J3 League, what a fascinating league. The cradle of Japanese football, the place where everything actually begins. The first step of the professional world, which has welcomed 16 rising clubs since its inception. For their eighth season, a new squad has gained the right to play at this level. They had a strong campaign in the Japanese Football League, coming in second only after surprising champions Verspah Oita.
Tegevajaro Miyazaki had a silent, but steady growth: under Nobuhiro Ishizaki, they were able to get promoted from the Kyushu Soccer League to the fourth level of professional football. In their first attempt at the Promotion Regional Series, the club maximized their efforts: they overcame Amitie SC Kyoto and VONDS Ichihara in the final round, clinching promotion alongside Cobaltore Onagawa.
But if Cobaltore immediately dropped back to where they were, things went differently for Tegevajaro. After a tough maiden campaign in the JFL – they came twelfth on the table, far away from the promotion zone –, they improved by ranking fifth in 2019 under head coach Keiji Kuraishi. 2020, instead, brought what they needed: after a slow start in a halved schedule, 17 points in the last eight games were enough to book a spot in J3.
2021 will be their first season-ever at the third level of Japanese football: they haven’t been able to reach this point not even when JFL represented this stage of the ladder. And they did it with still one game to play, taking advantage of the close contestants behind them. They also defeated Iwaki FC in the last game with a 3-0 win, so they deserved their place in the third division. But how are they gonna fare with this new environment?
In this strange transfer market session, Tegevajaro have been quiet. First, they changed a fundamental piece of the puzzle, their manager: Keiji Kuraishi has left and his successor is Naruyuki Naito, a well-known player from the Antlers dynasty in the 90s. Naito has been the head coach of some universities and high school teams, then he had a two years-stint with Blancdieu Hirosaki FC.
The squad didn’t lose too many pieces, but we’re probably facing a situation similar to the one we’ve seen with Vanraure Hachinohe in 2019: a small squad, but with two major differences. In their first year, Hachinohe could count on a navigated coach like Atsuto Oishi; as much as they’re hoping Naito will work as a successor, he doesn’t hold the same degree of experience as Oishi did back then.
Secondly, Aomori is a small Prefecture and their two years in J3 confirmed this kind of view regarding the excitement around the squad. Instead, Miyazaki Prefecture was excited of witnessing a professional football club. Tegevajaro represented the hope of this region: when they reached officially J3, there was a strong push by regional media regarding their promotion. Therefore, expectations might be different as well.
The Winter transfer market brought little pieces to add. We thought they would have counted on loans from bigger clubs, but nothing majorly relevant happened. Tegevajaro obtained three expert players – Ryosuke Maeda from Fukushima United FC, but mostly Masafumi Miyagi from Kyoto Sanga and Makoto Mimura from Fagiano Okayama –, extended two loans and included a couple of kids from universities.
A no. 10 symbol
Who should be the most important member of this operation? Well, luckily for them, they have a profile to rely on: Shoma Mizunaga. A journeyman, who has seen a lot in his career, although he never played in J1: his highest moments were with V-Varen Nagasaki and Zweigen Kanazawa, when both teams had good runs in the second division and made a lot of waves as newly promoted clubs.
So why Mizunaga is the face of this club? He’s born in Kadogawa, Miyazaki Prefecture. Furthermore, it’s not the first time he played for a Miyazaki-based team: in fact, Mizunaga scored a lot of goals between Japan Football League and the Kyushu Soccer League when he was playing for Honda Lock SC. If you look at the all-time scorers’ list in JFL, Mizunaga is ranked ninth with 83 goals.
Despite being 35 years old, Mizunaga seems to have reached the prime of his career. In 2020, he scored six goals in just 12 games, the best goals per game/ratio he ever had. Until now, he scored double digits of goals just in JFL (three times), but could it be that 2021 will see him scoring that number of goals in J3 as well? If he’s able to bag at least 10 goals, Tegevajaro could actually hope to debut with a solid season.
Worth the wait?
Despite the long-awaited promotion, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride for Tegevajaro, especially in their first year. Within their roster, only ten players featured in a J3 match and only one of them – Kenji Dai, the captain – played more than 100 games in the league. Others can’t reach even 45. Only eight players featured at least once in J2: Mimura and Tatsuya Onodera played more than 100 games, but the experience seems a weakness.
You could argue then that the gap between JFL and J3 in terms of competitiveness isn’t that big. And you’d be right, but every club who joined the pro-world had something. Kagosthima had a wonderful striker like Noriaki Fujimoto; both Azul Claro Numazu and Vanraure had a solid head coach; Imabari have a plan to reach certain heights. We’re fearing that none of these elements are here for Tegevajaro.
They can rely on the surprise factor and the enthusiasm that Miyazaki Prefecture will surely provide to the club. But it’s hard to imagine for them more than a battle against other teams in the bottom of the table. Nevertheless, this maiden campaign in J3 must be a learning process for Miyazaki: if they’ll do their homework throughout the next months, they might then hope for a better future for years to come.