Thanks to everyone who read, commented on and liked my ‘Scouting J2’ article I put out during the international break last month. As a result of the positive feedback I received on that, and with Gamba having a weekend off, I decided to have a go with J1.
As with the aforementioned ‘Scouting J2’ article, I’ve included updated versions of J1 stats tables I’ve published previously in August and October. With just 3 matchdays to go there probably won’t be a whole lot of change in the numbers shown below and the final totals come December.
J1 Stats Tables
Once again I’m not really going to comment on these tables, I’ll just leave them here for your perusal. I’m sure @R_by_Ryo will be doing his usual outstanding statistical round up of the season so hopefully this whets your appetite for what he has in store. For the record this information has been collected from J Stats (sporteria.jp).
The Sky’s the Limit
Below you’ll find eleven players I’ve identified as ones who could be on the move in the upcoming transfer window. Before I get into the how and the why of their selection, let me point you in the direction of a 3-part series of articles titled ‘Market Week 2021’ on the always excellent J.League Regista WordPress site (@jleagueregista on Twitter) which compliments some of my work well, I feel.
While selecting J2 players that have shown enough to earn a step up to J1 for 2022 was quite simple in many ways, how have I chosen my ones-to-watch this time round? If you’re a fan of a team that have performed well this year, but maybe don’t have the financial clout to deal with the high rollers of the division, then perhaps you should look away now. Also if you’re here for a rundown on the likes of Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda, Ayase Ueda, Ryotaro Araki or others clearly on their way to the big European leagues then I’m afraid this isn’t the article for you. The eleven players I’m going to talk about have, in my opinion, stood out in a way that means attention from the likes of Kawasaki, Marinos, Kashima et al. is inevitable. I will suggest potential destinations for each player as well as focusing on their career stories to date. I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labour (and please go easy on me Tosu, Fukuoka, Shonan, Sapporo, Yokohama FC and Tokushima fans).
Here we go…
Right-back / Right Wing-back (24)
Transfermarkt Value: €700,000
Notes: Tokushima may currently be facing an uphill battle to maintain their J1 status for 2022, but regardless of which division the Shikoku-based side find themselves playing in next year, expect their impressive full-back Takeru Kishimoto to remain in the top flight. Aside from a slightly harsh ordering off away to Nagoya, things have gone generally well for Kishimoto personally, even if this hasn’t always been the case for his team. In keeping with a number of his peers, the Nara native started out as a forward in Cerezo’s youth ranks before gradually working his way backwards. After a loan spell with Shigetoshi Hasebe’s Mito in 2018 he found himself under the tutelage of Ricardo Rodriguez at Tokushima the following year and he’s been in Naruto ever since. I feel it’s worth drawing attention to his attacking talents as he contributed 7 assists from full back and wing back in Vortis’ title winning year and has notched 3 goals and 2 assists in 33 J1 appearances this season to date, pretty decent stats for a defender from a relegation-haunted outfit.
Potential Suitors: Former club Cerezo are in need of younger blood at right-back with long-term custodian Riku Matsuda approaching the twilight of his career. I’m sure Kishimoto’s former kantoku Ricardo Rodriguez would be interested too, but with Hiroki Sakai and Daigo Nishi already on the books it’s hard to see him getting much game time in Saitama. Kashiwa are certainly a side in need of an upgrade in a number of areas, Kobe may need to build more depth ahead of an ACL campaign next season and should Shimizu survive this season then there may be something of a squad overhaul at the Nihondaira.
Left Centre-back / Left-back / Left Wing-back (20)
Notes: A graduate of the much vaunted Tosu youth academy, Ohata, now in his second year as a pro has usurped kōhai Shinya Nakano for the starting berth on the left side of Sagan’s back three. Standing just 168cm tall, Ohata would no doubt be considered an option for left-back or wing-back almost anywhere else but Tosu. His versatility, the experience he’s already accrued (41 J1 appearances 5 months before his 21st birthday) as well as his involvement with the Japan U-22 squad mean he’s likely to be in demand this coming winter.
Potential Suitors: There’s a clear and obvious gap at left-back in the Urawa squad and if Ricardo Rodriguez decides Takuya Ogiwara isn’t the man to fill it upon his return from a loan spell with Kyoto, then he might very well turn to Ohata. Alternatively, Cerezo, Kashiwa or Hiroshima could be amongst a host of teams queuing up for his signature.
Right / Left Wing-back (19)
Notes: On a personal level, the 2021 season might seem like a bit of a letdown for young Taiga Hata. The speed demon really shone for Bellmare towards the back end of 2020 with his rampaging runs down both flanks causing no shortage of problems for opposition backlines. Hata particularly caught the eye in outings versus Gamba (h) and Reds (a) and was expected to really kick on this year by many J.League observers, myself included. Unfortunately injury struck and he was absent from the matchday squad for the opening 14 J1 games of this campaign. Since returning at the end of May he’s shown flashes of what he’s capable of, but has struggled to find the same rhythm he had last time round. Still, aged just 19 and considered a genuine prospect for the 2024 Paris Olympic squad, don’t expect to see Hata stick around on the Shonan coast for too much longer.
Potential Suitors: With Theerathon now in his 30s, Marinos will likely be in the market for a new left-back to compete with Ryotaro Tsunoda to be the Thai’s long term successor, Hata wouldn’t even need to move house should the move go through. Otherwise, if Shonan were to go down, I could see his buccaneering runs fitting in well up north in Sapporo.
Left Wing-back / Left-back (23)
Notes: Perhaps the biggest reach among this group of players in terms of going on to much bigger and better things, or perhaps not. Gamba fans certainly need no introduction to Yuya Takagi, as the then 3rd grader helped his Hosei University side shock the Nerazzurri 2-0 in the 3rd round of the Emperor’s Cup back in 2019. Tokushima Vortis are also well aware of his talents, having been on the receiving end of his golazo a few weeks back. Signed initially as a left-back, Takagi has generally played as a wing-back in Yokohama FC’s 3-4-2-1 system. After marking his senior debut with an assist in the 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Sapporo on the opening day, Takagi has gone onto make 25 appearances in often trying circumstances which should stand him in good stead if he’s afforded to opportunity to move on in the coming months.
Potential Suitors: Interestingly, Takagi is the third left-back / wing-back in this list and it’s an area where Japan have traditionally struggled to produce outstanding talents. His current side Yokohama FC seem destined to take the plunge down to J2 and I reckon Takagi is too good for that level. I could see him moving to Japan’s Eternal City, Kyoto, to take the place of Ogiwara if he heads back to Reds at the end of his loan spell. It’s also plausible for him to replace Ohata at Tosu or Hata at Shonan should either of them move on. Wait, am I overthinking all of this?
Central Midfielder (26)
Notes: Mae’s rise to the top of Japanese football has followed a somewhat meandering path, only really taking off under the stewardship of current kantoku Shigetoshi Hasebe at Mito in 2018. After 2 years as his coach’s eyes and ears on the pitch, Mae followed his mentor west to Fukuoka, a side who at the time were just coming off a season in which they’d finished 16th in J2. In a recent interview with J.League Regista, popular Swede Emil Salomonsson underlined the influence Mae has on the squad, saying words to the effect that Mae’s absence due to injury in the middle part of the 2020 campaign highlighted that promotion wouldn’t have been possible without the skipper’s swift return. He’s since made the step up to J1 with aplomb, however, just like his team there’s nothing loud or particularly flashy about his playing style, he’s just a good, hard-working pro.
Potential Suitors: Urawa could seek to re-unite him with former Mito team-mate Yuichi Hirano in what would be a formidable midfield combination while Kevin Muscat doesn’t seem particularly satisfied with the options afforded to him in that area at the moment and this could give Mae the chance to succeed where older brother Takayuki failed last season.
Centre-Back / Central Midfielder (19)
Notes: I wrote in my pre-season preview that Shonan would surely struggle to bounce back from the loss of both Daiki Kaneko and Mitsuki Saito in midfield. However, the solid performances of Satoshi Tanaka throughout the year allied with the recent emergence of Taiyo Hiraoka have gone some way to alleviating these fears. Bellmare youth team product Tanaka is comfortable either as a centre-back or the anchor in Shonan’s inverted midfield triangle and, in fact, he started making waves in J1 even before turning pro, making 17 league appearances while completing his high school studies last year. This time round, under the stewardship of first, Bin Ukishima, and now Satoshi Yamaguchi, he’s been a regular, only missing 2 games, 1 of which was caused by a suspension for an ordering off against FC Tokyo. Additionally he’s thrown in a couple if goals, the winner in the 1-0 victory at Hiroshima and the opener in a 2-1 loss at Kawasaki. Expect big things from him domestically and internationally in the coming years.
Potential Suitors: Could he follow in the footsteps of one time Shonan star Miki Yamane and make the short trek north-east to Kawasaki or is he the perfect man to provide cover for FC Tokyo’s backline. A move to either of those two sides makes sense in my book.
Central Midfielder / Shadow Forward / Right-back (23)
Notes: Probably one of the easiest selections in this list, Yokohama FC captain Tatsuki Seko is a talent who clearly needs a bigger stage on which to shine. Best suited to to playing central midfield in a double-volante system, he also covered at right-back several times in his debut season of 2020 and has filled in on the right-side of a front three on occasions in the latter part of this campaign. Following their heartbreaking draw at Fukuoka yesterday (November 7th) only a miracle can rescue Yokohama FC, but Seko, with 7 assists to his name (including a hat-trick in the 5-3 thriller against Tokushima) is a player we’ll definitely be seeing in J1 next year, regardless of what happens to his side.
Potential Suitors: Any club worth their salt should be throwing their hat in the ring for Seko. I suggested Cerezo in my most recent J-Talk appearance as the Cherry Blossoms are in desperate need of players approaching the peak of their career. Ditto FC Tokyo, and should their new boss (whoever that may be) manage to acquire both Tanaka and Seko, then they’d surely be onto a winner.
Attacking Midfielder / Central Midfielder (25)
Notes: Another easy choice as Higuchi, for me, has been one of the standout midfielders in J1 this season and a key factor in Tosu’s remarkable rise. Two performances have really caught my eye, his stunning strike and assist in the 2-1 win at FC Tokyo and his assist hat-trick in the 3-1 triumph at home to Nagoya (the much vaunted, 20 clean sheets this season Nagoya, no less!) Most comfortable as one of the more advanced central midfielders in Tosu’s inverted triangle, he’s also filled in at the base of the midfield since Daiki Matsuoka’s summer departure for Shimizu. His versatility doesn’t end there though, and he can play in a double volante system or, like his squad number suggests, as a #10 in a 4-2-3-1. Despite his slightly lacklustre display in the 1-0 loss at Gamba a couple of weeks back I’m still a big fan and expect him to move onto fresh pastures this winter.
Potential Suitors: The player in this compilation most likely to move to Europe, I could see him linking up with former Tosu team-mate Daichi Hayashi in Belgium, while Austria or Switzerland might be alternative first steps into European football. Domestically, I’m sure both FC Tokyo and Nagoya remember the damage he did against them, though quite how well he’d operate in a Massimo Ficcadenti system is questionable. As one of his biggest admirers, I’d love to have him at Gamba, but with the current personnel we have and Katanosaka likely to continue with the 3-4-2-1 system he uses at Oita then Higuchi may not be the kind of player the Nerazzurri are looking for. However, Kashiwa, who I was surprised to see have only scored 3 more goals than Gamba this season, could view him as the replacement for the departed Ataru Esaka.
Shadow Forward / Right Wing-back (24)
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Notes: Back in my pre-season preview I stated that Sapporo could be a dark horse relegation candidate and would have to rely on their trio of sophomore pros, Shunta Tanaka, Tomoki Takamine and Takuro Kaneko, to guide them to safety. All three have really put their hands up this year and none more so than Kaneko, a player who has really thrived with the freedom afforded to him by Mischa Petrović’s somewhat unconventional system. Since kicking off the year with a double in the 5-1 home rout of Yokohama FC, Kaneko has continued to impress, leading Football Lab’s stats for dribbling and crossing while sitting joint 4th (alongside Marcos Junior of Marinos) in the ‘last pass’ rankings, his total of 51 is just 9 shy of team-mate Akito Fukumori, the clubhouse leader (stats correct to November 5th). I was already a fan prior to him running amok in Sapporo’s 5-1 win over Gamba last month and his expert control and finish against Shimizu on Saturday (November 6th) further cemented his status as one of the league’s most consistent performers in 2021.
Potential Suitors: I believe Petrović is already on record stating that he’s worried about vultures coming into swoop for his prized possession and Kaneko will certainly have no shortage of potential takers this winter. Coming from an attack minded system at Consadole, I believe he’d fit in well as Akihiro Ienaga’s long term replacement at perennial champions Kawasaki. He offers more defensive protection and positional discipline than the mercurial magician that is Ienega too.
Shadow Forward / Left-Wing (24)
Notes: In a similar vein to Taiga Hata above, Matsuo’s reputation was largely carved out last year before undergoing something of a slump this term. The left-sided attacker first made a name for himself as a special designated player on loan from Sendai University during Yokohama FC’s promotion winning season, bagging 6 goals and 5 assists as he and fellow youngster Katsuhiro Nakayama (now Shimizu) injected much needed pace and verve into the Fulie’s ageing squad. Matsuo carried that form on into his debut season as a pro in J1 last term, netting 7 times, including a memorable double against Urawa, his hometown team who he’d spent his Junior High and High School years representing, I wonder how he felt about that? A shoulder injury ended his 2020 campaign prematurely and he subsequently failed to show anything like the same kind of form upon his return this season. However, the influx of attacking Brazilian talents at the Mitsuzawa this summer seemed to revive Matsuo and he’s looked much more like his old self, scoring impressive goals in back-to-back games against Tokushima and Shonan.
Potential Suitors: I think both Sam and I suggested Matsuo as a potential replacement for Kaoru Mitoma at Frontale on an episode of J-Talk Pod a few months back, Marinos and Nagoya could be possible future destinations too, if Olympians Daizen Maeda and Yuki Soma head to Europe. Kashima also have an impressive young talent who they may struggle to keep for much longer in the shape of Ryotaro Araki, so deepest, darkest Ibaraki might become home from next year.
Notes: Yamashita first caught my eye playing for Renofa Yamaguchi in J2 in 2019, netting an impressive 11 times for a team that finished the season in 15th spot. A surprising marginally upward move to JEF Chiba followed last year and despite putting in many a decent shift his end of season stats stood at just 7 goals and 2 assists from 34 outings. Those numbers didn’t put off Sagan Tosu though, and the Kyushu side, always a team with an eye for a J2 bargain have reaped the rewards this term, getting 9 goals out of the big forward in his debut J1 campaign. Early season doubles in the wins over Urawa and Yokohama FC set a pace that he hasn’t been quite able to live up to over the course of the year and in fact his most recent goal came in the 2-1 defeat at the hands of Reds in Saitama on August 14th. It seems like current kantoku Kim Myung-hwi has moved away from traditional centre-forwards and has instead opted for players better known as wingers or attacking midfielders, in the attacking berths. Still Yamashita has shown he can cut it in the rarefied air of J1 and if Tosu don’t have a use for him, then I’m sure a rival team will find one.
Potential Suitors: A move slightly north to Kyushu neighbours Fukuoka would certainly set tongues wagging and he seems to have the skill-set to perform well in Avispa’s system. Cerezo’s Adam Taggart hasn’t really caught fire yet and if the pink half of Osaka lose patience with the former Suwon forward, they could turn to Yamashita as an alternative.
And that’s a wrap…hope you all enjoyed that and just a reminder/ disclaimer, the potential moves I’ve outlined above are merely me putting 2+2 together, I don’t have any inside information and what you see in this article is pure speculation.