J. League Worldwide #12

There’s nothing more legendary than seeing something becoming worldwide, property of everyone, global. J. League is trying to achieve that, but to do so, you need a global fanbase. And it’s there, although its numbers can certainly rise. In this series of pieces – which will all fall under the label “J. League Worldwide”, we’re trying to tell the personal and professional stories of Japanese football fans all over the world.

Before introducing the eleventh installment of the series, I want to remind the efforts of Stuart Smith in starting this column (you can find him @Sushi_Football on Twitter, doing the good job of spreading the word for J. League). Eleven episodes are already in and the last one – which was published one month ago – made us know Thomas, a hard-core fan of Shimizu S-Pulse and French follower of the championship (@Tich_S-Pulse).

And if you can read here his interview with us, for Episode number 12, we move to Eastern Europe, almost Asia. Turkey is a marvelous land, crazy for football like few others in that zone of the world, but strangely Turkish players haven’t been that frequent in J. League: only five of them featured, mostly in the mid-2000s, although the newly-arrived Tochigi SC striker Ömer Tokaç has already made some waves in Fukushima.

In fact, the protagonist of today’s piece interviewed the winger and, in general, he’s trying to expand the awareness about J. League in Turkey. The name of the young lad is Batuhan Çakıroğlu, who’s managing the page “Nippon Calcio”: a way to bridge the gap between his passion and Japan, but also to learn more about the culture and the tradition of the land from the Far East.

Where are you from and when you first started following J. League?

I am from Turkey, Ankara. I started following J. League at the beginning of the 2021 season. I love playing and watching football and I want to work in the football industry in the future. While I was searching how to get into the football industry, I found that there is a job called “scouting”. And I decided that scouting is the best job for me at the beginning.

In March 2021, while J. League Matchday 3 was being played, I started to write and share my player analysis on an app about scouting. The reason why I started to follow J League is that I know Japanese. Now, I am making scouting as a freelancer. I am sometimes offering players to clubs which I have contacts.

Furthermore, there is a team in Japan Amateur Division called “FC Türkgücü Fukuoka 21”, which I am helping them in several situations. As an example, I translated their internet sites and a few documents to Turkish. Due to my age (I’m 17 years old), I am busy because of my school and university entrance exams. After I will turn 18, I want to make this job more official and professional.

I have a website and several social media accounts linked to “Nippon Calcio”, my project over J. League. Sometimes people ask my Twitter or Youtube account’s name, and I am answering like “Just google Nippon Calcio“. If you google Nippon Calcio, it shows my accounts and website primarily and it makes me happy.

Do you have a favorite team or player?

My favorite Japanese team is FC Ryukyu. I love Okinawa and Ryukyu culture and I want to travel there, so that’s why FC Ryukyu became my favorite team when I started to follow J. League. Besides Ryukyu, I like the atmosphere and the team structures of Avispa Fukuoka and Kyoto Sanga too.

However, my favorite player is Ryuho Kikuchi from Vissel Kobe. He is a solid defender. Kyogo Furuhashi and Kaoru Mitoma opted for transfers to Europe, so I don’t want to count them. Besides Kikuchi, I also like Emil Salomonsson. Emil is a great human being and sometimes we are messaging from Twitter. He helped me a lot with a few issues.

We’re used to seeing a lot of coverage around football here in Europe or South America. A tendency growing as well in North America and Asia. How do you keep up with the news regarding the league?

I generally keep up with the Japanese news. I know Japanese on an intermediate level, but I can understand the general ideas of the news. Also, there are a lot of accounts that share news in English on Twitter, and a few accounts that are my acquaintance sharing news in their languages like Portuguese, Spanish, Indonesian, etc.

Finally, I want to mention that J. League official broadcasting “DAZN” is terrible. I can watch matches, but DAZN Twitter account’s short videos are unavailable in my region. I’d like to see the latest goals from matches that I am not watching. This is ridiculous: South Korea’s K League is better on this (author’s note: indeed. K-League’s approach proved to be very extensive, we noticed it from the pandemic times).

Have you ever been to Japan for some matches? If so, how was the impact? And if not, which match, and which aspect are you longing the most to?

I have never been to Japan. A few months ago, I wanted to study university in Japan. However, I postponed my plan due to many problems. I want to watch FC Ryukyu, Avispa Fukuoka and Kyoto Sanga’s matches in the stadium. As I mentioned, I like their stadium atmosphere and I am wondering about it.

In 2019, it seemed the gap was bridging between Japan and Turkey. A Turkish player featured for Júbilo Iwata, while two of the biggest Japanese stars from the 2010s – Yuto Nagatomo and Shinji Kagawa – were respectively featuring for Galatasaray and Besiktas.

From your point of view, how do you think J. League has been perceived in your own country? And there’s a space to improve the image of the league around the world, just like they’re trying to do?

Generally, in Turkey, there are a few types of football fans who are following J. League, like bettors, Twitter accounts who are interested in different football cultures, and scouts. So that’s why we can say that reputation of J. League is a little low in Turkey. I wrote an article on my website and I want to explain this issue briefly.

If we look at Europe’s top 5 leagues, they do not want to open to the Turkey market. There are lots of problems with this, but I can identify two main issues: broadcasting and forged product sales. And if we put all of these problems together, there’s one main problem that stands out: the economic crisis.  In addition, if we compare J. League and Turkish Süper League, we can see the contrast in terms of marketing and branding.

Süper Lig and Japanese club’s marketing and branding are terrible. On the other hand, it’s terrific for J. League and Turkish clubs. Therefore, that’s a contrast between leagues and clubs. J. League’s market is very visible in the Far East and Southeast Asia, while we don’t have a market for Süper Lig… so I think that J. League is always one or two steps forward compared to the Süper Lig.

We want to thank Batuhan for the time he conceded us: he’s a passionate lad, a promising profile and surely a well-needed help for J. League to expand in one of the most football-passionate lands of the world. You can follow his work through “Nippon Calcio”, whether it’s his website, Twitter account, or YouTube channel!

Episode 13 will come soon, so stay tuned!

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