No Gamba game this week due to the international break (probably just as well for my sanity), so I thought rather than take a rest I’d do something a bit different. First, when you look below you’ll find updated versions of the J1 stats tables I put out just after the closure of the summer transfer window, once again credit must go to J Stats for the raw data. After that comes the main course. As many of you may know, I dip my toes into J2 coverage now and again with my appearances on J-Talk Extra Time, and with that in mind I’ve selected eleven J2 players I think will be playing J1 football next year and suggested possible future destinations.
Thanks again for all your support and as this blog post is slightly off the beaten path for me, I’m extremely interested to hear constructive feedback on it. Please get in touch either on Twitter or WordPress.
J1 Stats tables
Again I won’t do much analysis on this as I encourage you to check out @R_by_Ryo on Twitter if you like this kind of thing and want to see it discussed in greater detail. Briefly though, three things that jumped out at me when comparing these tables to the ones I published about 4 weeks ago.
1. Gamba’s attacking numbers have risen steadily without too much adverse effect at the other end of the field (granted the defensive stats were terrible last time too).
2. Frontale have outperformed xG For by an even greater rate than they did previously, conversely Marinos attack has gone in the opposite direction, is Ado Onaiwu being missed more than we might have thought?
3. Kashiwa, like Gamba, continue to be a bit of a basket case in terms of numbers, especially xG For. They really need a new goalscorer for Christmas.
Just one more thing…as Columbo used to say. Not included below, but discovered in the process of putting these tables together, when Tokushima complete less passes per game they win more, please someone get that memo over to Dani Poyatos if the 3-0 win over Tosu with a season low 166 completed passes didn’t do the trick already.
On the road to J1 2022
Below you’ll find the eleven ‘hot prospects’ I’ve selected based on my 2021 J2 viewing, but before that here are some ground rules I set myself.
* No Kyoto or Iwata players as those two seem destined to be in J1 next year anyway meaning promising youngsters like Sota Kawasaki, Shogo Asada and Riku Morioka will get a crack at the top flight just by remaining with their current clubs.
* No J2 players currently on loan from J1 sides. Anyone who has proven themselves during a loan spell this season will likely be playing at a higher level in 2022. This rules out the likes of Kota Yamada, Kaina Yoshio, Hidetoshi Takeda and Takumu Kawamura among others.
* No prior J1 experience. Like all the rules above this makes it far easier to limit the selection to just eleven players. Leo Takae, Yoshiaki Takagi and Jin Izumisawa are examples of the kind of player eliminated by this clause.
Right, here we go…
Goalkeeper (20 years old)
Notes: Initially I was going to select Blaublitz Akita’s Yudai Tanaka here, but his form has been a little patchy of late, so instead I’ve opted for someone whose star is definitely on the rise, Kosuke Inose. After starting the season as third choice behind Junto Taguchi and Dany Carvajal, Inose bided his time until injuries struck. Taguchi himself had shown fine form before damaging his hand and there would have been some trepidation from Ryukyu supporters as to what would happen when Inose took over between the sticks. They needn’t have worried as what they have seen is a string of assured performances, none more so than in the 2-0 loss at Júbilo Iwata last week where he was faultless at both goals and dealt well with the numerous crosses sent his way.
Potential Suitors: Sapporo may be looking for a new custodian with Takanori Sugeno ageing and Kojiro Nakano not yet living up to expectations,. Alternatively, Kawasaki could be in the market for a long-term replacement for Jung Sung-ryong and Inose might be the man for them.
Right-back / Wide midfielder (23)
Notes: To quote Harry from Home Alone, “Ever since I laid eyes on that house, I wanted it.” Replace ‘that house’ and ‘it’ with ‘Seiya Maikuma’ and ‘him’ and I think that sums up my thoughts on him coming to Gamba. Alas, the signing of Ko Yanagisawa likely means that Yuya Fukuda and Leo Takae’s former senpai at Higashi Fukuoka High School (Ryotaro Araki is another alumni from that hotbed of talent) is unlikely to be moving to Gamba in the near future. He joined Nagasaki at the start of last season as a forward, but was quickly converted to right-back where he’s excelled, notching 3 goals and 4 assists from 36 outings in his debut campaign and far exceeding those numbers in his sophomore year. His header against Kyoto on Saturday means he’s equalled last season’s total of 3 goals, but more impressively has 9 assists from 28 appearances and seems to be a shoe in for J2 team of the year. Despite mostly playing as a right-back, he can be deployed on either side of a midfield four and presumably could be re-converted to an inside-forward.
Potential Suitors: Having attended Momoyama Gakuin University in Osaka, a return to Kansai could be on the cards with Cerezo needing to reduce the average age of their squad sharpish and potentially being in the market for a long-term replacement for Riku Matsuda. Should Miki Yamane, J1’s own right-back assist machine head to Europe this winter then Maikuma might become a target for Toru Oniki’s Frontale juggernaut.
Notes: One of several impressive right-backs in the league, the tireless Handa has really burst onto the scene this year, thriving under the tutelage of Peter Cklamovski. Perhaps more dynamic, but also more raw than Maikuma, the Japan Under-20 international, and Paris 2024 candidate will require a bit of polishing from an experienced coach, but he definitely has the potential to become a regular J1 player in the coming years.
Potential Suitors: I might be looking at things a bit too simplistically here, but with the Cklamovski – Marinos connection there’s a good chance Handa could end up plying his trade at the Nissan Stadium in the coming years. Whether he goes there directly or is signed then loaned back to Yamagata to develop more under Cklamovski remains to be seen. Ken Matsubara and Ryuta Koike are the two current incumbents of the right-back slot in Yokohama, and it’ll be interesting to see what route Kevin Muscat, a former right-back himself, opts to take with that position.
Notes: Will the fact that he’s out for the rest of the season with a fractured leg help Ryukyu fend off potential suitors? If I use Arata Watanabe’s move from Niigata to Oita last winter as a cherry picked example, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see the impressive Chinen turning out for a J1 club in 2022. After a slow debut season following his graduation from Kindai University, Okinawa native Chinen shone for J2 surprise packages Ryukyu in the early part of this campaign. His partnership with Ryohei Okazaki solidified a previously porous rearguard and allowed the Bengara Reds to challenge at the top of the standings.
Potential Suitors: Kashiwa will probably be extremely active in the transfer market this off-season and with Taiyo Koga the only centre-back to really impress for the Sunkings this year, a move for Chinen could well work for both club and player.
Notes: Inoue has made the step-up from J3 to J2 this year in seemingly effortless fashion, quickly becoming a defensive leader for Fagiano, who despite sitting 13th on the log, have conceded a paltry 27 goals in 32 matches to date (2nd in the league, trailing Kyoto by just a single goal). Joining Gainare Tottori straight out of high school in 2015, Inoue played 6 solid seasons in J3 and earned his stripes before heading south to Okayama last winter. Having just 32 J2 appearances under his belt is the only thing I could see stopping J1 teams approaching him, some may opt to sit tight and see how he does next year in what could be a more attack minded Pheasants outfit.
Potential Suitors: Gamba and Kashiwa have both underwhelmed defensively and as a collective this season and Inoue could be a relatively cheap way to help them plug some gaps at the back. Kobe, buoyed by the outcome of their move for Ryuho Kikuchi, another centre-back from an unfashionable J2 club, might be tempted to look to Inoue as they seek to ease out the impressive, but ageing Thomas Vermaelen.
Full-back / Wing-back (26)
Notes: He provided 2 assists in Kofu’s impressive 2-0 win over Yamagata at the weekend (if you haven’t already, check out ex-Toin Yokohama forward Yoshiki Torikai’s brilliant strike from the half-way line), but rest assured Araki was already in my thinking for this line-up long before Saturday. In fact his closest competition came in the shape of team-mate Masahiro Sekiguchi, but he only just returned against Montedio having missed the previous 6 fixtures. Araki joined Kofu from Kokushikan University in 2018, but endured a frustrating first couple of seasons in Yamanashi before finally cracking the starting line-up last year. Able to play on either flank as a wing-back in Ventforet’s 3-4-2-1 system, as well as having the ability to operate as a full-back in a 4-4-2, Araki has 12 assists in 60 games across 2020-2021 and his excellent set-piece deliveries could make him an important weapon for many a J1 side.
Potential Suitors: I know they haven’t been promoted just yet, but Júbilo Iwata use the same 3-4-2-1 set-up as Kofu making the transition from Yamanashi to Shizuoka an easy one. Urawa are currently playing with a back 4 and left-back is an area of concern, kantoku Ricardo Rodriguez has used a 3 back system in the past and having both Araki and Hiroki Sakai available to him might prompt a switch in Reds’ style of play.
Notes: After initially breaking into the Machida top-team as a makeshift full-back in his debut campaign in 2019, Sano has gone on to become one of J2’s most dependable central midfielders, forming an excellent partnership alongside Leo Takae in the Zelvia engine room. His stamina is not in question having started 41 of 42 games during last year’s epic Covid compacted season, though he has had a couple of minor injury problems this term. He’s the steady hand in the Machida midfield who provides a protective shield for his centre-backs and picks out more skillful team-mates in attack with simple passes.
Potential Suitors: I’ve mentioned before that I thought FC Tokyo missed a trick by choosing Takuya Aoki over Daiki Matsuoka last winter, however, signing Sano, who wouldn’t even need to move house should the deal go through, would be shrewd business in my book. Hiroshima are another side in need of a central midfielder due to the departure of star turn Hayao Kawabe and the ongoing injury issues plaguing up-and-comer Kodai Dohi. Nagoya, who also fell into the FC Tokyo trap of signing ‘safe options’ when they brought in Kazuki Nagasawa could possibly be attracted to Sano, though he doesn’t really fit the MO of other recent additions to their squad.
Right / Left Wing (25)
Notes: Like Rikito Inoue above, Nakahara has shone in his debut season at J2 level. Initially making a name for himself with hometown club Roasso Kumamoto following his graduation from Komazawa University, Nakahara was part of an impressive attacking unit that also included Kaito Taniguchi (now Niigata). However, Roasso’s backline repeatedly let them down meaning they slipped out of the automatic promotion places last year and with Nakahara being too good for another season of J3 football, forward thinking Yamagata swooped in for him. A slow start to the season received a shot in the arm upon the arrival of Peter Cklamovski, and under the Australian, Nakahara has notched an impressive 4 goals and 7 assists to date.
Potential Suitors: I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but Kashiwa have a history of dipping into J2 for transfers and Nakahara could be a good fit there as they search for a younger replacement for Cristiano. However, Nakahara’s age might put off Kashima who tend to buy younger players they can develop, while Marinos may be dissuaded by their horrible J2 recruitment campaign before the start of the 2020 campaign. Should Sapporo lose Takuro Kaneko in the winter (his display against Gamba last Saturday may have helped speed up that process), Nakahara could be the ideal man to join the Rossoneri and partner Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa in the inside-forward positions.
Inside Forward / Winger (23)
JEF United Chiba
Notes: 8 goals and 5 assists from 32 appearances for a team that have found the back of the net just 30 times during that period aptly illustrates how Tomoya Miki has taken the JEF attack by the scruff of neck this season. This means, in my book anyway, he’s more than earned a shot at the top flight in 2022. Miki played 9 times as a designated special player on loan from Kanto Gakuin University, not really one of Japan’s varsity powerhouses, in 2019 and largely had to be content with a spot on the bench during his first season has a pro last year. However, 2021 will undoubtedly be seen as his breakthrough campaign, with it’s peak being reached between rounds 13-16 where he contributed 4 goals and 2 assists in the space of 4 matches to help his side to a valuable 8 points. Of everyone I’ve selected here, Miki is probably the one I’m most confident will definitely become a J1 player next season.
Potential Suitors: I think Sean Carroll hit the nail squarely on the head on a recent episode of JTET when he said Tosu would be the ideal destination for Miki. J1’s surprise packages this year have made a habit of picking up undervalued talent in J2 in recent years, think Nanasei Iino, Tomoya Koyamatsu, Noriyoshi Sakai and Keita Yamashita, and Miki appears to have the skill-set to adapt to Tosu’s style of play very quickly.
Winger / Number 10 (21)
Notes: Such an obvious pick for this kind of article that I was almost tempted to leave him out for a more left field choice such as Shusuke Ota or Shunsuke Mito. In truth, such has been the hype around young Homma that we can almost view 2021 as being slightly underwhelming with 5 goals and 6 assists from 31 outings and 8 of his last 14 appearances coming from the substitutes bench. I had a good discussion with Jon Steele on last week’s JTET about Niigata’s attacking strategy, or lack thereof, and how it might be hindering a fledgling talent such as Homma who perhaps needs a bit more guidance on ways to develop his natural talents. However, taking all of the above into consideration, I’m still pretty confident he’ll be playing at a higher level in 2022.
Potential Suitors: By-passing J1 and moving directly to Europe isn’t out of the question, though I’m not sure it’s the best career path for him to take at the moment. All the J1 big boys, Kawasaki, Marinos, Kashima etc. will surely be interested, especially if the likes of Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda and Ryotaro Araki are snapped up by European clubs this winter. It was also reported that Gamba watched him towards the end of 2020, though with Hiroto Yamami on his way in, I struggle to see Homma arriving at the same time.
Notes: With 10 goals and 4 assists in 29 appearances for relegation haunted Ehime, Fujimoto is the oldest player on the list, but he’s contributed so much to his side’s cause this season that it will prove impossible for higher ranked sides to ignore. The Meiji University graduate’s career to date has featured several ups and downs, he endured a frustrating 2 ½ years at Okayama, never really establishing himself before being loaned to Ehime midway through 2018. The deal was made permanent over the following winter and he went on to bag a career high 9 goals in 39 games in 2019. 2020 was wrecked by injury and there were real concerns about where Ehime’s goals would come from this campaign, however, despite a leaky rearguard holding them back, Fujimoto in tandem with Hiroshima loanee Takumu Kawamura have fought bravely to maintain the Matsuyama side’s J2 status.
Potential Suitors: His age and the holes in his CV will likely deter the traditional powerhouses, but Kyushu outfits, Fukuoka and Tosu have made this kind of move before and Fujimoto would likely achieve success with either of those two sides.
That’s all for now, is there anyone you think I’ve over-rated or missed out altogether? Please let me know. Thanks again for reading and I’ll be back next week to preview a match between two teams coming off 5-1 thrashings, Urawa Reds vs Gamba Osaka.