The Dawn of Japanese Soccer: The “Barrier of the Times” that Prevented Shinji Ono from Transferring to a Powerful Overseas Club | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The Dawn of Japanese Soccer: The “Barrier of the Times” that Prevented Shinji Ono from Transferring to a Powerful Overseas Club

Thinking about the transfer of Japanese players to overseas clubs

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Shinji Ono, who made his mark with Feyenoord (Netherlands)

The 2011 J-League season came to a close with Vissel Kobe’s first J1 championship, a long-cherished dream for the club that boasts an all-star lineup of former Japan representatives, including Yuya Osako (33), Hotaru Yamaguchi (33), and Takanori Sakai (32).

As is the case every year, as the year draws to a close, there will be players who will leave their uniforms for the rest of the year. The biggest news this year was the retirement of Shinji Ono (44, Sapporo), a former member of the Japan national team who played in three World Cups in France in 1998, Japan and Korea in 2002, and Germany in 2006.

When he announced his retirement on September 27, he made the following comment.

My legs, which have been my partner for 39 years, have asked me to give them a rest, so I have decided to stop my career as a professional soccer player after this season.

In addition to the great fantasista, this year, Masashi Motoyama (44, Kashima Academy scout), Naoyasu Takahara (44, Okinawa SV national team coach and player), Yuta Minami (44, Omiya), and other members of the “golden generation” born in 1979 have decided to retire one after another. ‘ It is truly sad to see the stars of the ’90s and ’00s leave the pitch.

The runner-up finish at the 1999 World Youth Championship in Nigeria is symbolic, but it is an undeniable fact that this generation was the driving force behind the great leap forward in Japanese soccer. They were also the ones who made the breakthrough in the now common practice of transferring overseas.

It was in 2001 that Shinji Ono went to the prestigious Dutch club Feyenoord, Junichi Inamoto (44, Nankatsu SC) to the English top club Arsenal, and Takahara to the Argentine powerhouse Boca Juniors.

Prior to that, major Japanese players moved overseas, including Tomoyoshi Miura (56, UD Oliveirense) to Genoa of Italy’s Serie A in 1994, Hidetoshi Nakata (46) to Perugia in 1998, and Hidetoshi Nakata (46) to Venezia in 1999. Hiroshi Namba (51, Japan national coach), who joined Venice in 1998, is a representative of the three. Nakata’s impact in Perugia and Rome was tremendous, but the fact that three players of the same age knocked on the door of foreign countries together was a landmark event at a time when Japan was still positioned as a “developing soccer nation.

Smiling when they won the UEFA Cup

Ono’s performance was particularly remarkable. In the summer of 2001, Ono moved to the Netherlands, where he was highly regarded by coach Bert van Marbike (71, former Dutch national team coach) and quickly won the UEFA Cup (now UEFA Europa League) title in the 2001-02 season.

In May 2002, the final was held at De Kaupt-Stadion in Rotterdam, Feyenoord’s home ground. The rivalry was heated up because their opponent was Borussia Dortmund, a prestigious German club. The whole town was filled with excitement as the two sides fought fiercely. Ono provided a brilliant looping pass that led to the final goal by then Danish national team ace FW Jon Dahl Tomasson (47), setting up the victory. Ono’s stardom was immediate.

The 2002 Japan-Korea World Cup came soon after, and Tomasson, who had played well at that tournament, moved to AC Milan, the top club in Europe at the time. Paul Boszfeldt (53), who worked with Ono in the central midfield duo, joined Manchester City in 2003, and Robin Falcao, a young up-and-coming player, joined the club in 2004. Robin van Persie (40), a young up-and-coming player, was brought to Arsenal in 2004, and many other key players moved up.

However, the Japanese midfielder who attracted the most interest from big clubs failed to move to a higher league. The biggest reason was injury. Ono suffered a serious injury in July 1999 when he tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in a first-round Asian qualifier for the Sydney Olympics against the Philippines, and he has been plagued by injuries ever since.

The players who had been with me since my first year in Holland were all gone by my third year, and the quality of the team dropped with the change of coach, so there was a big part of me that felt discouraged. If I had been able to transfer when I was highly motivated, I would have been able to step up. I guess it was a lack of individual ability that prevented me from doing so.

Ono once laughed bitterly at this, but it was probably a surprise to those involved at the time that even Ono could not make it to England or Spain.

After the 2002 Japan-Korea World Cup, Shunsuke Nakamura (45, coach of Yokohama FC) went to Italy’s Reggina, Takayuki Suzuki (47, commentator) to Belgium’s Genk, Atsushi Yanagisawa (46, youth coach of Kashima) to Italy’s Sampdoria, Koji Nakata (44) to France’s prestigious Marseille, Daisuke Matsui ( However, the number of Japanese players playing in Europe was still low, and few clubs were interested in them. There were only a few Japanese agents, and there were few channels for transferring Japanese players, so the environment was not conducive to obtaining transfers with favorable conditions. This negative aspect may have been a factor in Ono’s inability to move up the ladder.

One agent who has been involved in the transfer of Japanese players to Europe since the early 2000s told us that it was common practice for him to search for potential clubs, contact their strengthening staff, and communicate with them. In some cases, he kept trying to reach out to dozens of clubs.

The secret to finding good clubs with high annual salaries is to contact them frequently and to create impactful (documentary) images. It is very important to have a professional video production company help you, pick out good plays and incorporate them, and make the utmost effort to enhance your image,” said the agent.

It is very important to make the best possible effort to enhance the image of the team,” said the agent.

Hidetoshi Nakata also made his presence felt at the dawn of Japanese international transfers.

Unlike the analog era of 20 years ago, today’s advanced information technology allows club officials to instantly check videos of play around the world, and player data and annual salaries can also be checked through data systems.

In the case of Shuto Machino (24), Japan’s World Cup representative at the 2010 Qatar World Cup, who went to Kiel, Germany’s Bundesliga 2 club this summer, the Kiel side used a matching system and entered the conditions of the FW they needed, and Machino emerged as a candidate. After receiving an offer from the club directly through the online conference system, saying, “Just play the way you are playing now,” Machino felt the enthusiasm of the other side and decided to transfer without hesitation.

As you know, when Ono was at Feyenoord, there were no such tools at all. If technology had advanced, he, Takahara, Shunsuke Nakamura, and others might have been able to join better clubs.

However, it is certain that the way was opened little by little as those players of that era built their careers in Europe and proved that Japanese players could be good enough. In this sense, Nakata, the pioneer who won the Scudetto in Italy, Ono, who won the European Cup, and Shunsuke Nakamura, who made an impact in the UEFA Champions League (European CL), are highly valuable. The period of searching until the 00s led to the era of mass transfer of Japanese players in the 2010s, when Shinji Kagawa (34, C Osaka), Atsuto Uchida (35, JFA role model coach), and Yuto Nagatomo (37, FC Tokyo) were successful.

Continued in the sequel article , “[Increasing the Value of Japanese Players] Makoto Hasebe and Keisuke Honda Paved the Way for ‘Overseas Transfers Even for Non-National Players’ “.

  • Interview and text by Etsuko Motokawa Etsuko Motokawa PHOTO aflo

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