Market Week 2021 – Europe Calling

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. The third and last part of this special concerns who might be ready for a European chance, since January will be a good time to reflect on a possible jump to the Old Continent (Daizen Maeda seems on his way to join Furuhashi at Celtic in Glasgow).

But he isn’t gonna be the only one to watch for upcoming moves, since other six players might be on their way to salute the J. League.

  • Shion Homma
    Albirex Niigata
    Winger / Age: 21

The story so far: We already wrote a piece about him one year ago, so nothing much more to add. Oh, he refused an offer from Vortis last Winter to play J1. He could take the leap without ever playing in the first tier.

Why going to Europe? Albirex Niigata have probably realized they can’t keep him around this Winter. Furthermore, they have already his replacement in Shunsuke Mito. European clubs should be already on the phone.

Possible destination: In our wildest dreams, LaLiga could be the right championship to land on. In more realistic perspectives, going to Netherlands and live the 4-3-3 experience would be nice.

  • Mutsuki Kato
    Cerezo Osaka
    Striker / Age: 24

The story so far: Already 22 when he left Chuo University, Kato had a blast of a rookie year, scoring 13 goals for Zweigen Kanazawa. Brought in to expand the attacking options at Cerezo Osaka, he’s actually taking starting duties from mid-season.

Why going to Europe? In just one year, he learnt so much. In two, he’s been able to take some pitch time from Adam Taggart and Yoshito Okubo. He scored in four different competitions, and he seems a guy capable of adapting to any situation.

Possible destination: Second tier-leagues, but he would have an impact in Belgium. Yuma Suzuki, Daichi Hayashi and Musashi Suzuki have already left a gap in which he could find a spot somewhere.

  • Shuto Abe
    FC Tokyo
    Central midfielder / Age: 23

The story so far: Abe had his breakthrough season in 2020, becoming a key-member of the FC Tokyo starting line-up once Keigo Hashimoto moved to Russia. He’s struggling more this year, but the talent is there.

Why going to Europe? This doesn’t probably look as the best time for such move, but it could be for a European club trying to purchase a human dynamo, capable of playing as a mezzala with a decent technique and with a low fee.

Possible destination: He should take the path of Ao Tanaka and move to Zweite Bundesliga, where many interesting clubs would be lucky to count on his work rate.

  • Ryotaro Araki
    Kashima Antlers
    Offensive midfielder / Age: 19

The story so far: Araki has been a revelation so far. He found a spot in a crowded offensive department at Antlers just when no one would have forecasted that. His numbers in J1 are impressive in 2021.

Why going to Europe? Antlers are used to lose some talents when they come up. It happened many times and it’ll happen again, because Kashima have a nose for talent. Araki is another line of descendance in that journey.

Possible destination: Among the ones we’re observing, Araki looks ready for bigger stages. A Junya Ito-formula – one and a half year of loaning to Europe – could work and bring him to a big league. We would say France would be a solid stage to test his abilities.

  • Miki Yamane
    Kawasaki Frontale
    Right back / Age: 27

The story so far: 18 months ago, Miki Yamane wasn’t in any scout’s notes besides Frontale’s. He came and stormed through the competition, replacing a beloved figure like Elsinho. He debuted with Japan, he won a spot within the Best XI.

Why going to Europe? It could be “now or never” for him. He played four years for Shonan Bellmare in a different system, then thrived in a 4-3-3 with Frontale. He’s clearly capable of playing different positions: ductility is a value.

Possible destination: It’d be nice to see him in one of the big squads of Portugal. Sporting Lisbon has a reputation for Japanese players; they could give J. League another try after Junya Tanaka.

  • Shinnosuke Nakatani
    Nagoya Grampus
    Center back / Age: 25

The story so far: For being just 25, Nakatani has already faced “two” careers. The first one, with Reysol, where he was a promising kid, tipped for bigger things. The second one, in Nagoya, where he acquired more confidence in his skills (and a little bit of grit).

Why going to Europe? In the general silence, Nakatani was never considered for the national team. He only debuted this year. With Gen Shoji’s form disappearing and no one behind Yoshida and Tomiyasu, it’d be nice to go to Europe and solidifying his reputation.

Possible destination: It might be strange as a choice, but Kawabe to Grasshopper seemed a nice and safe option. Switzerland isn’t the most celebrated league, but decent players come out from there. Basel and Young Boys are other options to pursue.

Nevertheless, we’ve seen how some European players have moved to Japan in the last year. We can only wish more could take that decision. We try to recommend six who could represent solid profiles in that sense, with a few rules: they’ve been part of their national team in the last two years and they’re not worth more than three millions on Transfermarkt.

  • Thomas Goiginger
    LASK Linz / AUT
    Winger / Age: 28

The story so far: Born and raised in Linz, Goiginger started from a small team like USV Köstendorf. He climbed his way to the Austrian Bundesliga, until he realized his dream of wearing the jersey of LASK Linz in 2017. To think he used to work as an industrial clerk before going full pro in football.

Why going to Japan? Linz is surely the main thought in Goiginger’s mind, but who knows if new opportunities might be of his interest.

Possible destination: The Austrian national team member could be an asset for many clubs, especially for the ones who want to stay in J1. And if Júbilo Iwata will be back in the top-flight – like everything seems to point to –, they might need some reinforcements up front.

Last Austrian in J. League: A strange match between Mladen Jutrić and Ehime FC in 2019. If we’re talking of J1, Mario Haas and JEF United Ichihara stayed together for two years in 2005-06.

  • Michael Lang
    Basel / SUI
    Centre-back / Age: 30

The story so far: A product of FC St. Gallen, Lang played for other two big clubs in Switzerland, Grasshopper and FC Basel. He stayed there until 2018, when he signed for Borussia Mönchengladbach just after the World Cup. His German experience wasn’t covered in glory and joined back FC Basel last Summer.

Why going to Japan? Theoretically there shouldn’t be any reason to leave Basel and one of the best clubs in the country, but Lang is a rare commodity in J. League: a solid, expert central defender with experience.

Possible destination: He would actually be a perfect fit for Kyoto Sanga, on their way to get promoted (now we have probably jinxed them).

Last Swiss in J. League: Johnny Leoni, who last played for Tochigi SC in 2018. The top-flight hasn’t witnessed a Swiss player since 1997, when Thomas Bickel wore Vissel Kobe’s jersey for a few seasons.

  • Timi Max Elšnik
    Olimpia Ljubljana / SVN
    Central midfielder / Age: 23

The story so far: A former Derby County youngster and player, Elšnik never played a league game for them (only League Cup matches). He went on loan to several clubs, only to go back to Slovenia in 2020, when he signed Olimpija Ljubljana. He’s just debuted for the Slovenian national team in the last international break.

Why going to Japan? He appears to be a young, promising and attractive profile for many Japanese clubs, who could even try something never heard before: player trading on a European talent. It’d be a first, but what a news that’d sound.

Possible destination: It might appear an overcorrection for a club who can count on a lot of internal talent, but who knows if Gamba Osaka could benefit from developing a foreign player into their squad.

Last Slovenian in J. League: The list is pretty long between players and even managers. Last two men to represent Slovenia in J. League were Nejc Pečnik – who last wore Tochigi SC’s jersey – and Zlatan Ljubijankić – who instead enjoyed a fruitful stint with Urawa Red Diamonds.

  • Claudiu Keșerü
    FCSB / ROU
    Striker / Age: 34

The story so far: Despite being 34, Keșerü has already lived three, maybe four different careers. He stayed attached to Nantes for seven years and played a full decade in France. Then he had a brief home season with FCSB before switching to Al-Gharafa in Qatar. He bagged more than 100 goals with Ludogorets before coming back to Romania last Summer.

Why going to Japan? We need European strikers, especially if they’re still hungry like Keșerü. Despite debuting at 27 with the national team, he scored six goals in eight games only two years ago. Kasper Junker and Jakub Świerczok paved the way, who know who’s next?

Possible destination: Kashiwa Reysol could use some European blood among their many Brazilians. After the goodbye by Olunga and the disrupted relation with Pedro Raul, someone must be their target man in 2022.

Last Romanian in J. League: Gabriel Popescu in 2005, with a JEF United Ichihara’s jersey.

  • Thanasis Androutsos
    Olympiacos / GRE
    Right-back, midfielder / Age: 24

The story so far: A beloved kid of Athens, grew up through Olympiacos’ youth ranks, Androutsos debuted in 2016 with the senior team. He needed a full season on loan to Atromitos before coming back, but he’s now found some pitch time for himself and even debuted with the national team in 2018.

Why going to Japan? At age 24, it might be early for such an experience, but Greek players are able to leave mark wherever they go. Androutsos fits the category of those acquisitions J. League has done in the last year from second-tier European championships around the continent.

Possible destination: Well, FC Tokyo would need some fresh blood, especially on the right back. Since they lost Sei Muroya, neither Takumi nor Hotaka Nakamura were enough to grant stability on the right flank (Junya Suzuki is doing a solid job, though).

Last Greek in J. League: Only two Greeks played in J. League, and they were actually both born in Melbourne. Last appearance was by Vasilis “Billy” Konstantinidis, who feature once… on Ventforet Kofu’s bench in 2017.

  • Tim Sparv
    HJK / FIN
    Defensive midfielder / Age: 34

The story so far: Tim Sparv is a particular case. He joined the Southampton academy at 16 and basically never played for the club, going first to Sweden and then Netherlands. He’s been the pillar of FC Midtjylland, then signed for AEL in Greece and he just came back to Finland last Summer.

Why going to Japan? It would be a super interesting character to witness in J. League. Sparv got the nickname of the “no-stats all-star”, has been vocal over the concerns for Qatar 2022 on “The Players’ Tribune” and he’s an open personality as well on Twitter. At 34, he could be still a factor in J1.

Possible destination: Well, is Hiroyuki Mae stay in Fukuoka? His majestic season might bring him somewhere else and Avispa would need a firm, steady hand in the middle of pitch.

Last Finnish in J. League: There’s never been a Finn in J. League. And – fun fact – Sparv debuted for Finland in… Japan, in a dreadful 5-1 away defeat in February 2009. It’s destiny: another reason to want Sparv in the league!

And that’s a wrap! “Market Week” already had two episodes available (Part 1 & Part 2), but we’ll surely have plenty of chances to talk about several players and their future throughout the next Winter. Thanks for your attention!

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