Late Bloomer

Thespakusatsu Gunma haven’t been really a squad where talents tend to blossom. Nevertheless, something happened mid-2010s. While staying in the second division and with the risk of a relegation to third tier, Gunma found a couple of bargains. First Ataru Esaka in 2015, then Yusuke Segawa and Shun Nakamura in 2016. They were fundamental to avoid the worst for a side without too much creativity. 

Esaka came out of Ryutsu Keizai University, where another solid player came through their ranks. It was a midfielder, capable of attracting some interest from Gunma. He joined in 2016, playing for two seasons there (69 games, 8 goals). At the beginning, you couldn’t even exactly give him a position: was he a striker? A winger? A clear midfielder rotation player? Not easy to knock it down.

But for a guy who lived through minors mostly, it was tough to imagine him at the highest level back at the time. He could have become one of those players like Yuki Nakashima or Koji Hirose, going from team to team in J2, reaching a stable life as a professional. Instead, something switched when he joined Montedio Yamagata, and the progress were confirmed with Avispa Fukuoka, even on the bigger stage.

Now Yuya Yamagishi is actually hot property in J1. He’s a decisive player, after a clamorous 2022 season, in which he dragged Avispa towards salvation. And his recent brace against Shonan Bellmare – with the two goals coming both in injury time to snatch a fundamental win at the Level-5 Stadium – are the testimony that things have changed. And who knows, he’s even dreaming of wearing the Samurai Blue jersey at least once.

From Gunma to Gifu

Class ’93 and the nephew of a former J.Leaguer – Tamotsu Komatsuzaki, who featured for Kawasaki Frontale and Yokohama FC between the end of the 90s and the beginning of 2000s -, Yamagishi was born in the Chiba Prefecture, where he supported Reysol and hoped to play for the team (it didn’t happen though…). Signed by Thespakusatsu, he was lucky to find himself in an environment where he could get immediate minutes.

As we said, Gunma hit a couple of home runs. Ataru Esaka in 2015, Yusuke Segawa and Shun Nakamura in 2016, and Kazuma Takai in 2017 (fun fact: Yamagishi and Nakamura played together in three different teams). All players who kept Thespakusatsu afloat in the fight to avoid relegation. Despite starting closer to the goal, Yamagishi was more of a winger, finding a way to be useful for head coaches Hiroki Hattori and Hitoshi Morishita.

But then Yamagishi opted to join a club that could have exploited his talents: FC Gifu. Despite being a small club, the presence of Takeshi Oki lit up a carnival in Gifu: just like you’re witnessing in Kumamoto with Roasso these days (although with better resources), the squad was fun to watch and didn’t back down from the challenge of playing properly offensive football, despite the scare of a relegation.

It worked the first year, when Kyogo Furuhashi and Junichi Paulo Tanaka completed the front three alongside Hiroaki Namba. It didn’t the second year, and in fact Yamagishi – who racked up 53 games and eight goals with FC Gifu – opted for the first mid-season change of his career. One that would have changed his life. 

Mid-season Changes

After 18 months in Gifu – with Oki sacked to make space for Kitano in the impossible run to avoid relegation -, Yamagishi left Gifu for Yamagata. Back then Montedio were in the run for the playoffs under head coach Takeshi Kiyama, and every little add could have been helpful to reach the Top 6.

Yamagishi had immediately an impact, being a key player for the sixth place-finish of that 2019. Montedio went on to knock out Omiya – and Yamagishi scored in Saitama – and then get knocked out by Vortis in the playoffs final. Nevertheless, Yamagishi stayed also for 2020, when Kiyama left for Kiyotaka Ishimaru to take charge.

Despite starting almost every game in a COVID-related season, Yamagata opted to let Yamagishi go. When Avispa Fukuoka came around with an offer to join their side, the midfielder accepted. It was again a crucial moment for the year of the team he was about to join since Fukuoka were in the run for direct promotion in a tough challenge with Tokushima and Nagasaki.

Shigetoshi Hasebe didn’t exactly flinch: he immediately put Yamagishi into the starting eleven, whether on the flanks or as a second striker. And Yamagishi was fundamental, with a brace against FC Ryukyu or even scoring away at Ehime, in the decisive game to clinch promotion. But many wondered: will he be good enough to survive at a J1 level?

The Definitive Leap

When they arrived to J1, Avispa Fukuoka were mostly left for dead. Many pointed out to a certain relegation. We didn’t just because keeping Hasebe on the bench and most of the team granted some continuity to a squad who needed it. But they even exceeded expectations: Fukuoka ended 2021 with an eighth place, in front of FC Tokyo and both Osaka-based teams. In a season with four relegations, the club did a majestic job to avoid danger.

In this situation, Yamagishi scored five goals and provided four assists in 29 league games. When everyone thought 2021 would have been the peak, 2022 showed that Yamagishi wasn’t over. He scored 10 goals, becoming the first Avispa player to reach double digits of goals since Pedro Troglio in 1996. He played all 34 games, featuring in different positions, even as a no. 9 when the Lukian experiment failed miserably and Juanma wasn’t available.

Yamagishi was so crucial to salvation for Avispa that he actually scored five (5!) game winners all season long. Only Anderson Lopes from Yokohama F. Marinos did the same, but in a very different structure, and with different goals for the season. And saving Avispa was fundamental to give them coverage not only in Kyushu, but also in a city where baseball is sacred – Yamagishi himself told the press he understands the leverage of SoftBank Hawks in town, who brought seven NPB titles to town between 2011 and 2020.

Strangely, Avispa managed to retain Yamagishi in the last Winter, probably at an age when the offensive midfielder could have hoped for a boost in his stocks. Nevertheless, he probably thought that Fukuoka is actually the reason why he thrived so much: “Avispa Fukuoka appreciated me very much. I decided that I wanted to play for the club again this year.” A marriage that works shouldn’t be broken.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s