After a quarter of century, J. League has established itself as one of the most known leagues over the world, certainly the best in Asia, which might be capable to reach also audiences from all over the world in the future. This rise, though, happened thanks to a lot of factors and one of them has been the presence of foreign players. Many of them came, some of them left a solid mark, few of them opted to stay after their Japanese experience.
Their coming to Japan raises the same old question: marquee players or true icons? Just a way to pump attendances up or memories that stay with fans forever? This is why this column is here. We wanted to homage the footballing movements who shaped the history of Japanese football and the J. League.
We picked six nations and we’re featuring someone for every episode to help us understanding why that particular player represents so clearly the contribute that country gave to Japan. The first episode will be about the nation that probably helped the most: Brazil. And their representative couldn’t be anyone other than Marcos Gomes de Araujo, better known as Marquinhos.
The story before Japan
As today, Marquinhos is the player with the highest number of goals and games played as a foreigner in J. League. It’s not an accident, but something that’s tied to his enormous influence on the Japanese championship. His goals, his celebrations and his eight stints in the top tier – although Marinos featured him twice – have contributed on how Brazilian players can be instrumental for certain teams and stories in the Land of the Rising Sun.
To talk about him, our first guest is Tiago Bontempo (you can find him on Twitter with the username @GunnerTNB). You might remember him because he has already helped us twice with the Regista Awards of the end of the season, but this time he comes in play to tell us some stories about the Brazilian striker. Especially thinking about Marquinhos’ time before coming to Japan, which maybe some of our readers don’t know so well:
“He’s far from being a famous or notorious player as he did not have time to achieve much while playing here (in Brazil). He was successful at Coritiba and scored a lot of goals in there, but he was soon sold to Japan, so most football fans in the country doesn’t know much about him besides his “somersault” nickname”.
And that’s why there’s little to report before his move to J. League. Yes, he played in Spain with CD Ourense – in the second Spanish division – before coming back to Brazil, where he didn’t seem destined to play again. Yet, something happened along the way. And that something is the reason why Marquinhos then featured for Operário and mostly Coritiba, fulfilling a dream that seemed over. Still Tiago explains us what happened:
“He was a truck driver and his career as a player started by pure chance. While his truck was being repaired during a trip in the city of Ponta Grossa, he saw that the local football club was conducting a test for new players and he decided to take part in there just to kill time. In the end, he was approved and the rest is history”.
At Operário, Marqunihos scored a lot of goals for just being there one season. He switched to Coritiba, where he actually started his trademark celebration, which will mark him for his whole career. It’s not an accident if they called Marquinhos “The Somersault”. It’s not just because of his incredible skills in the penalty box, but because of an episode Tiago told us about. It happened in 2001:
“At Coritiba, one famous story about him was at the derby against Athletico Paranaense. The opposing goalkeeper provoked him before the match, saying he only scores against small clubs, etc. When Marquinhos scored the winner, he celebrated with a somersault in front of that keeper, returning the provocation. It started a brawl involving players and supporters”.
In the Summer of 2001, J. League’s bubble from the first seasons had already exploded and new heroes were requested. They had solid Brazilian player – Will won the top-scorer title, but also Amaral, Uéslei and Emerson were on the front page –, but little did they knew about this guy coming from Coritiba and his chances of being the greatest representative of his country in J. League.
A striker like no other
You could say the impact of Marquinhos in Japan was immediate. Take his first destination: Tokyo Verdy. The club just renamed itself, going through a rebranding, after leaving the “Kawasaki” denomination and facing one of the hardest times in the history of the club. Because if the fall was already there in terms of results, no one expected to be relegated at the end of 2001 season.
With his eight goals in 14 games, Marquinhos avoided the drop to J2. And most of all, he built for himself a chance to shine somewhere else. His second season in Tokyo wasn’t nearly as good as the first one, but still Marquinhos landed a deal with Yokohama F. Marinos. The best choice he could ever made back then, because he became a key-part in the title the club won that year.
Surely, Tatsuhito Kubo made the headline with 16 goals and the inclusion in the Best XI, but Marquinhos scored eight goals and the last one was crucial in the final match of the season: his header let Marinos get the equalized against Júbilo Iwata, leading them to win that game and the second stage as well, granting themselves a title to celebrate under manager Takeshi Okada.
Marquinhos left Yokohama, but he stayed in Japan, achieving a solid goal per game-ratio both with JEF United Ichihara and Shimizu S-Pulse. And after those three seasons, it was for him time to meet his destiny. Like Tiago mentioned to us, after being in Shizuoka and scoring 50 J1 goals, the Brazilian striker was getting prepared to fulfill his role in Japanese football history.
“There no doubt the time he spent at Kashima was the peak of his career, especially the MVP season at 2008. Certainly the Marinos supporters have good memories about him as well”.
Kashima Antlers have always been a powerhouse in Japanese football, but part of their reputation comes from the three titles in a row conquered between 2007 and ’09. No one repeated that exploit: Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2014 and Kawasaki Frontale last year came close, but they weren’t able to match the record. And in hindsight, it wasn’t that easy to achieve that feat.
Antlers have been managed by several Brazilian managers, but certainly two were the best among them. One is Toninho Cerezo, who has won a lot, stayed for six seasons and achieved the seasonal treble in 2000 (winning the league and the two national cups). The other is Oswaldo de Oliveira, who came in 2007, with Antlers coming from a disappointing year under Paulo Autuori. The last title came in 2002, four years before.
For a powerhouse like Kashima – incapable of winning on the international stage like they did in their own country –, being winless for so many seasons wasn’t acceptable. So the job wasn’t easy for the new manager, but Oswaldo – at his first Japanese experience, back then – did amazingly. And the reason wasn’t just because of a good squad – Uchida, Araiba, Nozawa, Motoyama, Sogahata and others –, but because of Marquinhos’ performances.
In those three title-runs, the Brazilian striker scored an aggregate of 48 goals. Especially 2008 season was amazing, because he won the MVP title and he was also the top-scorer of the league. When he left in December 2010 (Antlers wanted to rejuvenate their roster), he said goodbye with 82 goals in 167 matches in all competitions, plus seven trophies. He was a force of nature, absolutely crucial to seal those titles for the club.
But you can see also how much he loved Japan from another episode. After leaving Antlers, Marquinhos signed for Vegalta Sendai. Theoretically, back then-manager Makoto Teguramori had a solid weapon to have a decent season. Unfortunately, the Brazilian striker played just one game for the club, because then the Tohoku earthquake came and he opted to leave Japan abruptly, due to the huge fear caused by the event.
It could have been the end of this story. After all, Marquinhos landed a sweet deal with Atlético Mineiro in his homeland and went back to Brazil after a solid decade in J. League. Yet he played very few games and scored just once (against Grêmio), so Marquinhos decided to come back to Japan. And according to Tiago, that was another key-passage in defining his legacy:
“I remember when he transferred to Yokohama F. Marinos for the second time in 2012, after a short and unimpressive stint at Atlético Mineiro in Brazil. There was concerns about his age, but he continued to score consistently and almost conquered another J.League title in 2013”.
He lost the ponytail, but the skills in the penalty box were still there. Actually Marinos had another title-run in 2013, with Marquinhos charging and scoring amazing goals. His performances were solid and his experience proved to be crucial to bring home still one trophy, the Emperor’s Cup. Of course, the disappointment from losing the 2013 title will probably never go away, but his return was good.
For the last two years of his career, Marquinhos then joined Vissel Kobe, who just came back from J2 and needed some experience in their offensive department. That was already the Mikitani-era, but they weren’t splashing the market (yet): the first season was solid (Vissel even topped the table on Matchday 9), the second one not so much… just like it happened with Tokyo Verdy.
In the end, he collided with Nelsinho regarding training methods and he ended up rarely playing in the second part of 2015 season. He quit Kobe, but he never came back to the pitch.
His legacy: more than titles and (solid) numbers
Of the top of your head, you would say there’s no doubt about the Brazilian player who influenced the most the Japanese game: it’s Zico, right? In a certain sense, that’s true. And you could also say there were more famous players who featured in J. League: just keep in mind that eight of 22 Brazilian members from the 1994 FIFA World Cup winning squad have played or then featured in J. League.
But there’s no doubt that staying in Japan for that period of time, with those performances on the pitch, has put Marquinhos on the map. And he’ll be on it forever, because – like Tiago reminded us in the final exchanges of our chat – his legacy will stand the test of time. Will we ever witness another Brazilian so influential on J. League over such a long period, like a decade?
“He contributed to the Japanese football history doing what he does best: scoring goals. A lot of them. There were so many Brazilian players in the J.League in these almost three decades, many with a lot more pedigree than Marquinhos, and he surpassed all of them in goals scored. It won’t be easy for another Brazilian to overcome him in the all-time goalscorers chart”.
And Tiago is right. We can’t crunch the numbers, but it’s hard to find someone who was capable of nine seasons in double digits of goals in J1. It’s really hard. It’s difficult to find a foreigner who played more than 300 games and scored more than 100 goals, yet Marquinhos – as we’re writing – is currently fifth in the all-time top-scorers table of J1 League (Shinzo Koroki is coming, but still he’s there).
Yes, some Brazilians made the Best XI more times than him, but who’s going to really care about this stat looking at Marquinhos’ numbers? He made it just once, in ’08, when he was awarded with the MVP title during his time in Kashima. Yet, he has been great in his stints in Japan, despite not having neither a great nor a solid career in his homeland or abroad outside the Land of the Rising Sun.
Despite all of that, he left a huge legacy on J. League and Brazil couldn’t find a better ambassador than him to retell their influence on Japanese football. Muito obrigado, Marcos.