2020 Regista Awards: J1 League

2020 has been an exhausting season, but the top tier has gifted us a unique year in a certain sense: we’ve witnessed the strongest team ever – it’s not us saying it, the average points per game is there to be looked – and some nice stories all over the league. From Nagoya Grampus rising from their ashes to Sagan Tosu somehow defying expectation, through the shaky title-defending campaign of Yokohama F. Marinos.

In such a long year, where young and unknown players came forward, we did what we liked the most in this period of the year, although after a tiring season: it’s time to take a breath – more than ever! – and make our calls in terms of awards. To do that, we summed up a small panel to pick the possible options, then saw the votes coming through polls by our readers and followers:

Emperor’s Cup is still up for grabs, with a probable Kawasaki v. Gamba final – which would then replicate itself in the 2021 Japanese Super Cup –, but meanwhile here are the 2020 Regista Awards for J1 League.

Best team | Kawasaki Frontale (87,1%)

It would not be the first time we give our props to Frontale and their organization. It’s not about just the titles won in four years (and the ones that still might come: there’s a possible maiden Emperor’s Cup to clinch), but about how they managed to build on their successes. Once they unlocked their fears in 2017 by winning their first championship ever, everything went the right way for Frontale.

Moreover, what seemed important for Kawasaki in recent years was recruitment. We’re not talking just about youngsters – although signing Mitoma, Tanaka and Wakizaka in successive years is a solid feat –, but also on the market. Akihiro Ienaga has become MVP and a crucial player under Oniki; Jesiel is a won bet, while Leandro Damião – who appeared at the end of his best days as a striker – found back his groove in Japan.

Flop Team | Vissel Kobe (49,3%)

Don’t let the ACL-run fool you: Vissel Kobe have a lot of work to do to actually reach the top of Japan, let alone Asia. Read here about their 2020.

MVP and Best Rookie | Kaoru Mitoma, Kawasaki Frontale (58,8% and 83,3%)

Kaoru Mitoma hasn’t just endured a “good rookie year”: he rewrote the history books, just like his team. Now what? Read here about his stunning first season as a professional.

Best Goalkeeper | Mitchell Langerak, Nagoya Grampus (57,1%)

17 clean sheets are impressive, but most of all they are one of the records broken in this season and one of the few not coming from Kawasaki Frontale. If Sagan Tosu registered the highest number of draws in a championship (15), Mitchell Langerak took the record of the highest number of clean sheets in a season, destroying the previous record.

We had already seen some defensive masterpiece last year, when Cerezo Osaka almost tied the record for less goals conceded, coming shy of just one goal under Miguel Ángel Lotina. But we know how Massimo Ficcadenti built a reputation out of creating solid, reliable teams, capable of bringing home results by matching a defined defensive identity and the rise of some offensive players.

It happened the same this year: the four backs-line up of Naruse, captain Maruyama, Nakatani and Yoshida worked excellently. Throw in there also the huge contribute of Mitchell Langerak – who was enjoying decent performances even under the previous manager – and the pre-season worry about the “over-correction process” from Kazama to Ficcadenti turned into an ACL-spot.

MIP | Miki Yamane, Kawasaki Frontale (45,9%)

When the season started, we had some doubts about the right back for Kawasaki Frontale. Maguinho was loaned to Yokohama FC, seemingly not convincing enough Oniki in that position. Kazuaki Mawatari – once the obscure regista in the Vortis project under Rodríguez – was loaned to Shonan Bellmare and newly-arrived Diogo Mateus played just three matches all season.

This happened because Miki Yamane stole the attention right away. Coming from Shonan Bellmare – where he played 100 games in four years –, Yamane adapted to Oniki’s game plan and unleashed some incredible goals, like the one scored in Sendai or the one coming at the Saitama Stadium against Urawa Red Diamonds. Included in the Best XI, he might come into the conversation for the Japanese national team in 2021 games.

Best Signing | Everaldo, from Queretaro FC to Kashima Antlers (54,7%)

Kashima Antlers had a tough season to face. They’re the squad who probably lost the highest amount of talent in the last three-four years, but they still managed to clinch the AFC Champions League in 2018 and develop many young players. Last Winter, though, the Ibaraki-based club had to see some top players leave, like Leandro, Jung Seung-hyun and Serginho. To fix this loss of talent, they brought in a couple of Brazilians.

While Juan Alano needed some time to convince everyone, Everaldo started to fire right away. His redemption story brought him from a career without too many goals to the solid year he had on loan to Chapecoense (12 goals in the Brazilian Série A) and then to Japan, where Antlers needed a player like him. A trustworthy no. 9, Everaldo evolved in the middle of this season, featuring also as a left winger or second striker.

Head coach Antônio Carlos Zago opted to this move because he wanted to field as well young prodigy Ayase Ueda as a center-forward, but the Brazilian adapted without any issue. He surely built on his momentum and he came really close to gift Antlers an unexpected ACL-spot thanks to his magic on the pitch. He could represent another love story between Brazil and J. League.

Best Wish | Erik, from Palmeiras to Yokohama F. Marinos (53,8%)

It’s strange to see Erik in this category, let alone win the award: in the Summer, it seemed he was on his way out to sign for the Turkish side of Trabzonspor, but he decided instead to stay and give it all for the defending champions of J1. It would have been a tough loss for the club, because since he joined on loan from Palmeiras in Summer ’19, the Brazilian forward has proved to be a ductile asset for head coach Ange Postecoglou.

After that Summer scare, Erik delivered by scoring several goals and winning the MVP Award in the month of September. And now his permanent move to Marinos looks pretty much a sealed deal, according to Brazilian media, which will definitely help Yokohama to re-start again after this failed title-defending campaign.

Best Goal | Mitsuki Saito, Vissel Kobe v. Shonan Bellmare, MD27 (44,6%)

In this case, J. League and Regista voters agreed: no one could overcome this half-way line rainbow by the Shonan midfielder, which also represented the last win of 2020 for Bellmare. We’re talking now of another Japanese talent moving to Europe, since in the last weeks Saito joined the Russian side of Rubin Kazan in a loan with option to buy (1,5 years to spent in the RPL).

After the moves of Takuma Nishimura to CSKA Moscow (the forward came back to Vegalta Sendai in this 2020) and Kento Hashimoto to FC Rostov opened a new path for Japanese players in the Old Continent (although we would have to discuss how much you would consider Kazan as Europe, given that’s in Tatarstan), Saito will have a nice chance to prove his value in a decent championship.

Best Manager | Toru Oniki, Kawasaki Frontale (64,9%)

Fun fact: despite having changed the history of the club and having won three J1 titles in four seasons, this might have been the first year to see Oniki winning the title of “Manager of the Year”. In 2017, J. League awarded the prize to Cerezo Osaka’s South Korean head coach Yoon Jong-hwan (who now struggles at JEF United Chiba); in 2018, Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo’s Mihailo Petrović won for the extraordinary year in the new club.

It took an undisputable proof of strength – winning the league with four games to play, breaking several records – to make a statement. And this didn’t serve any purpose, since J. League opted to gift the prize in every league to manager didn’t win the league. But if Fumitake Miura and Shinji Kobayashi came close also in our polls, Tsuneyatsu Miyamoto seemed a forced option despite bringing Gamba Osaka to the second place.

Nevertheless, it’s undeniable how Oniki has shaped the recent history of Kawasaki Frontale. Titles are just the tip of the iceberg of legacy he’ll leave once he’ll be gone: he solidified the work done by Kazama before him, he launched several youngsters and the club has now one of the deepest roster in J. League history. We’re glad J. League has been able to go beyond the simple equation “champions = best coach”, but it’s strange how Oniki paid this tribute to history.

That’s it for the 2020 Regista Awards for J1 League. You can still catch up here for J3 League and in a few days we’ll have also the ones regarding the second tier. Thanks for reading and following our activity!

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