2020 season seems to be a really promising one for J2 League. Among the three pro-tiers in Japanese football, the second one has definitely the looks to have the biggest anticipation, since most of the time the faith of many clubs will be uncertain until the very end in both ends of the table.
Just look at the last season: Kashiwa Reysol did win the promotion with one game to play, but it took a really solid second part of the season to be absolutely certain about the return to J1, despite having a lot of firepower in the offensive department. At the bottom, Kagoshima United looked pretty safe after the win against FC Gifu, but Tochigi SC came back and gained an improbable salvation in the last matchday.
In the end, J2 League has always been like this. And with no clear favorites for this season – it’s not like Júbilo Iwata and Matsumoto Yamaga are looking like frontrunners to come back 100% to J1 – the season might even be more uncertain than ever. Some clubs are eyeing a promotion – Kyoto Sanga and Tokushima Vortis for sure, Omiya Ardija and Ventforet Kofu will try again – and some will represent a surprise.
J. League Regista picked not the 10 best transfers in terms of improvements, but certainly the 10 most interesting. For different reasons, some teams opted for these moves and it’ll be curious to see how these signings will adapt to their new situations. Let’s roll!
10. Yota Maejima – from Yokohama FC to Mito HollyHock
Last year, we had him in the J3 League picks for 2019 season. There’s a reason why we kept an eye on him: after another solid season for Kataller Toyama – who had the third-best point-ratio in the second half of the year, just behind Giravanz and Thespakusatsu, the two promoted teams –, Maejima came back to Yokohama FC and the club loaned him again, this time in the second division.
After another solid year in the third tier (32 matches and two goals in 2019), Maejima was loaned to Mito HollyHock. The club from Ibaraki Prefecture just had the best season ever in their history and Hasebe left for Fukuoka. It won’t be easy to overcome or even match that result, since many players left; despite that, rebuilding on Maejima could be a good point to start from.
09. Kazuki Anzai – from Sagan Tosu to Renofa Yamaguchi
Do you remember Tokyo Verdy under Miguel Ángel Lotina? The capital side had a solid couple of seasons under the Spanish manager, now coaching Cerezo Osaka (and Cerezo resemble a lot that side). Tokyo Verdy came really close to going back to J1 by winning the playoffs, but losing the promotion/relegation clash against Júbilo Iwata. In the starting eleven of the previous season, both full backs were really good.
But if Koki Anzai first played for Kashima Antlers and he’s now featuring in Portugal, Kazuki Anzai hadn’t the same luck. Signed by Sagan Tosu, he barely saw the pitch; Kazuki played seven times in J1 and started just once. He didn’t fit the defensive style of Kim Myung-hwi, but with Renofa Yamaguchi he could find back his groove, especially under a manager such Masahiro Shimoda.
08. Satoki Uejo – from FC Ryukyu to Fagiano Okayama
FC Ryukyu had definitely been one of the surprises in 2019. They started with a bang and they also led the table, only to start falling behind in the second part of the season. Despite that, many players shone and then left Okinawa for another stage; some of them did it already mid-season in 2019 (Koji Suzuki left for Cerezo Osaka). But this departure helped another kid flourish under Higuchi.
Satoki Uejo proved himself to be more than a simple winger, imposing himself at a higher level than J3 and playing even closer to the goal. Fagiano Okayama lost both Seiya Nakano and captain Hayato Nakama, so having such a player in their roster will definitely do the trick. For Uejo it’s an important season to understand if he’s able to confirm what he showed in 2019.
07. Jael – from FC Tokyo to Matsumoto Yamaga
To us, Jael is a mystery. In the few flashes he had in his rookie year in Tokyo, the Brazilian striker proved to be a possible resource for Hasegawa. After Kubo though left FC Tokyo for Spain, Jael didn’t step up his game, ended up playing even less and then featured in the U-23 team at the end of the season (scoring three goals in six games in the third division).
We’re talking of a player who won the Libertadores with Grêmio just two years ago being in the regular rotation. Yet, he wasn’t able to establish himself as a starter in J1; now he has a new chance with Matsumoto Yamaga, at a lower lever and with a team in full restructuring. He could be the hero Yamaga need to go back to J1 or the villain who leaves Japan mid-season after failing. Who knows?
06. Taishi Taguchi and Kengo Kawamata – from Júbilo Iwata to JEF United Chiba
Good old times when Taguchi and Kawamata were among the hugest wages in Japanese football. Their careers look-a-like, they’ve a lot of similtaries: both played for Nagoya Grampus in the peak of their careers, both looked like potential candidates for a national team-spot, both ended up playing for Júbilo Iwata and both were key-missing pieces for the club towards their descent to relegation.
And both, in 2020, will start from scratch with the club that maybe embodies the most the concept of understatement: JEF United Chiba have just ended their tenth consecutive season in J2 and 2019 didn’t look good at all, despite many signings. Kawamata spent most of his 2019 injured, while Taguchi lost traction once Júbilo changed their manager: will they be able to come back to relevancy?
05. Yutaka Soneda – from Ventforet Kofu to Kyoto Sanga
Among the silent heroes of Ventforet’s run to the playoffs last year, there was Yutaka Soneda. While often Peter Utaka and Dudu took the center of the scene, the midfielder had a key-job in replacing the departure of Yuki Horigome from Kofu to Chiba. He did it, since his season was impressive and he was indeed the main source of creative plays for Akira Ito and his side.
After Soneda signed for Sanga, same thing is happening in Kyoto. Tadanari Lee, Peter Utaka (again), Jordy Buijs and Ryota Moriwaki are the new arrivals who got all the attention in front of their new fans, but the former no. 11 of Ventforet Kofu will play a central role for Noritada Saneyoshi and Sanga’s chances of promotion will take a leap if he, Shoji and Nakagawa will find a way to co-exist on the pitch.
04. Genki Omae – from Omiya Ardija to Thespakusatsu Gunma
We have to wonder if we’re close to the end of an era. Among J. League players, one of the most recognizable to never break through in Europe has indeed been Genki Omae. He tried once after his amazing performances with Shimizu, but his adventure abroad – in Germany, with Fortuna Düsseldorf – didn’t last long and he came back to his beloved S-Pulse.
Despite his clear talent, Omae stayed two years in J2 with Ardija. Yet, he was never able to bring the club back to J1 and now he opted to re-start from Gunma, where they signed him and in general opted for massive signings for a newly promoted team. Omae has scored 47 goals in 102 matches played in the second tier: he’ll be an asset for Thespakusatsu, but can he still make the difference?
03. Naoto Kamifukumoto – from Tokyo Verdy to Tokushima Vortis
It’s not the first time that Ricardo Rodríguez is forced to see his side revolutionized and Vortis in 2020 version won’t make an exception. Especially, the Spanish manager lost Yuji Kajikawa, who silently become the solid no. 1 pick between the posts: the goalkeeper signed for Marinos and he’ll be the back-up for Park. This time, though, Tokushima may have actually found a better replacement for that role.
Naoto Kamifukumoto hasn’t played once in J1, but he has been deeply solid in all these seasons in J2. Just last year he had a couple of blunders, but he’s generally a safe choice in this division. Will he be able to bring the lessons he learned in the two years under Tomohiro Katanosaka to Tokushima? If he does, Vortis might have another chance at promotion.
02. Takaki Fukumitsu – from Cerezo Osaka to Avispa Fukuoka
In the offensive machine that Renofa Yamaguchi used to be under Nobuhiro Ueno, one of the key-pieces was Takaki Fukumitsu, a former Verspah Oita man and a huge asset in the JFL. When Renofa scored 96 goals (!) in the 2015 J3 League – only to snatch the title at the last second in Tottori with a draw –, Fukumitsu was indeed fundamental to pursue promotion and then having a quiet year in J2 in 2016.
When he signed for Cerezo Osaka, we were expecting better fortunes for the offensive midfielder. Actually, the whole band behind that miracle machine – Kishida, Shimaya, Shoji, Torikai – hasn’t exactly peaked somewhere else as they did in Yamaguchi. Despite this, Fukumitsu certainly landed the best deal among them, but he never found a manager suited for him.
Both Yoon Jong-hwan and Miguel Ángel Lotina – especially the latter – are known to be managers with a highly-rated plan in defense, but Fukumitsu enjoyed club success rather than the personal one. He won two trophies, he played ACL-football, but he featured only in 25 games in J1 and then got loaned to Mito HollyHock last Summer.
Now he’s heading to Fukuoka, where he could be indeed a key-piece for Avispa (and he’ll find Hasebe, who coached him in Mito).
01. Yoshito Okubo – from Júbilo Iwata to Tokyo Verdy
The all-time top-scorer in J1 League (185 goals) scored just once in the last 12 months with Júbilo Iwata. We could start from here to claim why Yoshito Okubo’s career fell downhill, with the former Kawasaki Frontale striker incapable of repeating the magic seen under Yahiro Kazama for four years. At Todoroki, Okubo smashed record and amazed everyone, but after leaving Kawasaki everything started to fall.
Signing for FC Tokyo didn’t work, same for the return to Kawasaki Frontale. And let’s just leave the passage to Júbilo there, because it seemed a desperation move for everyone involved. Iwata didn’t gain any scoring firepower; Okubo didn’t chance his trajectory and the club ended up relegated in J2. Where Júbilo, anyway, opted to not confirm both him and Kengo Kawamata (256 goals in J1 between the two of them).
Tokyo Verdy are going in full restructuring mode, with a new badge, the confirm of legend Hideki Nagai as a manager and a fudging cool new jersey for 2020. In this rebuilding mode, Okubo could bring some experience and maybe find his groove in the offensive line (which will be very old, alongside Leandro and Ryohei Hayashi). He’ll play the first J2 League game after 18 years: how will it work?