Wait for it

A hectic season, a crazy-paced schedule and so many games without stop have probably erased any chance of properly following the off the pitch-tales from J. League. Like the ugly ones (ask Gamba, Albirex or Vegalta) or even the good ones (like the “J-Talk Pod” coming to the national chronicles), but you could have noticed that also the Summer-Autumn transfer market window was left behind us.

Yet, the end credits are scrolling for this season’s movements and some notable moves took place. From Daizen Maeda coming back to Japan after just one year in Europe to Yasuhito Endo’s sudden and momentary departure from Gamba Osaka, passing through Júnior Santos suddenly flourishing at Marinos, goalkeepers swapping and Takayuki Morimoto moving to the third Greek division at just 32 years old.

Just like it would be normal mid-season, most of the moves have been on loan, waiting to understand if there will be some confirms for 2021. Or we had some university kids being signed from major clubs, to prepare for the upcoming future. Meanwhile, though, we preferred to focus on the certain switches, the one that may be fundamental also for next year, changing the trajectory of certain clubs and their goals for the future.

Therefore, no loans to consider and we picked five acquisitions, although we have to admit one among them is a “bonus track” (not tough to spot it, we promise).

Among loans of senators, Jong Tae-se is back to life in Niigata.

Hugo Vieira | from Gil Vicente (POR) to Consadole Sapporo

When the Portuguese striker left Japan in 2018 to join Sivasspor, we were a little bit sorry. Although the first year of the Ange Postecoglou-experience was tough – Marinos were on the verge of relegation zone all season long –, Hugo Vieira proved to be a solid fit for the #AngeBall, scoring 13 league goals and confirming what he had already shown under Erick Mombaerts (he had 10 in 2017).

Overall, the striker scored 40 goals in 82 matches with Marinos in all competitions, which is an excellent record. And yes, the club from Yokohama found a way to replace him (actually, they have the opposite problems: too many good strikers!), but Hugo Vieira left a solid memory and we were wondering of why moving to Turkey when J. League is on the rise. In fact, the change didn’t work.

Vieira barely played at Sivasspor and the return to Gil Vicente hasn’t functioned either. A new challenge in Japan was a possibility and Consadole Sapporo need a striker more than ever: Musashi Suzuki left for Belgium in the Summer and Jay Bothroyd is still efficient, but you need something more. In Hokkaido, especially next season, Vieira could be a step forward for a squad that lacked the flair this year.

Ibba Lajaab | from Yokohama FC to Omiya Ardija

This hasn’t been the best year of his career. Truth be told, if we look at his numbers through the stay in Japan, Ibba is probably facing the worst season since he joined Yokohama FC in 2016. You even wondered if the problems came from other reasons – like: is Ibba strong enough for J1? Or is it a notch too far for his potential? –, but the former no. 10 at Yokohama had struggles finding time on the pitch in 2020.

This is normal, because the club is clearly following another path, based not anymore on experience, but on the youngsters available on the roster. And it’s working, so you could see how a historical figure like Ibba had to find a new gig. After scoring 78 goals in 158 matches in J2 League, the striker thought of going back to the start and joined Omiya Ardija to help them in climbing the table.

The mission has clearly failed for 2020 and surely Omiya had a lot of questions to answer through next Winter. Despite these doubts, we count on the fact that Ibba joining them was a sure thing and still is. He’ll be 36 in 2021, but the talent is there. He just needs to settle in a different line-up and find a better shape, because it’s not easy to spend most of the time on the bench and suddenly find the light you need to drag your squad to the goal they need to achieve.

Akito Fukuta | from Shonan Bellmare to Albirex Niigata

Since most of the moves were on loan, scrapping to find good deals was hard. We have to say though that this one might pass as underrated, because Akito Fukuta has been a solid player for Sagan Tosu for a long time. He was ductile, capable of playing in several positions (both in the middle and on the flanks) and lasted for several seasons in J1. Last Winter, he joined Shonan Bellmare in the rebuilding of the club.

It didn’t work. In a confused season, Bellmare are just where they were last year, floating above the direct relegation-zone: if drops to J2 were in place, they would be in contention for the relegation/promotion playoffs, just like year, when they survived against Tokushima Vortis. The confirm of Bin Ukishima and the notable changes in the roster haven’t worked; in this scenario, Fukuta played just five league games (only two as a starter).

So you can understand how Albirex Niigata tried to take advantage of this: the side guided by Albert Puig looked really well all year around, despite the late scandal regarding Fabio and Pedro Manzi (which took to the release of both players). But the Spanish manager is building something interesting and nest year they could even be in the run for direct promotion.

To do so, though, you need probably a more solid defense and two excellent defensive midfielders. Alongside Yuzuru Shimada, Fukuta could be the solution to this problem. Time only will tell.

Yuya Yamagishi | from Montedio Yamagata to Avispa Fukuoka

This is a serious move by the Wasps. And that’s not only in the optic of the promotion run they’re currently involved in, but for the future. Maybe we haven’t had the chance of talking too much about this player, but Yuya Yamagishi hasn’t gone under the radar in our eyes; actually, he was pretty much on the run to win a hypothetical “Most Improved Player” Award for this season.

There’s already someone who noticed his growth, but Yamagishi took another leap in the last year. After having spent three and a half years between Thespakusatsu Gunma and FC Gifu, the midfielder signed for Montedio Yamagata in the Summer of 2019. He was immediately effective, scoring a hat-trick and bringing Montedio to the playoffs. And he was doing even better this year, being the key-piece for a struggling side.

A few weeks ago, the cliffhanger: in the push to direct promotion, Avispa bought him to make another effort to the return to J1. Just like other creative players in J2 – first names coming to mind: Naoki Nomura, Yatsunori Shimaya or Kazuki Kozuka –, Yamagishi can be a key-piece for the team, although the 4-4-2 line-up might hinder him a little. Definitely something to watch, though.

Jungo Fujimoto | from free agency to SC Sagamihara

Léo Mineiro to FC Imabari or Koya Tanio to Gainare Tottori were solid options for this “bonus track”, but we were pretty surprised to Fujimoto back to the pitch. Seeing him joining SC Sagamihara happened a little out of the blue, since the former Japan national team member was a free agent for the whole entirety of 2020, until Sagamihara lost Shuto Kammera to Nagano Parceiro and opted for a quick replacement.

It’s tough to depict a picture about Fujimoto, because his career looks so strange in the hindsight: he played an Asian Cup final and was one of the classiest players in J. League for some years, especially when he was playing for Nagoya Grampus. He took the no. 10 at S-Pulse when he was a rookie, replacing the club legend Masaaki Sawanobori. But something was missing to get to a higher level and the last three seasons weren’t that great.

After the end of his loan to Kyoto Sanga in 2019, he was released by Gamba Osaka. Then, all of the sudden, Sagamihara signed him and now he’s playing as a starter in the 4-4-2 of Fumitake Miura, with the side surprisingly in contention for a promotion spot. We don’t know how long his career will stretch, but even seeing him back on the pitch with a pro-club in Japan looks surprising.

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