Since the end of 2010 I have written a column for Weekly Soccer Magazine. Unfortunately after 20 years the magazine is unable to continue as a weekly publication and this week the last issue was published. Here’s my final contribution…
2013 has been quite the year for the J.League, and as well as celebrating the landmark of its 20th season the division has announced controversial plans to change the format of J1 from 2015 in an attempt to stave off a decline in attendances and sponsorship money.
Quite whether that alteration will benefit the league in the long run remains to be seen, but sadly for this magazine a battle has already been lost and this will be the last issue as Weekly Soccer Magazine.
The publication, like the J.League, has assumed many different guises since it was first introduced as a special football section in Sports Magazine in 1966, and after shifting between monthly and fortnightly issues for a quarter of a century it became weekly when football turned fully professional in 1993.
All good things must come to an end, however, and although I have only been contributing for three years (almost exactly, I distinctly remember my debut column appearing on October 26th, 2010 and being mortified at my photograph and the title (I thought the “baby” part was a reference to my relative youth, or perhaps Austin Powers)) I have to say it has been an honour and a pleasure to have been able to take part in the discussion on Japanese football in such a prominent magazine. Thanks to all the staff for their help and, of course, to everyone who has taken the time to read each week.
Being my final column – by my reckoning my 150th – I thought it would be fitting to think a little about the biggest change in Japanese football since I started writing at the end of 2010; the number of Japanese players now plying their trade in Europe.
The success of the South Africa World Cup was undoubtedly the catalyst for the mass migration, and it is strange now to think that of the 23 players in Takeshi Okada’s squad that summer just four (Makoto Hasebe, Keisuke Honda, Daisuke Matsui, and Takayuki Morimoto) belonged to non-J.League clubs.
Now the ratio is almost reversed, and even if they’re only playing for middling sides in the Bundesliga or sitting on the bench in the Premier League the bulk of Alberto Zaccheroni’s squad are getting their wages paid by European clubs.
In many ways the increased opportunities being offered to players from these shores in the biggest leagues is helping Japanese football to keep growing. Playing alongside and against the best in the world can only be a good thing when it comes to improving individual players and the national team as a whole, and as well as maturing on the pitch the positives of living abroad upon personal development should not be underestimated.
Players proving themselves overseas doesn’t only encourage more European sides to take chances on Japanese talent but it also demonstrates to youngsters hoping to make the grade in the future that it is a realistic target. It is no longer permissible to dismiss players from this part of the world as being “too small” to succeed – just ask 170cm Yuto Nagatomo of Inter Milan.
Of course, the increasingly regular departures have also had a negative effect on the Japanese game, robbing the domestic league of much of its star quality and even being cited by the J.League as one of the impacting factors upon its decision to revisit a two stage season.
Players should absolutely take the chance if an offer is forthcoming and they want to embrace all aspects of a move abroad, but the grass is not always greener on the other side. The J.League is better than many – including perhaps some players – think.
As a final trip down memory lane, and to end on a positive note, I dug out the first issue of this magazine that I contributed to (#1316). Six players graced the cover that week: Marquinhos (then of Kashima Antlers), Jungo Fujimoto (Shimizu S-Pulse), Akihiro Ienaga (Cerezo Osaka), Tomoaki Makino (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Yuzo Tashiro (Montedio Yamagata), and Marcio Richardes (Albirex Niigata).
Ienaga aside, all are still playing in the J.League – albeit all for different clubs. Which just goes to show; things change in football but people tend to stick around.
Thanks again and hopefully see you soon.