“Sliding doors” may be an over-rated concept, but sometimes it makes you think. Think about how things could be different seen from another perspective, especially in a country like Japan, where football is young and pro-football is even younger. J. League has gifted us wonderful histories, but how could this league become if regional criteria would come into play?
We’ve always heard that Kansai and Tokyo metropolitan area are the strongest in this country (with the risk of overpopulation in these areas), but is this true also in football? Looking at which clubs won the title in the last years, you would say “no”: Hiroshima and Ibaraki Prefecture looked good. And a Saitama-based club brought home the continental trophy after being the last one to win it, a decade ago. But it would be the same with Prefecture-based squads?
So we came up with this little fantasy league, where every player is chosen due to his birthplace and so due to his prefecture. It was a strange game, but it led us to a different view of Japanese football. In every episode, we’ll try to visit Japan for what it is, a land with different landscapes and scenarios. We did it also to value everything that this nation can offer: we’re no travel guides, but we may add here and there some general tips for every prefecture, besides their football history until now.
A few rules:
- Every squad features from 11 to 23 players, depending on the depth of the Prefecture;
- Not every Prefecture has its own squad, since not everyone of them was able to feature the needed players to form a team;
- You will find many surprises.
So let’s go with episode no. 1, where we’ll talk about Ehime Prefecture.
Located in the Shikoku region, Ehime Prefecture feature Matsuyama as its capital city and it’s one of the cores of Shikoku Pilgrimage, the journey to see 88 temples in the zone. Matsuyama features eight of them (so it’s a good 10%) and Ehime is mid-table both for area and population among Japanese Prefectures. Known before as the Iyo Province, Ehime is known also for the majestic Matsuyama Castle, the Sadamisaki Peninsula (the narrowest in Japan) and the beautiful Dōgo Onsen, one of the oldest onsen (a hot spring) in Japan (an inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” and which hosted a special customer like novelist Natsume Sōseki.
As for football, Ehime Prefecture doesn’t share so much glory until now. Its biggest team is Ehime Football Club, which has been in J2 League since 2006, when they faced their first J2-season ever. After winning the Japan Football League in 2005, Ehime FC reached their best result ever in 2015, when Takashi Kiyama led the team from a 19th place the year before (under Kiyotaka Ishimaru) to an incredible 5th place, which resulted in a play-off participation. Ehime lost against Cerezo Osaka in the semi-final, but it was a good run. Now their king-status in the region may be facing some hard times, since Imabari FC – now in Japan Football League, boosted by Deloitte and Adidas – are coming for them.
It wasn’t easy forming a line-up, since we didn’t find so many players, but we had to start from Ehime’s finest son in football: Yuto Nagatomo, born in Saijō, the industrial engine of the Prefecture. He’s the captain of this strange formation, which is set-up with a 3-5-1-1. In goal we had to find a loophole and we can find Takuya Kurokawa (class ’81), former Albirex and Shimizu, who retired at the end of 2016 season, but… we needed him.
In a three CBs-disposition, Takanori Maeno (‘88) started from Ehime FC and he came back to them this year. He’s a left back, but he could be fielded in that position. Alongside him, a little fantasy to sacrifice Kazuhito Watanabe (’86) in defense, with Mutsumi Tamabayashi (’84) completing the trio.
Yuto Nagatomo (’86) is the captain and right wing-back, while on the other flank we can find Kazunori Kan (’85), a true referment for Tochigi SC. In the middle, we have three midfielders, with Fujieda MYFC’s Ryosuke Ochi (’90) balling alongside two young players, Yutaka Soneda (’94) and Yoshiki Matsushita (’94).
To find some goals, Ehime Prefecture could rely on a special duo. Daichi Kamada (’96) is probably one of the brightest talents Japan has ever seen in the last 4-5 years, but after Sagan Tosu, he found some struggles with Nico Kovac at Eintracht Frankfurt. The hope is that he can find more space next season, because the potential is undeniable. In front of him, as a solid no. 9, there’s Kengo Kawamata (’89), who had just three unbelievable seasons (one at Fagiano, one at Albirex and the 2017 with Jubilo), but they were enough to cement his status in J. League.