The 2021 Market Report – J3 League

It wasn’t a glamorous Winter transfer market in J3. Some clubs have done more than expected, others have sat still. How these moves will influence the rest of the season is hard to tell: 2021 shall be fun to watch in the third division because the grid for the promotion-race appears to be tight. There are four-five teams who are tipped to be in this fight, but dark horses could feature behind the corner.

Few prophets were expecting Blaublitz Akita crushing their opponents last year or SC Sagamihara enduring a 18 games-run to clinch promotion in the last match. We were sure to witness a solid campaign from FC Gifu, eager to bounce back to J2, or Roasso Kumamoto gifting their fans with a positive season. We never saw that: what should be normal in J3, it doesn’t usually happen.

The same took place for the transfer market window last Winter. Certain environments flex their muscles by signing expert players or good prospects; meanwhile, others opted to just promote their own products, in the hope of witnessing their growth in 2021. In the end, we tried to draw a list of 10 transfer which has impressed us, although we had to leave some names out to grant a little bit of variance.

Nagano Parceiro, Fujieda MYFC and Kataller Toyama can be assigned to the first category of clubs, the ones who have done more than expected. On the other side, some of the squads in the bottom half of the table are just crossing their fingers and hoping that their youngsters will have a leap in performances. It’s gonna be interesting to see whoever will win in this debate, forced by the economic limitations related to the COVID-outbreak.

A good example? Kengo Tanaka is back in Nagano and Parceiro need a solid keeper to have another run at the promotion fight.

We would also have expected some talents from the major squads – especially the ones who appeared in J3 with the U-23 teams – to find a loan in the lower leagues. But it didn’t happen, so we have to confront ourselves with what’s left: the season is about to start, so let’s start running down the table.

10. Kosei Uryu | Verspah Oita » Azul Claro Numazu

We had no chance of talking about the surprising run of Verspah Oita in the 2020 Japan Football League: in a halved season, the club surprisingly won the title. They immediately cashed in by applying for the “100 Year Plan club status”, which the team gained alongside Suzuka Point Getters and Criacao Shinjuku. Unfortunately, some of their pieces left after this winning campaign.

One of them is Kosei Uryu and we’re curious to see how this move will unfold. Azul Claro Numazu is a solid choice for two reasons. First, they will provide minutes to Uryu, since they just lost Makoto Fukoin to SC Sagamihara and Tomoki Taniguchi to Gainare Tottori. Secondly, Azul Claro successfully picked players from JFL in the past to grant them a solid status in J3: can Uryu be another hit from them?

09. Koki Maezawa | Azul Claro Numazu » Vanraure Hachinohe

Talking about Azul Claro, they also lost Koki Maezawa, who gained some pitch-time in the last years: he played in 2019 twice the minutes he had in 2018, while in 2020 he featured almost 500 minutes more than the year before. He has almost 100 games under his belt, but Azul Claro opted to move forward. The winger chose then to start again from a small environment like Hachinohe.

Just like for Uryu and Azul Claro, this could be a good match between the two parts, because Vanraure lost a lot of players. Among them, the departures of Tsubasa Ando (to SC Sagamihara) and Musashi Kobukun (to Blaublitz Akita) will be hard to replace, but a profile like Maezawa could surely help the club in a season that will probably be the hardest of their professional history.

08. Shoma Otoizumi | YSCC Yokohama » Kataller Toyama

As we said, Kataller Toyama flexed their muscles and had a solid Winter transfer session. Sure, they had to let go basically their whole offensive department. Honestly, the losses of Hayate Take (to Blaublitz Akita) and Hayato Otani (to Zweigen Kanazawa) will be particularly troublesome to manage, but what impressed us the most is the choice to replace these players.

Toyama took advantage of some J2 and J3 clubs giving up expert players, but they assured themselves a very promising profile up front. Like all the products from YSCC Yokohama, Shoma Otoizumi showed some signs of potential under his former head coach, Yuki Stalph. The YSCC manager tested him in different positions, exploiting his physical strength and his working rate on the flanks.

Two goals and five assists in 32 games of his rookie season in the pro-world, Otoizumi looks like a player who could have a rise in performances this season. Toyama will count on him to be a dark horse in the promotion run and the forward might play differently from before, closer to the goal and even featuring as a no. 9 by matching with the other great signing Toyama brought in this Winter.

Case in point: this could have been the goal of the season in 2020. The next step is becoming more efficient in last twenty meters.

07. Han Yong-thae | Matsumoto Yamaga » Iwate Grulla Morioka

Where were we? Han Yong-thae had a terrific year with Kagoshima United FC in 2019: despite their relegation from J2, the forward scored 11 goals, which were enough to grant him another loan to a club in the league, Tochigi SC. Unfortunately, while Tochigi had an amazing run in 2020 (coming tenth), the North Korean forward played just 221 minutes over nine games and came back to Yamaga in October.

After another six matches in J2, Matsumoto opted to sell him in J3 and Iwate Grulla Morioka could be an excellent match, because they need someone to field alongside Brunner. The Brazilian buffalo – copyright pending – is an anchor to build around your team, but his goal ratio isn’t up to the mark and he needs a partner to link up with. If HYT can be that kind of partner, we’ll discover it as the season goes along.

06. Takuya Takahashi | Giravanz Kitakyushu » Kamatamare Sanuki

Something major happened within Kamatamare last year. And no, we’re sorry, but it’s not about the results on the pitch, since their second season-ever in J3 was even worse than the first one. But two historical symbols of the club – Ryota Nagata and captain Kenta Shimizu –opted to retire, hanging their boots. They were one of the last symbols from their J2 golden times.

Therefore, Kamatamare needed a new guardian between the posts after Shimizu served faithfully the club for six years. To replace him, Sanuki made the right choice, because Takuya Takahashi has the right pedigree to succeed him: the keeper has taken part in 134 J3 games, he featured in all leagues from J1 to JFL and he’s 31 years old, so he’s more than prepared to pick up this task.

05. Hidetaka Kanazono | Ventforet Kofu » Nagano Parceiro

One of the biggest “what if” we’ve seen in the last decade of major Japanese football, Hidetaka Kanazono left many doubts not because he was a natural talent, but because his rookie year with Júbilo Iwata – 12 goals in 28 games in 2011 – was a light that didn’t shine anymore in the years after that debut. Kanazono scored 14 goals in the other five seasons he played between Shizuoka, Sendai and Sapporo.

Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi was still playing in J1.

Even in J2, Kanazono didn’t come close to the heights he had in Júbilo, putting together just 13 goals in three years with Ventforet Kofu. After 21 games and only one goal in 2020, Kofu released him: so why Kanazono should suddenly become relevant again? It feels like he could be a positive add to Parceiro, who often looked away from promotion zone in the last seasons due to their lack of a real no. 9.

Just picture yourself that the last player to score at least 10 goals before Naoki Sanda in 2020 – not a striker, anyway – was Yuki Sato with 12 in 2015. Between 2016 and 2019, their best scorer in every season had each seven goals or less. It’s not sure that Kanazono will be the answer to these questions, but he’s one of the most experienced strikers Parceiro ever had. Who knows if this will work out?

04. Takuya Miyamoto | YSCC Yokohama » Fujieda MYFC

Last year, we were surely surprised to witness the rise of a player who’s not young anymore, but it felt like he was approaching to his true potential for the first time at 26 years old. After just three goals in four years with Mito HollyHock, Stalph unlocked Miyamoto’s potential at YSCC Yokohama. The striker scored 14 goals in 34 matches, but he didn’t opt to stay in the Kanagawa area.

Miyamoto will play again in the third division, but he joined Fujieda MYFC and we had some problems understanding this move. The club could already count on Tsugutoshi Oishi and Yasuhito Morishima, while Yuki Oshitani signed as well with the club. Assuming that Oishi will start, Fujieda play with two forwards up top: can Miyamoto confirm his progresses and grant himself a starting spot? If he’ll be able to, then MYFC will become dangerous.

03. Yuichiro Edamoto | Kagoshima United FC » Fujieda MYFC

In this case, we’re not just talking about a simple transfer: Yuichiro Edamoto is an institution of the league. He’s 32 years old, but he’s been there from the start in 2014, when he debuted in the championship with Fujieda MYFC. Seven years later, Edamoto won a J3 title with FC Ryukyu in 2018, featured with three different teams and collected 174 games (ninth all-time) and 39 goals (third all-time, but Noriaki Fujimoto is close at 42).

In two years (between 2016 and ’17), Edamoto is clearly among the best players in J3. He scores jewels like this one. Or this one. Or this one.

Debuting in J2 at 30 years old, Edamoto played a contrasting season with Kagoshima United FC in 2020. Out of the blue, though, he came back to Fujieda MYFC, granting himself a nice environment to work in. The club lost several players in the midfield and they needed a reboot: surely Jun Suzuki and Yudai Iwama will provide defensive protection, but Edamoto grants MYFC offensive solutions behind the strikers.

02. Tsubasa Yoshihira | Fujieda MYFC » Kataller Toyama

About Fujieda MYFC, we were mentioning how their forwards department is stacked. Whereas some players signed with them, one had to leave. And Kataller Toyama took advantage of this confusion by signing Tsubasa Yoshihira, who had an exciting year in 2020 in Fujieda. There’s no doubt he’ll be the starter in Toyama and being coached by Nobuhiro Ishizaki could help him developing more than before.

It’s incredible how a product of Oita Trinita’s project – born in Oita, raised by Trinita and then released 12 months ago – didn’t find any space with Katanosaka, although he won the 2016 J3 League with the club. Yoshihira is a class ’98, he debuted in J2 at only 17 years old and he looked washed up in January 2019 after just two goals in professional football. He scored two more in just one game with MYFC, but it was just the beginning.

In 2020, for the first time in his career, Yoshihira played 30 games and delivered. It might be an accident, but the head coach who gifted him a starting spot in Fujieda was… Ishizaki! The forward repaid him with 11 goals, some of them unbelievably cool. The signing of Yoshihira could change the history of all parts involved: the forward could leap to J2, the squad as well and Ishizaki could grant another talent to Japanese football (or at least to the J. League-sphere).

01. Koichi Miyao | YSCC Yokohama » FC Imabari

We were saying that YSCC Yokohama nurtures talents and develop players: Koichi Miyao is no exception. Once the club lost Naoto Misawa, the club found new material to work on under Yuki Stalph: as the Japanese-German manager told us in an interview back in June 2020, he’s proud to look after Yokohama-based talents. Raised by the Toin Yokohama University, Miyao joined YSCC in 2016.

He needed some time to settle, but 2019 was his breakout season with 31 matches and two goals, just after a disappointing 2018 (he didn’t appear at all). Stalph gave him the captaincy and he dutifully executed his job, especially establishing himself as a totem for their midfield. He became a set-pieces specialist, he has a clear vision of the game and if there was one club needing a player like this, it was FC Imabari.

After the solid run they had in the second part of 2020, a player like Miyao could bridge the gap between a seventh place and the Top 2: he’s able to play both phases, he has experience even as a center-back and he could guide the squad with authority and expertise. If everything will go smoothly for both the club and the midfielder, it could be a career-changing season for all of them.

And that’s all for the market moves from this Winter. If you want to catch up with the articles regarding J1 and J2, you read them here and here.

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