We The North

This piece was written months ago, when I’ve heard Arjen Robben was close to join Consadole. Publishing it now seems far-fetched, but it stresses an important point: Sapporo must be proud of their team and the direction they’ve taken.

The news arrived just a few hours ago, but it might set another milestone in J. League history: Arjen Robben is a new player of Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo and the Japanese championship can now brag about featuring another world-renewed star, even if in the final twilight of his career. Now the top tier has three key-men of that night in Johannesburg, when Spain defeated Netherlands to win the World Cup.

Robben will always remember that night and not for the good reasons. He’s been accustomed to grow through difficulties and lift himself up from letdowns. He has done with the Dutch national team, with Bayern Munich, even after the injuries plagued the last part of his career at Allianz Arena. Yet, there’s the feeling that his arrival might add something missing to the club.

Most of all, we should look at this move by all the possible angles. We tried to analyze this move and who’s gonna benefit the most from it.

What this means for the league

It basically means that J. League is trying even more to put itself on the map of football. Despite I prefer a different kind of moves (I’ve already written about, I won’t annoy you more than before), Robben joining the Japanese league is still impressive. Someone whispered of him going to Japan, but Tokyo was the initial target. Instead, we found out Robben was going way North.

J. League tried to rise his status through a deal with LaLiga, the arrival of several star-players (although many of them were already beyond their peak) and the friendly games against European powerhouses, rather than the simple performances of the Japan national team. Indubitably, seeing Podolski, Villa, Iniesta and Torres playing in Japan has done some work, but it’s not all about that.

J. League has already seen this phase of approach towards falling stars, players in their 30-something with nothing much left in the tank. They should be beyond that, because if you wanna rise as a brand, you need something more than just simple marquee players and fading memories.

You need to be able to create new ones. And that’s where Robben comes into the scene.

What this means for the player

Make no mistake: we’re talking of one of the greatest in the last 10 years. Even when Robben landed in Madrid and basically made a mistake to evaluate his future (his stint in Real lasted just two seasons), there hasn’t been any doubt on his potential and skills. Moving to Bayern delivered him to history. Even without a Champions League win, we would have remembered him vividly.

Instead, it took him a while and two losses in the final, but Arjen Robben won that Champions League. And he did it as THE hero, scoring the winner in the final against Borussia Dortmund in 2013. He’ll always be a legend for both Dutch football and the Bavarian fans. I taste it directly, living in Munich: despite his las season was marked by injuries, he was still a favorite here.

But what can Arjen Robben bring on the table for Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo? Looking at his last seasons in Munich, not too much.

His shape was shaky at least, despite you can’t forget your talent. Without a proper condition, though, you might end up being not so effective (ask Torres and his press conference about this particular issue). He scored 5 goals in 15 matches in the first part of the season, but then injuries plagued his goodbye tour.

Robben announced in December that he would have left Munich. From there, between back, leg and calf injuries, he joined back the squad only for the last three games of 2018-19 Bundesliga. He played only 28 minutes, but he found a goal to salute his crowd against Eintracht. A nice ending to a stint full of successes and silverwares.

But can he be useful to Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in these conditions? Or he’ll find a good shape and he’ll be able to contribute to the club for as much as he’s going to stay in Japan? It doesn’t matter for two reasons. The first is that Robben will mostly bring something missing in Hokkaido: mentality. Consadole aren’t accustomed to win, but he might fill the gap with a tip or two.

And the second perk from this move isn’t about Robben, but it’s about the region itself.

What this means for the community

I haven’t voluntarily written neither city nor club. Yeah, because Hokkaido is Consadole Sapporo: there can’t be any debate about this. In other areas of the country – like the over-populated Kansai and Kanto area –, there are more teams fighting to represent the region or even a city. And yes, Kashima Antlers and Sanfrecce Hiroshima are white flies in this topic.

But for Sapporo, Hokkaido… is different.

The isle of Hokkaido is a difficult region to live in, yet it’s so fascinating, with their nature, their people and the amazing mix that results from these ingredients. It’s like being in a different country.

If I can make a honest comparison, this feels for Sapporo like Toronto Raptors landing the deal with Kahwi Leonard. Yes, for Raptors it was more vital to seal that move, but still… it put them on the NBA map forever, winning also a title in the process of this last season. At the same time, signing such a world-class player – even if he had a difficult year in Munich – is massive for Consadole.

It makes you think about the work that the club and especially the board has done during these last years. Consadole Sapporo played in J1 in 2012, collecting only four wins and 14 points in total. It was a negative record, yet the club found a way to turn it around within a few seasons.

And the fundamental move to achieve this U-turn was appointing Yoshikazu Nonomura as a chairman: he was already an adviser for the club, but he was asked in December 2012 to direct the activities of the club. After a first refuse, he accepted and that changed the history of Consadole.

The U-turn was partially realized already a few seasons ago, when the club came back to J1 with Shuhei Yomoda, who coached the team from mid-2015 to 2017. He first conquered the promotion in 2016, then he led the club to a fantastic second part of 2017 seasons to retain their status in the top tier. Also, he showed the proper humbleness in stepping aside to become the assistant of the successive coach.

What to expect

With Mihailo Petrović at the helm in the last 18 months, progress was undeniable. Consadole Sapporo almost achieved a historic qualification to the AFC Champions League and they’re facing another good season, with the hope of achieving something similar to 2018. They even invested properly in the last Winter, bringing in players like Musashi Suzuki, Lucas Fernandes and Anderson Lopes.

It has been an incredible time for Consadole fans, but it might even get better. A fit Arjen Robben might be the missing piece to make the definitive leap and even dreaming of a title run for 2020 season. And even for Robben, this might be the best solution: getting to know a new culture, playing a similar brand of football to the German one and managing his time on the pitch without the stress he could have felt at Bayern Munich.

Only time will tell us that if this signing – alongside the good work of the board, the depth of the squad and the steady guide of – will bring this miracle to a further level. A championship level.

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