The J.LEAGUE has a long and proud history of producing star players, with world famous names like Hidetoshi Nakata, Keisuke Honda, and Takefusa Kubo all making their professional debuts in Japan.

New players emerge into the spotlight to create headlines every year, and before the likes of Takehiro Tomiyasu, Takumi Minamino, and Daichi Kamada were shining in Europe and for the Japan national team they were giving the fans of Avispa Fukuoka, Cerezo Osaka, and Sagan Tosu plenty to cheer about back home.

The 2021 season won’t be any different in that respect, so let’s take a look at a few of the players expected to make names for themselves in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE this year!

Kaoru Mitoma (Kawasaki Frontale, 23) – Mitoma is the hottest property in the J.LEAGUE at the moment, after enjoying a breakout season for Kawasaki Frontale last year. In his first professional season the Kanagawa native recorded 13 goals and 12 assists as Kawasaki romped to the title, as well as leaving countless opposing defenders with twisted blood as a result of his powerful, mazy dribbles. This season started right where the previous one left off with Mitoma notching two goals in the FUJI XEROX SUPER CUP against Gamba Osaka, and he was again in imperious form in the curtain-raising MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE game on 26 February as the reigning champions downed Yokohama F.Marinos 2-0.

Takuro Kaneko (Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, 23) – Sapporo were the biggest winners on Matchday 1 after cruising past Yokohama FC 5-1, and Kaneko played a vital role in delivering the three points for Mihailo Petrovic’s side. After doubling their lead in just the fourth minute he curled home again to make it 4-1 in first half injury time, more than living up to the hype after taking on the coveted No.9 shirt for this season. The opening day brace means he is already halfway to his solid tally of four goals from 15 starts last year, and if he keeps up this form there will surely be plenty more where they came from.

Ryonosuke Kabayama (Yokohama F.Marinos, 18) – Plenty of eyebrows were raised when the team-sheets were released ahead of the Kawasaki Frontale versus Yokohama F.Marinos clash on 26 February, with Ange Postecoglou thrusting high school graduate Kabayama straight into the Yokohama F・M starting 11 against the reigning champions. Despite only turning 18 last September the youngster looked immediately at home on the J.LEAGUE pitch though, with Postecoglou expressing delight at the way Kabayama seized his chance and bemoaning the fact that some of his more experienced teammates were unable to capitalise upon the scoring chances he created.

Atsuki Ito (Urawa Reds, 22) – Thirty-nine-year-old Yuki Abe may have made all the headlines after marking his return to the starting line-up with a goal in Urawa Reds’ opener against FC Tokyo on 27 February, but Ito was quietly excellent alongside him on his debut in the 1-1 draw. New Urawa manger Ricardo Rodriguez achieved much success at former club Tokushima Vortis by surrounding experienced players with talented youngsters, and Ito showed in his first 90 minutes of J.LEAGUE action that he has more than enough potential to develop into a key player for the Spaniard as he looks to return the Saitama giant to its former glories.

Daichi Hayashi (Sagan Tosu, 23) – Sagan Tosu made global headlines in 2018 when they signed Spain legend Fernando Torres, while the aforementioned Daichi Kamada burst onto the scene the previous year to earn a move to German Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt. Hayashi is the latest striker to sparkle in the blue and pink in Kyushu, and after top-scoring for Kim Myung-hwi’s side last year with nine goals – a return rendered even more impressive by the fact that just 10 of his 31 appearances came as a member of the starting line-up – he got up and running immediately in 2021 with the only goal of the game away to Shonan Bellmare.