The Market Report – 2023, J1 League

It hasn’t been the most hectic of Winter transfer market windows in 2022-23. Clubs have been conservative, and even the usual suspects – yes, we’re looking at you Vissel Kobe – stayed in their lane to avoid overspending. Probably the effects of COVID-19 are still looming over some clubs, but some of them have been clever in putting together their team for the 2023 season.

Like last year – it’s become a sort of tradition –, we’ve studied the list of transfers, and we have to make a shoutout to Michael Master (follow him here on Twitter) and his special spreadsheet, taking note of all the transfers in all three divisions. To draw a Top 10 list of moves, “The Market Report” had to left out some important names (excluding the loans):

  • Yuya Asano had a wonderful trajectory with Sanfrecce Hiroshima, but the confirm of Tsukasa Morishima and the sudden explosion of rookie Makoto Mitsuta forced him to leave. Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo are a chance for rebirth.
  • Kyoto Sanga have finally filled out some holes in their roster; among them, Patric will surely be useful bringing more physicality and goals for the club (and cementing his J.League legacy).
  • After being a key-player since joining from Renofa Yamaguchi, Kosuke Onose will find more space at Shonan Bellmare, where he could become an important piece to try to avoid relegation.
  • Avispa did lose Jordy Croux, but the arrival of Kazuya Konno could unleash the true potential of the winger, who joined Fukuoka’s side from FC Tokyo.
  • Asahi Uenaka has the touch of a king within the penalty box, but he’s to measure himself somewhere higher. He’ll fill into the shoes of Léo Ceara as the back-up striker with Yokohama F. Marinos.
  • Gamba Osaka had a more interesting signing, but Naohiro Sugiyama could confirm himself on the top stage and gain international traction as prospect.
He was crushing oppositions in J2 last year.

But let’s go through the Top 10 transfers we’ve found from this Winter.

10. Ryonosuke Kabayama | Yokohama F. Marinos » Sagan Tosu

To us, it looks incredible that Marinos are not believing in him. They sent him twice on loan – both times at Montedio Yamagata, under Peter Cklamovski – and he was pushed by Ange Postecoglou in his last months in Yokohama as a potential breakthrough member in the squad. Nevertheless, the club has decided to let him go, and the future destination is actually interesting.

Sagan Tosu have been capable of developing or even relaunching the career of anyone. And when we say anyone, we mean ANYONE – last July, Yuto Iwasaki was playing for Japan’s national team in the EAFF E-1 Championship with the no. 10 (and his career was almost over when he joined). Let alone the work they could do with a talent who needs just to see his potential polished.

9. Toshiki Takahashi | Roasso Kumamoto » Urawa Red Diamonds

When he joined Roasso Kumamoto in J3, we had some doubts about the possible co-habitation between Takahashi, Hayato Asakawa and Kaito Taniguchi, who was then the star of the squad. Then Taniguchi left for Albirex Niigata and became a solid piece for that club. Asakawa, one of the best strikers per minute-per-goal, had to join Nara Club in the JFL to find some pitch time (and he’s going to be back to J3 in 2023).

Nevertheless, Roasso Kumamoto were right. Takahashi first found his flow in J3, then surprised everyone in J2, scoring a lot of goals. He’s surely worth the risk, but it’ll be crucial to understand if Urawa Red Diamonds are a good fit. With the dismissal of Ricardo Rodríguez and the hiring of Polish head coach Maciej Skorża, will Takahashi find a proper playing environment and minutes to explode in J1?

8. Teruhito Nakagawa | Yokohama F. Marinos » FC Tokyo

Time has gone from his golden years. In 2019, our readers crowned him as the MIP and the MVP, while the J.League named him “Player of the year” as the most-known piece of the band put together by Ange Postecoglou to win the J1 title. Today, Marinos can afford to let him go, especially because Nakagawa got a lucrative offer from a growing side like FC Tokyo.

Surely, there will be problems. FC Tokyo have already some options on the wings – Leandro, Adailton, Ryoma Watanabe. Nakagawa isn’t the same household name he was 2-3 years ago. But FC Tokyo had a decent season in the first year under Albert Puig, and an add like the winger from Marinos could actually provide the needed step to fight for an ACL spot.

7. Tomoya Fujii | Sanfrecce Hiroshima » Kashima Antlers

It’s true that Sanfrecce will probably be fine and Skibbe will find another way to manage this departure, but Fujii leaving Hiroshima is a massive news. In the last two years, the wing-back found his way into the starting eleven and became a solid resource for the purple side. Despite Sanfrecce can count on Shunki Higashi, Yoshifumi Kashiwa and other options, it’s a big loss.

Another matter, though, is understanding how much Fujii will be useful in the setup of Kashima Antlers, who took the mind-bugging decision of retaining Daiki Iwamasa on the bench. The former Antlers player didn’t have a wonderful start with the club, but he was confirmed – probably supported by the senators. Can Fujii found a proper space within the starting eleven of Antlers? And if so, in which role? Will full-back be a solid starting point for him?

6. Shusuke Ota | Machida Zelvia » Albirex Niigata

To us, it looks as one of the most exciting players Albirex could have chosen. Sure, their deck of options behind the lone striker looked already good, but Niigata chose to dispatch some of those players somewhere else. Ippei Shinozuka was released, Ken Yamura was (finally!) sent on loan to Fujieda MYFC to get some playing time. Nevertheless, there’s still a lot of competition for the starting spot.

But Ota’s rise – from Ventforet Kofu to the J1 – looked pretty similar to the one Junya Ito had from the Yamanashi Prefecture to the World Cup. Flashy, super-fast players, capable of deciding games in transition and bringing some goals. Albirex needed an improvement, and thinking of Ota lining up with Shunsuke Mito and Ryotaro Ito behind the no. 9 is a good vision for Albirex fans in 2023.

5. Taiki Hirato | Machida Zelvia » Kyoto Sanga

It looked crystal clear that Hirato needed a second chance in J1. He was nurtured by Kashima Antlers, then went on loan to Machida Zelvia, where he impressed. Unfortunately, his return to Ibaraki didn’t leave any trace, and Hirato came back to Zelvia, first on loan and then permanently. He became the captain, the main offensive option, almost unplayable for the J2 opponents.

The problem is that Machida didn’t follow the same growth. Sure, they had a good season in 2019, but also terrible ones in 2020 and 2022. Hirato couldn’t wait on leverage his rise, and Sanga needed at the same time an option for the offensive side of the squad. Dead balls, long throws, shots from distance: Hirato can provide that unpredictability that Kyoto desperately needs.

4. Takuma Ominami | Kashiwa Reysol » Kawasaki Frontale

It might look like a minor acquisition, but Frontale have just lost their captain, Shogo Taniguchi, who signed for Al-Rayyan in Qatar (and he was presented with one of the worse clips of all time). Meanwhile, Jesiel came back from a tough injury, and Toru Oniki still thinks of Shintaro Kurumaya as a center-back (for reasons we don’t understand). So there was definitely the need of finding a new CB.

Ominami joined Kashiwa Reysol from Iwata and had a solid season for Nelsinho, being one of the backbones of the team who surprised everyone last year. Reysol will lose an anchor, while Frontale are taking in an option that could become a starter if given the proper time. It could be a silent bargain, but let’s see how things unfold in Kawasaki.

3. Ryoga Sato | Tokyo Verdy » Avispa Fukuoka

Avispa Fukuoka desperately needed a proper no. 9, after the Lukian deal didn’t deliver and Juanma proved to be useful, but not to score too many goals. At the same time, Sato – who confirmed what he’s shown in his rookie season, scoring 13 goals with Tokyo Verdy in his sophomore year – is from Fukuoka and he was looking for a team that could give him a shot in J1.

The forward had two excellent seasons with Verdy, scoring 13 goals each season. He surely deserves this chance and he could become an excellent J.Leaguer, maybe even having an opportunity abroad. If he’ll manage to score the same amount of goals in J1, for Sato sky is the limit. For now, and for the future. Last note: Avispa had a 10+ goals scorer in J1 only twice (Pedro Troglio in 1996 and Yuya Yamagishi last season).

2. Riku Handa | Montedio Yamagata » Gamba Osaka

A silent bargain, no other way to put it. Handa had an excellent year with Montedio Yamagata, even being linked to AS Roma when it became clear the Giallorossi were looking to expand the Japanese reach. The deal never materialized itself, but surely there have been talks about the player. And since AS Roma didn’t exploit this chance, Gamba Osaka capitalized last Winter.

Gamba have always been a club capable of producing young talents, but there’s no debate how the technical direction seemed lost, even in times when they were actually doing some progress (e.g. under Tsuneyatsu Miyamoto). Handa adds depth, in a department where things haven’t changed that much (only Gen Shoji left to join Kashima Antlers), but there’s surely the need of interpreting the defensive approach differently.

1. Kota Yamada | Montedio Yamagata » Kashiwa Reysol

Kota Yamada has been on the rise for the last two years. Developed by Marinos, Yokohama actually did what already decided for Kabayama: they just let Yamada go, despite his two seasons with Montedio Yamagata proved more than needed how good he could be at a certain level. He had already several loans, first in J1 with Nagoya Grampus and then in the second tier with Mito HollyHock before reaching Yamagata.

Montedio lived on his magic, and Cklamovski was a good fit for the development of the player (there are several proofs on the matter). Class ’99, Yamada is now hoping to make waves with a club that actually add some creative flair – after Koyamatsu, Keita Sento joined from Nagoya Grampus. This gives Nelsinho the chance of experimenting different assets, and Yamada will be crucial for these tests.

And we’re covered as well for J1! Two articles already came out, one talking about Kenta Hasegawa’s journey in the Japanese football movement (here), and Kenta Kawai’s rise to the top from the Ehime Prefecture (here). Please follow the 2023 season and stay tuned!


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