20 teams, 38 games. J1 League was never like this and 2021 represented an exception, which unexpectedly stretched the league in a manner never imagined. At the end of last year, anyway, the relegation fight went on for 36 games, deciding the last drop in the last match of the season. Back to 18 squads for 2022, many teams understood the importance of reinforcing the roster for this year.
It was indeed a rich session, with many players leaving J. League for a European chance and taking chances in the Old Continent. Internally, some moves took the stage and J1 is ready to display again the best talents to the world. Beyond the title race and the relegation fight, some players will steal the eyes of neutral fans. Furthermore, to draw a Top 10 list of moves, “The Market Report” had to left out some important names:
- He was indeed a fun player to watch under Ricardo Rodríguez, but Tatsuya Tanaka has left Urawa Red Diamonds to join Avispa Fukuoka, where he’ll surely play an important part under Hasebe.
- Talking about Urawa, they replace Tanaka with Yosuke Matsuo, a prodigy at Yokohama FC and former youth member at Reds (and he announced it with
- Naoyuki Fujita is back at Sagan Tosu from Cerezo Osaka, coming to his old club to help the midfielder after losing a couple of key players.
- After letting Elsinho go, Takeru Kishimoto is the new right-back for Shimizu S-Pulse. The former Tokushima Vortis is expected to confirm his huge development from the last years.
- Last but not least, we would have definitely included Satoki Uejo, who signed for Cerezo Osaka from Fagiano Okayama, if not for two reasons: a) we’ve already covered his profile last October; b) it’s really important to understand how he’ll be fielded because the wrong position could hinder his maiden season in J1.
But let’s go through the Top 10 transfers we’ve found from this Winter.
10. Hideki Ishige | Shimizu S-Pulse » Gamba Osaka
The feel-good story of the season? We can’t be clear enough on how happy we’re to see him back in J1. A few years ago, Hideki Ishige was the diamond coming through the S-Pulse’s youth sector, catching the eyes of many observers. Indeed, there were rumors of Manchester City (!) evaluating his profile. Then, two serious injuries disrupted his development and stopped every dream of playing abroad.
He ended up with an almost-over career, but two different loans to Fagiano saved him. The first, in 2017, rebooted his career, giving him more pitch time once he was back at S-Pulse. The second, last year, showed everyone he was still a serious baller. Now he opted to leave Shimizu for good, joining Gamba Osaka. Given how Katanosaka has revived so many careers, we wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the national team after the World Cup.
9. Douglas | Vissel Kobe » Kashiwa Reysol
Did he just make a mistake? And to which move are we talking about? From our perspective, his stint in Kobe was disappointing. He left S-Pulse as the savior and possible MVP of 2019, only to end up in a two years-tenure with Vissel, where he gradually lost importance, for solid reasons (the growth of Kyogo Furuhashi was undeniable) and individual factors (he didn’t perform like in the years before).
Joining Reysol – a serious candidate to drop in 2022 – might be looking like the graveyard move, but the Brazilian striker is one of the few hopes for Kashiwa to avoid the worst. Last year, they lost first Olunga, then Esaka, and now they saw Kamiya and Segawa leaving as well. A decent version of Douglas – 53 goals in J1, 89 including J2 – is the main difference between a dire season and a possible retain of a J1 status.
8. Seiya Maikuma | V-Varen Nagasaki » Cerezo Osaka
Cerezo were among the teams who made a conscious choice throughout the last Winter transfer market window: renewing, at all costs. They brought in an immense amount of talent – Suzuki, Nakahara, Uejo –, and they still have some on loan (Nishikawa at Sagan and Fujio at Tokushima are just two examples). Seiya Maikuma is just another interesting name now at the disposal of head coach Akio Kogiku.
Sure, there are hierarchies to respect: Riku Matsuda is the starting right-back, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see Maikuma starting at a certain point and maybe snatching that spot by the end of the year. The former V-Varen had a blasting developing trajectory in 2021, he could even be in JNT conversation by the end of the year (if Yamane did it, why not Maikuma, especially in a time where Japan doesn’t have promising full-backs?).
7. Gabriel Xavier | Nagoya Grampus » Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
This page won’t hide: Gabriel Xavier is probably the classiest player J. League has seen in the last decade. His stint at Nagoya – which lasted five years – hasn’t always shown the best of the Brazilian fantasista, but his peaks were immense. He wasn’t the right player for Ficcadenti (indeed, it was Yahiro Kazama who brought him to Japan from Brazil) and he wasn’t going to be a fit for Kenta Hasegawa (who had problems with another talented Brazilian).
Instead, Mihailo Petrović could be the right head coach to manage Gabriel Xavier and turned him into an absolute star of this league. On an absolute scale, the Brazilian isn’t probably a better player than Chanathip, but in a 3-4-2-1 system and all these players running in his place – Suga, Arano, Kaneko, Ogashiwa – is a luxury that Consadole Sapporo can afford (the same kind of reasoning they’ve applied on Akito Fukumori).
6. Yuta Higuchi | Sagan Tosu » Kashima Antlers
Wow. Sagan Tosu are crying the loss of one of the most talented players they’ve ever produced, but it was hard to imagine Higuchi staying put also in 2022. And his next move is solid because Antlers are a place where talent can bloom, develop, and take the next step. Ask Yuma Suzuki, Ryotaro Araki (who’s still in Japan for reasons unknown to us), Caio, and many, many others.
That’s a solid move for two reasons: a) Kashima can reinvigorate the attitude Higuchi already showed with Sagan, matched by a massive talent as an offensive midfielder; b) we don’t see Araki being retained this Summer, because it would be madness for any European club to leave him there. But if Araki leaves, Kashima will already have his replacement in-house.
5. Koya Yuruki | Urawa Red Diamonds » Vissel Kobe
We understood the strategy of Urawa Red Diamonds – who had a royal session this Winter on the market – but letting Yuruki go was surprising. The former Montedio Yamagata had probably the best season in Saitama, he was growing and got to be JNT material (in a role where, unfortunately, there’s too much competition). With Tanaka leaving, we expected him to start in the 2022 season.
Instead, Urawa let him go and Yuruki joined Kobe, in a dodgy situation. Yes, because on paper Vissel are already full of forwards (Bojan, Osako, Muto, Sasaki, Lincoln, Nakasaka, Oda, and even the return of Noriaki Fujimoto), but Yuruki seems the right talent to lean on. A trident with him, Muto and Osako could work, but only the 2022 season will testify this.
4. Lukian | Júbilo Iwata » Avispa Fukuoka
Avispa are probably one of the biggest questions this year. Not because of the personnel or the head coach – Hasebe stayed, just like captain Mae and most of the players –, but because it’s hard to match the performances of 2021. Especially if you keep in account the departures: no more Emil Salomonsson (who came back to Sweden), and two further losses upfront (Bruno Mendes is back to Cerezo and John Mary is no longer available).
Avispa needed a good striker, and they did the right move. Lukian played a comparable brand of football in Iwata, he could be the right fit or actually an upgrade to the two names mentioned before. He could match both the speedy and creative Yuya Yamagishi and the classic no. 9 Juanma: in the end, Fukuoka have maybe transformed a loss into a precious opportunity.
3. Tatsuki Seko | Yokohama FC » Kawasaki Frontale
No discussion over the player: more than Matsuo, more than Koki Saito, more than others, Tatsuki Seko was the real revelation in Yokohama. In the year when Yokohama FC clinched promotion, he surely was an asset, but it wasn’t THIS important. Instead, in the successive two seasons, he became a key player, even wearing the captain’s armband. Rightfully, Kawasaki looked at him and scooped him up for their squad.
Frontale missed a mix between Morita and Tanaka, now they have it, despite having Tachibanada developing and having brought back João Schmidt (who strangely started the Japanese Super Cup and we’ve seen only a few minutes from Seko). Hopefully, the former Yokohama FC will gradually crunch minutes from his teammates.
2. Jakub Słowik | Vegalta Sendai » FC Tokyo
We have to be honest: Słowik was expected to stay in J1, but we forecasted him as the perfect fit for another top-flight club. Why have Kyoto Sanga not taken this step? The Polish goalkeeper would have been the ultimate upgrade for a squad managed by Cho Kwi-jea. Instead, they have now four keepers and not a clear starter… well, too bad for them! FC Tokyo took the chances and gifted new head coach Albert Puig with a massive improvement.
In fact, the keeper situation was complicated in the capital: Hatano developed, but not as much as it was probably expected. Hayashi is chased by injuries and lost relevance. Kodama is a J2 keeper, and he suddenly started a few matches last year… in the end, FC Tokyo needed a clean start in the role. One final doubt? Is Słowik the right keeper to play under Puig? Having seen what happened in Niigata, we keep some doubts for ourselves.
1. Katsuya Nagato | Kashima Antlers » Yokohama F. Marinos
In a strange transfer market window – where Marinos were weakened by some losses, like Daizen Maeda and Thiago Martins –, the club did indeed some good moves. Nishimura as a backup striker, Amano sent to Korea to free some pitch time for Kaina Yoshio, Fujita in the midfield, Eduardo as an immediate answer to the loss of Thiago Martins… but mostly, the successor of Theerathon on the left flank: Katsuya Nagato.
His numbers kept being undervalued by neutral fans, but he had an amazing run in Sendai with Vegalta and he did deliver as well with Kashima Antlers. When Koki Anzai came back from Portugal, unfortunately, his pitch time decreased a bit. A fresh start in Yokohama seems a win-win move for everyone involved.
This is the first article to cover the pre-season in J1. Two more will come in the next days, but you can already read here which Top 10 moves we picked for J2 (which will start as well this weekend). Enjoy the 2022 season and stay tuned!