In the latest in our series looking at fans of the J.League across the globe, we check in with Gabriele Anello (@nellosplendor), who gives us a view from Italy.
1.Hi Gabriele! Where are you from, and how did you first become interested in the J.League?
I’m from Rome, Italy. I actually have a cousin who now lives in Japan after studying Japanese for many years. My ties with the Rising Sun are long-dated. There are so many reasons why I’m connected to Japanese football. First of all, Captain Tsubasa had a lot of impact on Italian football kids (and also on me). Second, the 1998 World Cup in France is the first that I can remember well (I was 9 years-old) and I never forgot Japan’s first appearance in a World Cup. I remember very well the match against Argentina and their good display. And there’s also a lot of time spent with Winning Eleven and Jon Kabira in my ears.
It took me 20 years and a good Internet connection, but from 2010 to now I’ve become addicted to J. League and in general to Japanese football.
2. Do you have a favourite team? How about a favourite player?
Until two years ago, I had some sympathies, but nothing more. In the last years, I adopted two teams, one in the North and one in the South. I’m always amazed by Matsumoto Yamaga and their green fans, who are everywhere their team plays. It’s impressive and in their first experience in the top-flight it became more evident.
The Southern team is instead Kagoshima United FC: I’m fascinated by the city and I just bought their wonderful shirt. I think they can be a serious J2 solid team in a few years.
About the player, I’ve been more affectionate. Along Steven Gerrard, Yasuhito Endo is probably my favourite player of all time. If I have to name someone else, I’d go with Shinji Okazaki, Marcos Tulio Tanaka (I still bring with me his impressive defensive display in WC2010), Toshihiro Aoyama and Mu Kanazaki.
3. How do you watch the J.League? How do you keep up with the news?
Being in Italy, it’s difficult to follow J. League. I always watch the highlights on Sundays and Mondays, but following J. League live is difficult. Also because there’s a time gap of 7-8 hours during the year. Keeping up with the news is instead easier: on my Twitter account I have some huge following, which keep me well-adjourned about Japanese football (between them, there’s obviously also J. League Regista).
4. You recently came to Japan. What was it like?
Well, coming to Japan was a dream of mine. I waited the end of my studies at university to achieve this dream: I was between Kyoto, Osaka and mostly Tokyo for two weeks. I stayed there with my girlfriend, so we visited a lot of places, but I had time to feel the Japanese vibe about football. And it was amazing: unfortunately I couldn’t get to a game in the new Suita City Football Stadium, but even seeing this new structure from outside was impressive. I met some people who are passionate about Serie A and they had some trouble understanding why I was so mad about J.League. I think it’s passion, so it doesn’t necessarily needs an explanation. (Regista – that is SO true)
I wanted to see the Osaka derby featuring the U-23 teams, but I had to go back to Tokyo. I was lucky enough to watch the Tamagawa Clasico between FC Tokyo and Kawasaki Frontale. It was great, because in Japan games are seen in a different spirit from Italy. There’s passion, but no conflict at all costs. There’s rivalry, but no violence. It was refreshing for once.
And the game was fundamental. I was curious to see if Kawasaki would have been the same, playing well but not winning in the end. They went down twice and wasted a great chance with Kobayashi when it was 1-1, but in the end they won 4-2. I think this game is the proof that there’s finally some chances for them to win the title. In the end, a wonderful experience, and one I would recommend to everyone.
5. Obviously some Japanese players like Hidetoshi Nakata, Shunsuke Nakamura & Atsushi Yanagisawa have played in Serie A – but In Italy, do people know the J.League?
I think in Italy we have a misconception of Japanese players. In Italian minds, there’s space for the memory of Nakata and Nakamura, but Honda and Nagatomo – despite being important for their teams – are not leaving the same positive mark.
Plus, the Italian medium fan has a big flaw: it’s not interested in knowing more than before. As long his/her team won, it’s ok. And as long the players do their job, it’s enough. I tried to suggest some names for my favourite team here in Italy – U.C. Sampdoria – but the people I met told me: “Yeah, why not Tsubasa Oozora? And Genzo Wakabayashi is a free agent, right?”. That’s because there’s ignorance and Italian fans are not patient with players who needs to adjust to a new reality.
When you ask me how Italy sees Japanese football, the answer is unfortunately this one. Here the most remembered Japanese player is Kazu Miura. They called it “bidone” (an Italian term for “failure”) because he was inconsistent in his year in Serie A with Genoa. I hope this mentality will change, but in Italy no, they don’t talk so much about J. League. And that’s a shame, because Japanese football can propose a lot of interesting players. But with these circumstances, there’s no surprise to see them go to Germany instead than coming here.