2022 is gonna be interesting. It’ll be one to remember for many reasons: the probable arrival of a new pro-team in J3, the first consequences of the four relegations from and to J2, a returning 18 teams-format in J1 and the 30th season of professional football in Japan. Given the 2022 FIFA World Cup in December, also the calendar will be radically different, with the season taking place from early February to October.
This will inevitably impact the Winter transfer market window as well, with clubs that will have to move fast and surgically to fix their problems. But whether you’re in a relegation dogfight or just thinking how you can get to the top of your league, there will be many, many movements throughout the full Japanese football ladder.
That’s we’re gonna talk about in “Market Week”, a three-days festival over possible moves, why they should happen and the players to watch out for next Winter. We start with the first part we called “Leaps & Renegades”. On one side, we’ll talk about the players who would deserve a step forward in their career by staying in Japan; on the other one, the players who need a step back to regain confidence.
To talk about “Leaps”, we didn’t focus on obvious choices or players from teams who could get promoted. Furthermore, no players who are living their rookie season in their league (otherwise people like Hikaru Nakahara would have been in the conversation, for sure).
- Caio César
Midfielder / Age: 26
The past: The midfielder joined Kawasaki in 2018, but after 12 months he had almost no pitch time at Frontale. He went on loan for two years at V-Varen and now he’s the captain of Nagasaki, where he’s thriving in the midfield.
Why leaping? Because V-Varen gave him what he needed: time to settle. Caio César became a wonderful regista/holding midfielder, bossing J2 opponents. He clearly needs to take it up a notch.
Possible destination: It might be ironic, but Kawasaki Frontale lost Ao Tanaka a few months ago and they didn’t bring in any replacement. It’d be a good time for César to vindicate himself, even as a starter.
- Tetsuya Chinen
Center back / Age: 23
The past: Born and raised in Okinawa, Chinen joined FC Ryukyu in 2020. He took his time to develop and he’s now the starter center back of the club, a core spine of the squad.
Why leaping? FC Ryukyu had a wonderful start of the season, but after two seasons, it seems Chinen could use a new development. J1 might seem hard, but he should give it a try.
Possible destination: Under a new coach, Kashiwa Reysol might need a new center back. Or, in general, new faces to bring freshness and enthusiasm to the team.
- Sho Araki
Wing-back / Age: 26
The past: Came out from university, Araki joined Ventforet Kofu in 2018, straight after the relegation from J1. Under Akira Ito, he struggled to find his space, but 2021 saw him being an absolute protagonist as a left wing-back.
Why leaping? Kofu won’t be able to keep everyone around unless they can find a way to get back to J1 this season. Surely the 3-4-2-1 is boosting Araki’s performances and value, this might trigger a move to J1.
Possible destination: Well… Sho Sasaki, Yoshifumi Kashiwa, Yuta Imazu. Only three of the many players who signed for Sanfrecce Hiroshima from… Ventforet Kofu. And Jofuku – another former Kofu – might use fresh blood for his wingbacks department.
- Kentaro Kai
Center back / Age: 26
The past: Despite FC Gifu’s 2021 season has been nothing but memorable, Kai has developed a lot in the past years. He started in Gifu, had a loan with Tottori and now he’s the captain. He surely has a lot to offer even for J2 with his experience.
Why leaping? We might be surprised, but we don’t see FC Gifu having the run of their life to grab a direct promotion. After three years as an anchor of this team, Kai deserves another J2 chance.
Possible destination: In the grit-and-grind mechanism that Tochigi SC are right now, they could use an ambitious defender to reinforce their roster.
- Naoki Sanda
Winger / Age: 29
The past: Sanda has come a long way, going from ReinMeer Aomori and the years in JFL to his stardom in J3 with Nagano Parceiro, passing through stints at FC Imabari and Vanraure Hachinohe.
Why leaping? Because it’s time. Nagano squandered in 2020 their chance of going up and Sanda deserves to take his train to J2. Even in this bleak season for Parceiro, he’s giving his 100%.
Possible destination: His story reminds us of Hayato Nakama’s. Maybe that’s why going to Fagiano Okayama feels natural, we don’t know.
- Hiroshi Yoshinaga
Fukushima United FC
Right midfielder / Age: 25
The past: Yoshinaga joined Fukushima United FC from Nihon University in 2019. He played just five times in his rookie year, but that number went up to 31 in 2020. After the players FUFC lost in the last 12 months, he seems one of the main stars of the team.
Why leaping? Despite our best wishes, FUFC neither have a J2 license nor have the pace anymore to keep the Top 2. Yoshinaga could be the next name to leave.
Possible destination: If Thespakusatsu Gunma will be able to stay up, Yoshinaga could represent a good piece to add to their squad. Otherwise, Tochigi SC and Mito HollyHock look like solid alternatives.
About the part talking over “Renegades”, we featured players older than 25, with less than 10 league games in 2021 (until now) and coming from J1.
- Tatsuya Morita
Goalkeeper / Age: 31
The past: Among Japanese players, Morita has built himself a reputation through Kyoto Sanga, Kataller Toyama, Albirex Niigata and mostly Matsumoto Yamaga. When he joined Sagan Tosu, it appeared he was a stable J1 keeper: the COVID-19 pandemic and the arrival of Park Il-gyu changed that.
Why starting from scratch? There’s a big discussion around Japanese goalkeepers and why the development of the role isn’t working. Morita isn’t Oliver Kahn, but surely deserved a starting place in J2.
Possible destination: Tokyo Verdy are in dire need of a starting keeper. Like, a lot.
- Hirotaka Tameda
Side midfielder / Age: 28
The past: Former prodigy of Oita, Tameda was the last piece to leave Trinita before the drop to J3. He went through Avispa Fukuoka, JEF United Chiba and now Cerezo Osaka, where though he isn’t playing at all.
Why starting from scratch? He played almost every game in the AFC Champions League group, but almost no minutes in J1 and J. League Cup. He can still be useful in a J2 side.
Possible destination: V-Varen Nagasaki will surely lose some elements (Nagura could be on his way out), but they have the force of purchasing a profile like Tameda.
- Junya Tanaka
Second striker / Age: 34
The past: It seems out of place, but we’re talking about a J1 champion, a player who enjoyed an experience abroad (in Portugal) and a former member of the Japan national team (he had 4 caps). Nevertheless, Tanaka didn’t find the same luck in Kobe.
Why starting from scratch? There’s still something in him. And if Jungo Fujimoto has been able to be a factor in J2 after almost eight months of unemployment in 2020, surely Tanaka has something to give.
Possible destination: With their two forwards-system and the ability of rebooting Aria Jusuru Hasegawa’s career, Machida Zelvia is a good gig.
- Tatsuya Yamashita
Center back / Age: 33
The past: A long career in J. League, Yamashita has been mostly linked with Cerezo Osaka, with which he almost got a call for the 2014 World Cup. After he joined Reysol in 2019, things tumbled.
Why starting from scratch? Kashiwa are not counting on him anymore, since he played very few games this season. J2 could represent a decent solution to re-start.
Possible destination: FC Ryukyu have gained a reputation for rebooting careers: Takuma Abe, Koya Kazama, Koki Kiyotake… can they do it also for Yamashita?
- Naoki Nomura
Offensive midfielder / Age: 30
The past: Winger at Yokohama FC, offensive demiurge at Tokushima Vortis, steep disappointment in Oita. Under Katanosaka, we figured Nomura would have been a key-factor in a new version of the team. He didn’t.
Why starting from scratch? Because the talent is there, although its flashes have become way less common. J2 is the natural home of Nomura, where he could find back his mojo.
Possible destination: If Omiya Ardija – who have already a lot of offensive talent – can recreate the magical duo Kawata and Nomura had in Tokushima, that’d be great.
- Ryo Nagai
Striker / Age: 30
The past: Former Cerezo Osaka product, Nagai had an experience in Australia and then travelled from team to team to find a new home. Beside a solid stint in Nagasaki (17 goals in 2016), nothing worked. In Hiroshima, there’s no space for him.
Why starting from scratch? Because J2 could furnish him a chance to start over. We mentioned Abe with Ryukyu or Nakayama with Mito.
Possible destination: Giravanz Kitakyushu played the whole 2021 season without a real no. 9. Ryo Nagai could be at least a possible solution to that need.
Stay tuned for the next episode tomorrow! “Market Week” has just started, and we’ll have plenty of chances to talk about several players and their future in 2022.