It’s all change in Japanese professional football. As part of a significant rebrand and overhaul of its sponsors, the top two divisions will become the J1 and J2 Leagues, mirroring the third tier introduced in 2013, while Meiji Yasuda becomes title sponsor for all three competitions. Agreements with Calbee and Konami as primary sponsors have come to an end, the latter potentially providing an opening for EA Sports and its FIFA franchise to be granted the J.League’s licence, ending the Winning XI series’ long-standing monopoly. Gamba Osaka’s new arena is scheduled to open in the autumn of 2015, the first stadium with a capacity in excess of 30,000 to open since the co-hosted 2002 FIFA World Cup. With venues for Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Montedio Yamagata, Shimizu S-Pulse, Kyoto Sanga, Giravanz Kitakyushu, V-Varen Nagasaki, FC Ryukyu and AC Nagano Parceiro at various stages of discussion, planning and construction, it may be the prelude to a raft of modern, football-specific stadia in the coming years. Most importantly, after a decade the decidedly European single-stage, double-round robin format has come to an end. Next season, the 50th anniversary of top-flight organised league football in Japan, will see the country’s first division comprise two stages and a championship play-off.
After a lengthy absence aused by the author undertaking an MBA in Football Industries at the University of Liverpool, this blog has returned, albeit with a different slant to before. For the foreseeable future, there will be an attempt to make sense of the business of Japanese football at a club and organisational level and some of the data including some statistical analysis of players past and present. With Manchester City’s parent organisation City Football Group purchasing a stake in Yokohama F.Marinos with a view to taking a majority share, and the J.League’s expansion to three divisions and a change to a two-stage system in J1, there likely isn’t a better time to help understand, for example, which other clubs might be ripe for targeting by domestic or foreign investors. Video of games and goals will also appear from time to time. If you have any suggestions of content you would like to see, please drop me a line or contact me on Twitter.
Leading up to what, for many reasons, should be an enthralling 2013 season, I’ll be creating some visual representations of data containing a number of interesting insights into the J.League and the wider of issues surrounding the growth of football in Japan. This post, which relates to the prefectures of birth of J.League Division 1 and 2 squad members at the end of the 2012 season, uses two methods to look at the same data. Initially each prefecture was accorded a simple total of squad members born inside their respective boundaries, and later, in an attempt to assess which prefectures could be regarded as the “football hotbeds” of Japan, I calculated that same number of players in the context of the relevant prefectural population.
The 2012 J.League awards ceremony was held on 3 December, Hisato Sato, a number of his teammates and manager Hajime Moriyasu rightly honoured as one of the most impressive, inventive and attractive sides of recent years claimed the league title. The inclusion of a number of players in the 2012 J.League Best XI caused some surprise, however, not the least of which was Vegalta Sendai’s Wilson being named ahead of either Leandro or teammate Shingo Akamine. Nonetheless, with 2012 also being the 20th anniversary of the instigation of Japan’s professional football league, it is time to reflect upon the selection of those players who were considered the best in their positions for each of those twenty years, and devise an “All-Time Best XI” comprising exclusively Japanese players and a further wholly foreign team. Owing to the likelihood of a number of positions featuring players to have been included an equal number of times, certain tie-breaking criteria were determined as follows:
Number of Times in Best XI; If equal
Number of Times named MVP; If still equal
Number of Title Wins; If still equal
Player’s Regular Position
(Leandro nets a brace in Gamba Osaka’s 5-0 mauling of Urawa Red Diamonds at the Saitama Stadium on Matchday 26, his second an exquisite, improvised flick coming in the 60th minute)
On 3 December 2012, Hisato Sato of Sanfrecce Hiroshima was very fittingly awarded the J.League MVP, Top Scorer and Individual Fair Play awards, the culmination of an excellent season and evening for both player and squad, as Hajime Moriyasu collected the Manager of the Year award, Toshihiro Aoyama accepted the Team Fair Play award, and three squad members in addition to Sato and Aoyama were named to the 2012 J.League Best XI.
However, one name in particular was noticeable by its inclusion in the team selection for the wrong reasons, Vegalta Sendai forward Wilson bafflingly chosen when several candidates appeared more worthy of selection. This analysis looks at the players to have scored a minimum of ten goals in the 2012 season, and ranks them on the basis of a number of key criteria, most notably goals scored per minute of playing time, first goal scored as a percentage of team goals and shots to conversion ratio. The conclusion confirms the names of two players who would be worthier candidates to join Sato and Sagan Tosu’s Yohei Toyoda in completing the forward line.
It will come as little surprise to find Urawa Red Diamonds once again topping the attendance figures in J.League Division 1. An average crowd of 36,634 attended matches at the Saitama Stadium, and a 2012 season record 51,879 made their way to Midori-ku, the only time the 50,000 mark had been breached, buoyed in no small part by the final league match being played out against the backdrop of an AFC Champions League place being at stake against Nagoya Grampus. This was in essence a repeat of the 2011 season, when the J.League’s traditional final day ‘bounce’ combined with a title-deciding fixture against Kashiwa Reysol to bring in a crowd of 54,441. Despite a truly miserable year, Consadole Sapporo eked out a greater number of visitors to their home matches than both Omiya Ardija and Sagan Tosu, though it is notable that the latter’s first season in the top-flight of Japanese professional football drew a club record average to both the Best Amenity and Saga Stadiums.
(Kashima Antlers set a 2012 J.League season record with a 7-0 victory over Consadole Sapporo on Matchday Twelve. Consadole would concede seven times for a second time on 25 August, thrashed 7-2 by fellow relegated club Gamba Osaka)
34 games. Just four wins. Only 25 goals scored, and 88 conceded. Fourteen points. This is the record of Consadole Sapporo, relegated to J.League Division Two on Matchday 27. Their average of 0.41 points per game, saw them finish the 2012 campaign with an historic low points total. Tthe question posed here is whether are they are now officially the worst side to have ever appeared in the top flight of Japanese professional football.