One-hit wonders. A light in a strange career, which wasn’t made of sparks and constant success. A sudden corner of attention in an otherwise normal trajectory. There are seasons or years like these ones, with players capable of rising to the occasion when it’s needed the most. Just think of sudden protagonists, who made the front cover for a certain period of time, without repeating themselves after that season.
“Lost Treasures” is a column which features four episodes, all talking about this kind of players in the history of J. League. To pick who to feature in this column, we looked at all the Best XIs composed by the J. League committee at the end of every season and chose four players who actually made an enormous leap, just to rarely or not repeat themselves in the successive seasons.
Another specific detail: we picked just J. Leaguers, who enjoyed most of their career in the Japanese championship, albeit there will two exceptions. And the first protagonist is indeed one of the two, because he’s a citizen of the world: Dutch father, he played in Netherlands, Finland and Spain, just to come back to J. League and even experiencing the Thai championship.
The first player for this column is Mike Havenaar.
Like father, like son
Mike Havenaar is indeed born in Hiroshima, but his father was among the first players to get a taste of J. League. Dido Havenaar came to Japan in 1986 to play for Mazda SC, who you might know now as Sanfrecce Hiroshima. And his all family is indeed made of sport athletes, given that Mike’s mother was a pretty huge deal in heptathlon. Last but not least, his brother Nikki enjoyed some J. League time before leaving to play in Europe.
If Dido Havenaar remained involved in Japanese football for three decades – before in the pitch, after as a goalkeeper coach –, Mike followed his father’s footsteps, featuring in Consadole Sapporo’s and Yokohama F. Marinos’ youth ranks. He indeed debuted with Marinos in 2006, but he had to move on loan to other clubs to actually rise from the back. His J2 stats were impressive both with Avispa Fukuoka and Sagan Tosu.
After scoring a combined score of 22 goals in 59 games with both teams, Ventforet Kofu made the move and bought him from Marinos. The Yamanashi Prefecture isn’t exactly the most glamorous place in the country, but it was a good time to move to Ventforet: head coach Kazuo Uchida wanted so badly and his intuition was the right one, because Havenaar was the last piece missing to chase the return in J1 (in ’09 Kofu came fourth, just one point behind Shonan Bellmare, who got promoted).
Ventforet played just two seasons in the top tier, but Havenaar and his goals were the key to achieve what they were looking for. In the 2010 J2 League season, if Kashiwa Reysol were in a league of their own, Kofu (and Fukuoka) made a run as well to promotion. They came second at the end of the year, with the striker scoring 20 goals (the top-scorer of the league) and the club achieving the best attendance record (12,406).
But there was no way he would have done the same also in J1. Right?
Bursting in Kofu
Kazuo Uchida did not stay and Ventforet hired Toshiya Miura, who had a lot of experience in managing teams in J. League. He was in Sendai, Mito, Saitama (with Omiya), Sapporo and Kobe. Small detail though: his last three seasons in J1 were pretty dreadful, so there’s no way he was going to save Kofu from relegation. The club changed manager in August 2011, hiring Satoru Sakuma, but it wasn’t enough.
But how is it possible that a relegated team – Kofu came 16th at the end of the year, missing salvation for three points – featured one of its players in the Best XI of the 2011 season? It is more than rare to witness this. Yet, Havenaar played in a spectacular way, rising as one of the best strikers of the league. He closed the year with 17 goals, just two shy of Joshua Kennedy, who won the top-scorer’s title.
He had even a decent run to push Ventforet towards salvation in the final part of the season, just after being called up for the Japanese national team (he’ll score a brace against Tajikistan in a WCQ match in October). Between Matchday 22 and 29, Kofu gained 13 points out of eight games, pushing them to 15th place. Unfortunately, the club raised just three points in the last five games, seeing Urawa Red Diamonds escaping relegation.
He was such an irregular player for Japanese football: a typical lone European-esque striker, who had his best skills in heading and penalty box positioning. His goals in 2011 were pretty resuming of both his trademark moves and the brand of football Ventforet would have then developed also under Jofuku and Sakuma: long balls, solid defense, tight lines.
Kofu got relegated to J2 just one season after being promoted, but they’re going to bounce back with another great season, establishing themselves as a solid force in J1. We’ve always asked ourselves how Ventforet managed then to stay in the top tier for another five seasons, despite low budget and improbable protagonists. What we lacked is asking ourselves how Mike Haveenaar’s career went on after that glorious stint.
An ambassador around the world
The striker immediately cashed in and joined Vitesse, reconnecting with his Dutch roots. His two and a half years-period in Arnhem was actually pretty good, going in double digits for the two full seasons he played in Eredivisie. This brought him to Spain, joining Córdoba and debuting against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Unfortunately, that whole adventure went badly both for the player and the club.
If Córdoba got relegated deadly last in 2014-15 LaLiga, Havenaar left mid-season to join HJK Helsinki. And even there, the stats weren’t impressive: eight goals in 27 games, just enough to play in UEFA Champions League qualifiers and land another contract in Eredivisie in August 2015. His third team in a year – ADO Den Haag – was indeed a good choice, since he went on to score 25 goals in one and a half seasons.
Eredivisie just suited him, but Havenaar wanted to go back to Japan in Winter 2016-17. So he took the leap and picked Vissel Kobe to rejoin J. League, but the Mikitani’s circus of madness wasn’t the best choice around. Most of all, he didn’t play that much in the league, just 13 games in 18 months, scoring five times. A trait that remained even in the two successive experiences, a loan to Vegalta Sendai and the Erasmus to Bangkok United.
It’s a recent news Havenaar came back to Japan for the second time, this time joining an old love: yes, Ventforet Kofu. The Yamanashi-based club suffered a lot of losses in the offensive department, with players leaving like Yutaka Soneda, Peter Utaka (Kyoto Sanga) and Koichi Sato (Veertien Mie). They needed some fresh blood in the squad, since Akira Ito will have to replace Utaka’s 21 goals from 2019.
Havenaar’s J2 stats are pretty good: 42 goals in 90 matches. Will he be able to replicate them in 2020, once everything might resume? It’ll be a key-tool for Ventforet to chase the promotion to J1. And, who knows, to relive those golden days of a decade ago.