A gateway to the topflight, a chance to redeem themselves for some players in disgrace, the final stop for some careers: J2 can mean a lot for several profiles, and it doesn’t have to be seen in just one way. The meaning you want to attribute to the second division is up to you. To us, it’s probably the craziest championship we’ve ever witnessed. Not just in Japan, but globally.
Last Winter has witnessed several moves and it was pretty normal since the four relegations from J1 and the same number of teams dropping to J3 has left just 16 teams intact from 2021. At the same time, some of those saw some important changes on the bench – we’re thinking of Albirex Niigata, Tochigi SC, FC Ryukyu. Changes that will need time to be absorbed.
And the same could be applied to some players, who took their chance on a new adventure in J2. To take another step, to reboot their profiles, or simply to have a good time after some dire seasons. And we have to admit we’ve left many out of our pre-seasonal Top 10. “The Market Report” is back for 2022 and the names excluded are of certain relevance:
- Cristiano, of whom we’ve talked in our recent piece about V-Varen Nagasaki’s chances for a direct promotion.
- Shinya Yajima, who’ll look for a reboot in Omiya under Shimoda.
- Yasutaka Yanagi, who scored tons of goals as a center-back in Tochigi and now joined Fagiano Okayama.
- Ryotaro Ito, one of the most genial players from the last five years, left Urawa Red Diamonds for good to create a fantastic line-up of offensive players with Shion Homma and Kaito Taniguchi in Niigata.
But let’s go through the Top 10 transfers we’ve found from this Winter.
10. Koya Kazama | JEF United Chiba » FC Ryukyu
While commenting some FC Ryukyu’s games last season – in the phase where they were actually fighting for the Top 2 spots –, we’ve underlined how Koya Kazama is a marvelous player for J2. He doesn’t have the pace to stay in J1, but in the second division, he can actually make the difference. He’s got something of Akihiro Ienaga.
If FC Ryuyku lost an important senator, Kazama could indeed represent the final piece of the transformation began by Yoon Jung-hwan, especially now that Miki stayed and Saldanha was retained. If JEF United Chiba are solid like last year and Kazama can add an extra contribution, the club could be a contender for the playoffs.
09. Eduardo Neto | Tombense (BRA) » Oita Trinita
It’s tough to forecast how the conditions of Eduardo Neto will be. After many years in Japan – being an absolute protagonist for Kawasaki Frontale –, his passage to Nagoya Grampus left him first undermined, then unused in the great revolution by Massimo Ficcadenti. Sadly, the Brazilian midfielder went back to Brazil and joined Tombense, but now… he’s back.
It has been four years since his days at Frontale and the 34 years old-holding midfielder surely doesn’t look as fit as before, but he’ll be featuring in J2 and for a rebuilding side, under a very good manager. And Oita Trinita – now coached by Takahiro Shimotaira – desperately need a leader to at least face a mid-table season and find back their purpose after three seasons in J1.
08. Koki Ogawa | Júbilo Iwata » Yokohama FC
Do you remember Koki Ogawa? If you don’t, it’s normal. These last two years at Júbilo basically destroyed the reputation he built in 2019. It was the year when he was loaned to Mito HollyHock, scored a bunch of goals in six months under Shigetoshi Hasebe and then even wore the Japan national team shirt (and clinched a hat-trick against Hong Kong in the EAFF E-1 Championship). It seemed all ready for him to succeed at Júbilo as well.
But he didn’t. He was partially delivering under Jubero, until Masakazu Suzuki came along and opted for a defensive asset and Lukian as the only striker. But now Ogawa is finally free! He never lived up to the expectations at Júbilo, but someone – and we’d be in that group – might argue that Iwata’s playstyle didn’t fit him at all. Under Yomoda, he’ll have better chances and he proved already he’s solid for J2.
07. Masaaki Goto | Zweigen Kanazawa » Montedio Yamagata
Despite closing last season on a high and having a wonderful run of results after a managerial change, it seemed clear that Yamagata were missing a couple of pieces in the new Cklamovski’s revolution. The keeper was one of them – neither Fujishima nor Victor totally fit the paradigm of goalie needed – and Goto might be an underlying bargain after the year he had in Kanazawa.
Goto was able to take the no. 1 spot from Yuto Shirai, vice-captain of Zweigen and absolute legend at the club. He did and he played well, although he suffered a lot in the troublesome season lived with Kanazawa. He even saved a fundamental penalty – in the home game against Albirex Niigata – which proved to be a key-moment in the relegation fight. If he can fit Cklamovski’s style of play, Montedio got an inch closer to a playoff spot.
06. Thomas Deng | Urawa Red Diamonds » Albirex Niigata
Strange, isn’t it? It could be on the cards that Deng would have not worked under Ricardo Rodríguez in Saitama, but to not find another gig in J1? It appears too severe for the Australian center-back. So, Deng had to reinvent himself and found a new gig at Albirex Niigata, in a club that has a solid and once-in-a-lifetime chance of being a contender for direct promotion in 2022.
While up front thy have a lot of solutions (they kept Homma and Taniguchi, they added Ryotaro Ito as well), Albirex Niigata lacked some responses in the back. Kazuki Chiba is a little bit old, Michael James Fitzgerald is a classical J2 player, and Daichi Tagami featured mostly as a right-back. They badly needed an upgrade. Thomas Deng might represent the right piece of puzzle.
05. Kazuma Takai | Renofa Yamaguchi » Mito HollyHock
Takai has been the “one that got away”. After one striking season in Gunma, he then signed for Tokyo Verdy, where he didn’t find the same groove, and then ended up in Yamaguchi, where he clearly was the best player in the roster, but he was never able to have more than occasional glimpses of greatness (due to injury or the club being constantly involved in relegation fights).
His move to HollyHock stands out as a clever move by both parties. Mito are a rollercoaster, an amusement park you must watch. But among the many acquisitions they’ve done again, purchasing Takai is a niche and effective move. And at the same time, Takai might actually have a shot at clinching playoffs this season, so…. why not?
04. Jordy Buijs | Kyoto Sanga » Fagiano Okayama
Fagiano Okayama went through a disappointing 2020 and they were in kind of the same way for 2021, until a positive and long run of results – provided by the effective defense and the immense talent of Satoki Uejo, who now left and joined Cerezo Osaka – changed the season for the better and left Fagiano mid-table. The board promised to bring more talented players and they delivered indeed.
They have Yanagi, Tiago Alves, Shirai. They retained Mitchell Duke and they signed Miyazaki permanently… but now they have one of the best defenders in J2. We were expecting Jordy Buijs to be back in J1 – after three seasons in J2 – and enjoy his time there. Sanga didn’t think the same and they let him go, but the Dutch defender can be still a game-changer in the second division (especially with Takashi Kiyama at the helm).
03. Yoshiki Fujimoto | Ehime FC » Montedio Yamagata
Montedio Yamagata are among the clubs that had the best Winter transfer market window in J2. Intelligent operations, smart moves, clever acquisitions – like signing Kota Yamada permanently from Yokohama F. Marinos (a move that we didn’t expect Marinos to let happen). But there’s more, because they switched some players up front as well and they found the right solution for an emergency.
After two satisfying years, Vinicius Araujo opted to leave and not renew his contract. Although the Brazilian striker hasn’t still reached an agreement with another club, Montedio found the perfect replacement with almost no struggles. Yoshiki Fujimoto scored 10 goals with Ehime FC last year, and it wasn’t granted. With Yamada alongside him, Yamagata could really dream big in 2022.
02. Ömer Tokaç | Fukushima United FC » Tochigi SC
Year of changes in Tochigi. After surviving another relegation scare – avoiding the four drops with some games still to play –, the club surprisingly let Kazuaki Tasaka, one of the best masterminds in J2. To replace him, though, they took the correct decision by hiring Yu Tokisaki, the demiurge behind the best season ever in the history of Fukushima United FC.
And if the new manager will face an uphill battle to translate his brand of football in Tochigi, he’ll surely have some help from one new face. Ömer Tokaç finally leaped to J2 after a solid (and mostly injury-free!) year in Fukushima, proving that Shonan should have looked better into his situation. Tochigi hoped that Mori would have been the successor of Akimoto, but maybe the Turkish fantasista is the right answer.
01. Jin Izumisawa | Ventforet Kofu » Omiya Ardija
Okay. We’re talking about an almost MVP in J2 last season. Until Izumisawa was healthy and every weekend on the pitch, Ventforet had been amazing to watch. The magician called Akira Ito made sure that the groove wasn’t lost after the heavy injury the winger suffered mid-season, but it was undeniable how he was having a season like rarely seen before, almost justifying another shot at J1.
Instead, Izumisawa has stayed in J2, but he opted to come back to Omiya with a leadership role and with an exciting squad. We won’t forecast see Ardija reaching the playoffs – Masahiro Shimoda is very solid at developing players, not obtaining major results –, but they could easily your first choice to watch highlights on Sundays. Can you imagine him, Kawata and one between Shibayama and Ono up front? Priceless.
And that’s the first part of the pre-season coverage for 2022. If you have missed them, read here to understand more over V-Varen’s promotion chances and here to scour how Masaaki Yanagishita will manage his sixth year in Kanazawa.