Dale, J. League

J. League and South America, a magical match. In shaping Japanese football, both on and off the pitch, fútbol has been fundamental, especially in the first years. Nevertheless, if we think about the country which left the biggest legacy on Japanese football, no doubt that country is Brazil. It still is. Brazilian players keep engaging with J. League, coming and leaving at a sustained rate (they’re so many they need their section on Wiki to be sub-sectioned).

Other countries haven’t been that present. And that’s strange for Argentina, archi-rivals of Brazil and constantly leaving their mark around the world thanks to football. Only a dozen of Argentinian featured in J1 or J2 in the last decade and the one who had the biggest impact was Joaquín Larrivey (with two solid seasons with a JEF United Chiba’s jersey). But we probably expected more than that.

It seems that Argentinian fans, but also players and managers, need a boost of interest towards J. League. And there’s someone who’s pushing that cart for many of them. A young journalist, born Argentinian, but probably turned Japanese throughout of the process of engaging more and more with J. League football.

His page was initially named “J. League Argentina”, but probably you know his activity right now under the denomination of “Fútbol de Samurais”. J. League Regista took the chance of the Olympic Games – where Argentina are featuring, trying to turn around after the Rio fiasco in 2016 – to talk with Marcos Cressi (@MarkCressi32 on Twitter), who’s helped boosting the Spanish narrative over Japanese football, both on his website and others.

How did you come up with the idea of a page in Spanish over Japanese football? Since when you felt this passion for Japan and its world?

I’m currently at my third year of sports journalism, but already when I was in my final year through high school, I knew I wanted to be a journalist… so I created a Twitter page (Palo a Palo) talking football in general. I remember using a bad strategy: I opted to implement a “follow-per-follow” policy, but it didn’t work. Despite having almost 3000 followers, it didn’t feel like a real audience. For this reason, when I started my path in sports journalism, I left my old page and began a new chapter with “J. League Argentina” (now rebranded as “Fútbol de Samurais”).

Japan… came to my world because of anime (laughs). I remember around Summer 2013, throughout vacations (I was turning 13), and I saw a meme with Goku plauding one of the main characters from To-Love-Ru. From there, I stated followed more and more about Japanese culture: anime was just a bridge to Japanese football.

If you think about connections between Argentina and Japan, which kind of images do you immediately visualize?

I hope it won’t be offending to anyone, but a dry cleaning is the first thing that comes to my mind. After the Second World War and the two atomic bombs, a lot of Japanese people opted to move to Argentina and many of them decided to open a dry cleaning in the country. There’s a solid Japanese community in our country, but it’s pretty small compared to the Spanish or the Italian ones: they came to our country at the end of the 19th century because of higher salaries. Same happened with the Chinese or German communities.

Argentinian players haven’t been numerous in J. League’s history. Same goes for Japanese players in the Argentinian Super League. Would you like a change of tides, maybe more players switching between these two countries? You can even give us a Japanese example and an Argentinian one.

An important contingent of Argentinian players featured in the 90s… and many of them were actually successful. Fernando Moner with Flügels in Yokohama, without forgetting Ramón Díaz and Medina Bello with Marinos in the other side of the city. Unfortunately, since the 2000s, Argentinian players who opted for a Japanese experience decreased. I think though the Argentinian market could be interesting for the J. League: they’re cheaper than Brazilian players and a lot can be learned from them.

About Japanese moving to Argentina… well, if that happens at this point in time, we’re probably talking of a normal player. The best Japanese players must leap to Europe: I can not see Kaoru Mitoma – my favorite player in J1 (author’s note: now in Belgium) – having the time of his life in Argentina. It’s not about the current level of Argentinian football, but more related to what surrounds the Super Liga.

Football pitches in a dire state, a corrupted league, with no organization and, most of all, an out-of-the-world pressure by Argentinian fans (for example, River Plate fans incinerate the car of Gonzalo Martínez). At the same time, Argentinian never stopped despising Japan in football: the stint of Takahara with Boca Juniors left no good memories. Just think that “Diario Olé”, the most popular football newspaper of the country, made fun of him and called him “Van Pasten” because of one play where he hit the grass instead of the ball.

If you’re asking about a possible Japanese player moving to Argentina: Ryuho Kikuchi would be a nice experiment. Instead, Mauro Zárate could be interesting to see unfolding in the J. League.

How do you follow J. League in Argentina? And did your page helped someone in getting passioned about the championship? You also engage in some YouTube activity, talking about both J. League and the national team.

J. League doesn’t have many viewers in Argentina, but the few fans are deeply passionate about the league. On Twitter, you can even find a profile who retraced Gamba Osaka’s history from the 90s! (author’s note: ICONIC account).

I think it’d be pretentious by me to say that my activity helped spreading the Japanese football’s narrative in my country. I’ve just 1500 followers. Maybe I could say that there’s a strong following towards my account from my country: Argentina is the most recurring country among my followers (25,7%) and the third highest in terms of mentions (14%).

Is there a particular club you’re rooting for? Or is there a game you’d like to see live during one trip to Japan?

My favorite team is FC Tokyo: all was born because of a rumor I’ve read somewhere, which narrated how FC Tokyo fans travelled all the way to Argentina to get know chants of San Lorenzo’s fans (that’s my team in Argentina). In 2016, I started follow their results through Google and in 2019, after the rise of Takefusa Kubo, I even began watching games live.

I had the lucky chance of travelling to Japan in February 2019 and I witnessed the opening game from Osaka between Cerezo and Vissel Kobe. I even have a nice anecdote about that experience: after all the tourist activities done in Osaka, my father was tired and didn’t want to catch the game at the stadium. He thought he was going to be bored. I sold him the chance of seeing the game and he actually enjoyed the atmosphere. I remember him singing the Japanese chants (obviously in Spanish).

You have witnessed the progress of fútbol in South America and surely know how the sport developed in Europe. From a South American perspective, how do you think Asian football, and particularly Japanese, will evolve?

First and foremost, I need to say that South American isn’t what it used to be. I think it’s one of the worst moments of its history. You can see it from Copa América or, if you want to, from the FIFA Club World Cup, where CONMEBOL squads made to the final just twice out of the last five editions. The only significant club from the last years is River Plate, and then you have some decent teams, like Flamengo in 2019.

Starting from this, I can say that Japanese football is growing rapidly, and it gets closer and closer to South American football. Squads like Kawasaki Frontale or Nagoya Grampus could steadily fight for a title in several national championships. They could give everyone a run for their money in the Copa Libertadores.

We want to thank Mark for the precious time he has given us. Of course, especially if you’re a Spanish-aficionado, you can follow his cuenta on Twitter (@FutbolSamurais) and the website, while we disclosed his YouTube channel throughout the piece.

¡Mucha suerte a él y compartimos juntos este maravilloso mundo llamado J. League!

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