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. Today’s protagonist is the second one after Mike Havenaar. He came from another continent and he took his time to light up a notoriously cold land like Niigata. Albirex were at the top of their form also because of him and a team who wrote pages of history.
The fourth and last player for this column is Márcio Richardes de Andrade.
Brazil and Niigata, a special relationship
Born on November 30, 1981, Márcio Richardes started his journey from Andradina, a municipality in the state of São Paulo. He wasn’t easy, because – just like many fellow footballers in Brazil – he had to travel a lot to find some continuity and a good form. He visited many clubs and the biggest chances he had in his first six years as a pro were at Coritiba and Criciúma.
The breakthrough, though, came with São Caetano. The club from São Caetano do Sul had an amazing run in the previous years, coming as runners-up twice (in 2000 and ’01) and almost winning the 2002 Copa Libertadores, only to lose against Olimpia from Paraguay in the double-legged final. That was a small team, but their story remains still today as one of the most incredible in South American football in recent years.
São Caetano miraculously avoided relegation on his first year, but that season was precious for Richardes, who finally had his chance of having more time on the pitch and found a way to shine. When the club did indeed go down in 2006, for the Brazilian fantasista it was time to find a new adventure. And that’s where Albirex Niigata came into place, offering him a fresh start.
Back then, Albirex were a rising club, who played just three J1 seasons and supported by a huge amount of fans, who crowded the Tohoku Denryoku Big Swan Stadium with an average of 38,709 people (the second-best attendance in the league). On his first year on the dugout, manager Jun Suzuki brought Niigata to an easy salvation through the goals of Edmílson, outscoring Avispa Fukuoka – who came 16th on the table – by 15 points.
Yet, someone was hoping to see better times, since in ’06 Albirex were just six points shy of seventh place. What they needed was a boost in their roster and Márcio Richardes was just that. Alongside other adds to the club – like Mitsuru Chiyotanda and Masataka Sakamoto –, the Brazilian immediately made an impact, scoring nine goals and making ‘07 the best season-ever in the history of the club (they came sixth).
In the next two seasons, while the club retained their J1 status and played another solid year (13th and 8th), Richardes found his way to become one of the key-assets for Albirex. But the best was yet to come, given that some youngsters were coming up through the youth ranks and Niigata was ready to witness the magic of Richardes at his absolute peak in his Japanese adventure.
Samba in the North
Albirex could rely on many interesting players for 2010 season: Daigo Nishi came on loan from Consadole Sapporo, Masaaki Higashiguchi and Gotoku Sakai had their breakthrough seasons. Mitsuru Nagata played so well that he even booked a spot for the national team and Jo Yeong-cheol scored double digits of goals. Despite the change of manager – Suzuki left, Hisashi Kurosaki got hired –, Niigata lived a really solid season.
In all of this, it’s not like Richardes played every single game: he featured in just 26 out of 34 matches, but he scored 16 goals and he was instrumental to assure to a solid team a mid-table season. Albirex ended eighth and Márcio shone with his set piece and technique-skills, being the main source of creative play for Niigata. Some local news even tried to grasp what his -routine was all about, given that he scored seven of those 16 goals from a free-kick.
Albirex always had a historical good relationship with Brazilian imports. So much that more than 50 players have put on that orange jersey, which is a number way higher than the one of the other nations combined. Especially Brazilian strikers did well in Niigata: from Marcus to Edmílson, from Fabinho to Serjão, going through Léo Silva, Bruno Lopes, Rafael Silva, Rony. Nonetheless, Leonardo’s 2019 season was mesmerizing.
On a single season, though, Márcio Richardes was one of the best players in the history of Albirex, not just a regular foreign player. It’s not an accident if he landed a spot to the Best XI that year, despite Nagoya Grampus won (and dominated) that season and Niigata indeed just reached a mid-table finish. Just take a single data to understand how much he was a key-asset for the club in 2010.
In everyone of the 12 matches of that season where Richardes scored, Albirex never lost. Actually, they conquered 26 points out of those 12 games, with the no. 10 taking the spotlight in many chances (like in Sendai, as we mentioned, or in the home win against Marinos). That team had a solid spine and Richardes was the go-to-guy for clutch plays and find the needed sparkle. Niigata weren’t the only one aware of that.
What could have been
That 2010 was weird. Kisho Yano somehow managed to find a gig in Bundesliga, others left for different clubs in Japan and Richardes… well, he took the Urawa train. Reds were eager to see the Brazilian joining them and they had indeed already tried to sign him in the previous seasons, but they succeeded only for 2011. Problem was that the club wasn’t really in good shape and that season was going to be terrible.
Despite featuring Richardes, Kashiwagi, Haraguchi, Edmílson (who had been in Saitama for the last three seasons), Tatsuya Tanaka and many senators from recent history, Urawa Red Diamonds failing in two tasks. First: having a decent season under Željko Petrović, since they came 15th and they barely avoided relegation. Second: they also failed in creating the right environment for Richardes to shine.
Change seemed to arrive with the hire of Mihailo Petrović, who changed the system – relying on his usual 3-4-2-1, which already worked in Hiroshima – and then putting Richardes as one of the two offensive midfielders behind the only striker (so him and Haraguchi behind mostly Popó). Urawa Red Diamonds came third and the renaissance process started.
Unfortunately, Richardes never peaked like in 2012 or 2010. 2013 was decent, but Petrović started looking for reinforcements and began to rely on other players for the successive season (like Sekiguchi, Umesaki and the young Sekine). The Brazilian’s goal against Oita Trinita in an incredible 4-3 home win of August 31, 2013 is the last one with an Urawa Reds’ jersey. Little did he know about this, though.
Injuries put him out of contention for a starting spot in 2014 and Richardes was never able to recover, opting to leave both Saitama and soccer all together at the end of the year. Incredibly, his last game with a Reds’ shirt was the infamous 2-1 defeat at home against Nagoya Grampus, the one which costed a long-waited title for the club and gifted Gamba Osaka the chance of chasing the treble.
Only three players featured in Albirex Niigata’s history in the Best XI. Alongside Richardes, the only ones to achieve such goal were Kengo Kawamata (2013) and Léo Silva (2014). So his amazing 2010 season can’t go unnoticed in history books, because it was an almost unique situation. And while someone joked that he has come back to Japan – under the fake name of Marinos’ Erik –, you have to think about the achievements he reached.
Richardes always said that he was sorry to have not contributed more to Reds’ successes and he found a way to enjoy his post-retirement life (by featuring in some local tournaments in Brazil, since he returned to his hometown), but you can’t stop from wondering how his career in Japan would have been different if his rise wasn’t just a shooting star and kept his constancy.
Many Brazilian had success in Japanese football and many haven’t, but Márcio Richardes feels somehow stuck in the middle. Who knows if staying in Niigata would have worked better for him; at this point, we’ll never know.
Well, this might have been a strange column to run and indeed some readers featured other suggestions (Shoki Hirai will be a regret in this sense, it would have been a nice story to tell), but we’re closing on this one. Remember: we talked about Mike Havenaar, Daijiro Takakuwa and Hiroyuki Taniguchi in the first three episodes.
There’s going to be more content coming, more actual and current events-related columns to follow. Stay tuned! いつもお世話になっております!