoya Grampus surely was a memorable goal.
In his third season, he suffered more physical problems and made only 13 appearances. However, he scored his first hat-trick in Japan in his last league game against Júbilo Iwata. He also performed well in the Emperor’s Cup final, his very last match in Japan, helping Vissel to win their very first title.
During his two and a half years, Podolski netted 15 goals in 52 appearances. Considering his achievements in the past, fans had hoped to see more, but his work as a captain and his contribution to the development of Vissel Kobe into a winning team surely make him one of the great players in the history of the club.
Introducing the J.League Legends. #5, Fernando Torres
World-famous striker Fernando Torres played for Sagan Tosu for a year. He arrived in Japan in the summer of 2018, after scoring an impressive number of goals that helped his teams to win two UEFA European Championships, the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and a UEFA Champions League.
In Europe, he often beat defenders with his quick movements, but the attribute that was most beneficial for him in Japan was his aerial strength. In fact, four out of his five goals came from headers. Taking advantage of his height and his impressive leap, Torres often overwhelmed the J.League defenders.
However, his speed was not what it used to be in his prime. In his mid-30s, he could seldom outrun opponents. Accordingly, his excellent finishing, that brought his teams several titles in the past, was rarely seen in Japan.
Even when he was not able to score goals, the Spanish striker always supported the team by taking advantage of his experience to compensate for lesser physicality, and still worked hard as a target man. He also wore the captain’s armband in many games and shared his leadership with the team. He scored five goals in 35 appearances in his twelve months in Japan. It was surely less than what the fans expected, but he still had huge, positive influence on Sagan Tosu.
He announced his retirement in the summer of 2019, and his last match was played versus Vissel Kobe. In front of his countryman Andrés Iniesta, with whom he won many titles, Torres ended a superb career that lasted almost 20 years.
Introducing the J.League Legends. #4, Diego Forlan
Diego Forlan was the 2010 FIFA World Cup top scorer, and had played for top clubs in England, Spain and Italy before becoming one of the most prestigious strikers in the history of the J.League.
The Uruguayan superstar joined Cerezo in 2014 and as a result the club’s home stadium in Osaka was immediately packed with many fans hoping to see Forlan’s world-class performance.
There was some skepticism as well, as the former Manchester United striker was already 35. However, with his ability to kick with both feet and his accuracy still intact, he scored every kind of goals — including an amazing free-kick and powerful volley.
Unexpectedly, Cerezo Osaka eventually found themselves fighting to avoid relegation, and Forlan spent more and more time on the bench, due to concerns about his lack of defensive ability. In the end, Cerezo did tumble down to J2, and the Uruguayan himself could not meet high expectations, scoring only seven goals in 26 appearances in his first season.
Despite relegation to the second division, Forlan stayed at Cerezo the following year. He had a good start and from the opening match he constantly scored goals, including a hat-trick against Kyoto Sanga FC on April 29.
After bagging ten goals in 16 appearances, Forlan left the club in the middle of the season, as his contract expired. Although he could not show his best performance in Japan, he scored a number of amazing goals and his professionalism had a significant influence on his teammates.