With more than a dozen current national team players choosing to leave the confines of the J.League for more challenging opportunities overseas, and with many competing in what are typically regarded as the elite competitions, the regard in which Japanese footballers and the Samurai Blue are held has never been higher. This was underlined by Real Madrid’s Christiano Ronaldo prior to their 2011-12 UEFA Champions League fixture with CSKA Moscow, when he pointed to winger Keisuke Honda as the most dangerous player the Army Men had to offer.
The 27 year-old, whose versatility is greatly admired in the football world and whose proposed move to SS Lazio from Russia collapsed in January, is allegedly the subject of renewed attempts by CSKA Moscow to extend his contract beyond the 2012-13 season, when his current deal expires. The Corriere dello Sport reports that CSKA are willing to offer improved terms including a 50% increase in pay to keep the Samurai Blue star at the Khimki Arena. Honda, who continues to deliver for CSKA having scored 7 goals in just 21 appearances this season, and who is according to some press the subject of longstanding interest from Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal, did not feature in Wednesday’s 4-1 defeat by Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu owing to a thigh injury, with CSKA exiting the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League 5-2 on aggregate.
Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa has been the subject of recent rumours regarding a prospective move away from Germany to another European club. With reports suggesting that the 22 year-old attacking midfielder is being tracked by Premier League giants Manchester United and Liverpool, whose eye-catching performances for Die Schwarzgelben have seen him net ten times and provide 6 assists, and whose consistency was a major factor in Dortmund’s Bundesliga winning season, Kagawa was keen to downplay any news linking him with an exit from the Westfalenstadion. In an interview with German newspaper RevierSport the ex-Cerezo Osaka star said:
We are now negotiating over the renewal of my contract. [Staying is] what interests me right now although I know that foreign clubs have asked about me. But I don’t think it is the right time for me to leave this club
Compatriate Hajime Hosogai, currently on-loan from Bayer 04 Leverkusen at FC Augsburg, stifled Kagawa’s movement and ability to create chances with a very attentive and disciplined marking display in their 0-0 draw, which not only saw Kagawa substituted after 70 minutes but ended Dortmund’s eight match winning streak. Bayern Munich’s 7-1 victory over TSG Hoffenheim reduced Borussia’s advantage at the top of the table to five points.
Yuto Nagatomo, the 25 year-old left-back at Italy’s Internazionale continues the impressive form which convinced the Nerrazzuri to make his loan deal from Cessena permanent. The highly mobile left-back has made 26 appearances in the 2011-12 season, and two goals and two assists can be credited to an attacking ability which few other defenders in his position possess.
National team goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima’s Lierse SK, however, continue to struggle. De Pallieters finished the 2010-11 season in 14th place and show little sign of improvement, languishing in 1th place, and Kawashima’s spot as regular stopper for the Samurai Blue may come under threat not only from Vegalta Sendai’s Takuto Hayashi, but from Shuichi Gonda, who captained the U-23 side to victory over Bahrain and secured a place at the forthcoming 2012 Olympic games for Japan.
Like Kawashima, centre-back Maya Yoshida finds himself at a team beset by difficulties, his VVV Venlo side currently in a relegation play-off spot in the Eredivisie. Major defensive frailties explain conceding a division-high 39 goals away from the Seacon Stadium De Koel, and despite an impressive showing of five goals in 24 matches, a major squad revamp is likely for the The Gold Old at the end of the current campaign.
Attacking midfielder Shinji Okazaki’s reputation in Germany was enhanced following a spectacular bicycle kick for VfB Stuggart against Hannover 96, which received February’s Goal of the Month award and made Oksazaki only the second Japanese recipient of the honour in Bundesliga history. Okazaki has had a fine season thus far for Die Roten, scoring 7 goals in 22 games and helping VfB to eighth in the table, four places higher than where they ended the previous campaign.
Tadanari Lee’s Southampton career has begun slowly since joining from Sanfrecce Hiroshima on a free transfer in January, but he recently made his first starting appearance in a 3-0 win away to Watford on 25 February, earning a penalty for the Saints after missing two earlier chances. The start came as reward for his efforts in a 4-0 victory over Derby County in which he scored with an effort from the edge of the penalty area, dispatching a fiercely struck shot into the far corner of the Derby goal. Further reward for Lee was forthcoming on 3 March, when he repaid the faith of manager Nigel Adkins by providing the headed assist for Rickie Lambert’s finish in a 1-0 victory away to Leeds United.
FC Schalke 04’s Atsuto Uchida, who signed from Kashima Antlers two years ago, found his opening weeks of the Bundesliga campaign curtailed following an injury he sustained against Maccabi Haifa in the UEFA Europa League. Uchida would have been gratefully welcomed back by Die Knappen, with his highly competent displays helping his team to a DFB Pokal victory and a place in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in the 2010-11 season.
Finally, Ryo Miyaichi, the potential player of a generation for the Japan national team, is making waves at Bolton Wanderers following his loan from Arsenal. Current Trotters manager Owen Coyle is keen to extend his spell at the Reebok Stadium until the end of the 2012-13 season despite the 19 year-old forward having only been at the club for a month, Miyaichi sparkling in the 2-0 FA Cup win over Milwall in which he scored a goal, and Coyle praised the player recently called up to the Samurai Blue senior squad in adding:
I would love to have got [Roy] permanently but Arsène [Wenger] looks after his young players and feels that he will go on to have a fantastic career at Arsenal. He can go as far as he wants in the game.
(Shinji Okazaki scores with a stunning bicycle kick for VfB Stuttgart. Okazaki’s goal came too late for his team, as they crashed to a 4-2 defeat away to Hannover 96 on 19 February 2012)