Brighton and 14 other teams in the English First Division…Behind the “Bubble” of “Japan Visits”: “Exiting China” by prestigious overseas clubs. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Brighton and 14 other teams in the English First Division…Behind the “Bubble” of “Japan Visits”: “Exiting China” by prestigious overseas clubs.

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Messi Caused the Bubble of Soccer Club Visits to Japan

The off-season for major foreign soccer leagues provides an opportunity for Japanese to see the world’s top players up close and personal.

Last year, big clubs such as Manchester City (England), Paris Saint-Germain (France), and Bayern Munich (Germany) came to Japan to the delight of Japanese soccer fans. This year, 14 teams (*numbers as of June 18), more than last year, will come to Japan to play against J clubs. The lineup is familiar to Japanese: Dortmund (Germany), where Shinji Kagawa (35) once played for and reached the final of this season’s European Champions League, and Brighton (England), where Kaoru Mitoma (27) plays for the English club. The match between Real Sociedad and Tokyo Verdy at the National Stadium on May 29 was a triumphant return of Kubo Takefusa (23), and attracted a crowd of 40,000.

In fact, until a few years ago, it was China that European clubs used to travel to in their off-season. However, one event changed that landscape. An executive of an agent company that connects European clubs with Japan confides, “The ‘Messi Crisis’ in China was the catalyst for 14 clubs to visit Japan this summer.

Kubo Takefusa in action during Real Sociedad’s Japan tour

In February of this year, Inter Miami, with Lionel Messi (37), played a friendly match in Hong Kong, but Messi was absent. However, Messi played in a friendly match in Japan three days later. This infuriated the Chinese, and slanderous remarks were written in Chinese on Messi’s SNS. In response to the uproar, the Chinese Football Association said, ‘You must sign a contract that allows 90% of your regular squad to play. If you can’t do that, we won’t invite you to China,” the association notified the European clubs. The European Championships and Copa America will be held this off-season. None of them wanted to take the risk of sending regular players to friendly matches. That’s what accelerated the shift away from China.

The agent also confided, “You don’t need as much money as you might think ” to bring in a European club.

It depends on the size of the club, but it is about 200 to 300 million yen per match plus expenses. However, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and other top-level Premier League clubs need more in the billions of yen. Countries in the U.S. and the Middle East that are rich in oil money sign long-term contracts, such as five-year contracts, but as one would expect, Japan does not have that kind of financial resources. Still, there is the umami of acquiring sponsors, concluding partnerships, and gaining club members. That is why they are coming to Japan. The Spanish La Liga and the German Bundesliga are especially eager.

Kaoru Mitoma with his wife, Clea, down on the pitch after the final match of the season.

In early June, a La Liga executive during a visit to Japan told this writer, “We are very happy to have a sponsorship agreement with a Japanese company, as evidenced by Mallorca and Real Sociedad.

As you can see from the fact that Mallorca and Real Sociedad have signed sponsorship contracts with Japanese companies, we in La Liga are trying to expand our market in Asia, especially in Japan. We feel that Japan offers business opportunities not only for big clubs, but also for clubs of a smaller size that are not financially well-off.

Both the foreign clubs and their J-League counterparts will benefit, and fans will be able to see world-class skills up close. It seems like a win-win situation, but there are some concerns.

One is that there are too many clubs coming to Japan, which could lead to “saturation. If clubs keep coming to Japan at this pace, there is a risk that they will become bored. It is not as simple as just coming in large numbers.

From a player-first perspective, too, the current situation is not desirable, the agent executive continued.

There are concerns about the overcrowded schedule,” said a senior agent. The regulations of the CL (Champions League) will be changed next year, and this trend will become even stronger. With the Euros (European Championships) coming up this summer, players will have less time off, which increases the risk of injury.

Nevertheless, it is expected that European clubs will continue their “tour of Japan” during the off-season for some time to come. With this background in mind, it may be fun to watch matches between popular overseas clubs and J clubs.

  • Interview and text by Shimei Kurita (nonfiction writer) PHOTO AFRO

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