J.League 2023 Winter Transfers (So Far), Part One
December 2022 edition: Avispa Fukuoka to Kyoto Sanga
Hope y'all had a Merry Christmas (if you celebrate it)!
Before we get into the transfer talk, last Friday the J.League released the opening set of fixtures for the 2023 season. The league opener will be "Friday Night J.League", with last year's runners up Kawasaki Frontale facing off against champions Yokohama F. Marinos in the "Kanagawa Derby". The clubs themselves released their first home fixture as well so we've got the fixtures for match day 2 and partially 3 as well.
The fixture list for the 1st Half of the season (up to August 2023) will be released in January. For those hoping to travel to Japan next year, the dates of all match days next year are already posted so you can very broadly start figuring out your travel plans.
But anyway, on to the main topic: Winter Transfers!
Winter Transfers, Part One
It's been well over a month since the 2022 season of the J.League finished and there's already been quite a lot of activity going on, even throughout the World Cup. I'll try not to delve too deeply into team situations as we're still very far away from the opening games and I'll prefer to leave that to an actual season preview newsletter. Still, I'll give some context to what happened last season as that might help new J.League followers.
Important Notes (please read before you start typing away):
I'm going to leave the newly promoted teams, Albirex Niigata and Yokohama FC, for last as I need to research them a lot more.
I'm doing this by alphabetical order but Wikipedia sorted FC Tokyo as 'T' rather than 'F' so you'll see them in Part 2 instead. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
For players that have just come back from loan, players I don't have a lot of info on, players whose status I really can't find out, etc… I'll simply include them in the team depth chart with a ? either in their closest position or on the side.
I really don't know enough about youth team // high school // university recruits so I won't talk too much about them or even include them in the squad depth graphic unless I've heard lots of noise coming from my usual sources.
It's always tough to simply fit every squad player into a single formation (especially Sagan Tosu who switch up their formation in vs. out of possession and not just game-to-game...), so bear with me here as I'm just going with the formation teams used the most last season. Gamba, I'm assuming, will change things up to a 4-3-3 under Dani Poyatos.
Players can play multiple positions (ex. Consadole Sapporo) but to not confuse myself and save space, I am placing players in each team only once.
We are still in December, a LOT can still change. Something might be happening as I’m writing this sentence, at this moment, right now!
Transfermarkt (I mean, duh...)
Wikipedia (I hope none of you are spending your holidays mischievously editing player pages...)
Let's get started!
It was a tough season for Avispa, whose second season back in the top flight was far more troublesome than their relatively comfortable 2021 season. Their defensive blocks of 4 didn’t look as airtight as before and with Emil Salomonsson gone, they had to put a massive burden on Jordy Croux to come up with the creativity (through crosses) to feed their big strikers.
Now, Right Winger Jordy Croux has left for Cerezo Osaka while Left Back Takaaki Shichi has left for Hiroshima. With their departures, another significant shift in how Avispa orchestrate their attacks is needed as they contributed 3 and 4 assists respectively from the flanks this past season.
Juanma Delgado has also left the team to join J2 side V-Varen Nagasaki. The big Spaniard, who despite his critics, contributed massively to Avispa's survival with 4 goals (3 coming in the last crucial 3 games of the season that ensured Avispa's fate). Alongside the aforementioned Croux, Delgado also tied best in the team with 4 assists.
Kazuya Konno has joined from FC Tokyo. A fairly similar profile to Croux in that he's a left footed attacker that likes to cut inside from the right, it's nevertheless a downgrade in my opinion. Still, a new club and new atmosphere might give Konno the push he needs to improve.
Masashi Kamekawa returns to the club he left in 2018 and he seems to be a straightforward replacement for Shichi in a back 4 but also has the added bonus of being to play as the Left-sided Center Back in a back 3 as he’s done for Yokohama FC the past season.
Ryoga Sato joins from Tokyo Verdy, yet another striker as Avispa continue to try and find different solutions to their goal scoring woes.
I feel like Avispa might need another wide attacker but as last year showed, Lukian can also be pushed out wide to some effect and it remains to be seen if Avispa will move more permanently to a 3-5-2 shape that they've shown glimpses of in the past season.
Overall it wasn't a bad season for Cerezo Osaka in Akio Kogiku's first full season at the helm, it just ended extremely disappointingly. Cerezo fell again at the last hurdle in the League Cup (conceding two goals in injury time in the final) while they limped to a 5th place finish after injuries hit key players and Cerezo didn't win the last 6 games of the season (0 W, 4 D, 2 L).
The only real arrival is the aforementioned Jordy Croux who will be an upgrade to the options Cerezo had on the Right Wing last season in Hikaru Nakahara and Seiya Maikuma (converted from Right Back).
After a pretty good season in J2 with Tokushima Vortis, Shota Fujio returns to put in a claim for the striker position which has seen quite a few departures. Adam Taggart suffered an injury-ridden spell and returned to his native Australia while Bruno Mendes went to Maldonado in Uruguay. The young Hiroto Yamada, who showed some glimpses of his potential last season with 4 goals in 14 starts, has gone on loan to J2 side Vegalta Sendai.
There's been rumors of Marinos' Leo Ceara joining for quite a few months now but nothing has been officially confirmed as of yet. I think this would be a fantastic signing for them and a massive upgrade on their existing options as for all of Kato, Uejo, and Fujio's promise, none of them have shown the goal scoring spark at the J1 level that Ceara already has.
Otherwise this side is pretty settled, good squad composition with at least 2 players in each position and hopefully the injuries that wracked Riki Harakawa will have subsided so that he can win back a starting place that Tokuma Suzuki delightfully took over in his absence last season. Manager Akio Kogiku will hope to mount a more sustained challenge for the Champions League spots next season and aim to finally get their hands on a domestic cup under his guidance.
Gamba looked to turn a new page under Tomohiro Katanosaka, who in 2021 had led an unfancied Oita Trinita to an Emperor's Cup final. However, Gamba struggled to play a new kind of football that Katanosaka espoused and the team floundered with poor mistakes from playing out the back demoralizing the entire team. Eventually, Katanosaka was fired and just like in 2021, another coach came in to steady the ship. It wasn't great to watch, and indeed a lot of it was down to the return of Masaaki Higashiguchi playing the hero between the sticks in tight games but Gamba managed to finish 1 point above the relegation spot and everybody in the blue half of the Kansai region breathed a sigh of relief.
With new manager Dani Poyatos arriving to steer the ship, there was a lot of speculation of whether any Tokushima Vortis players would follow him but that hasn't turned out to be the case so far. The main incoming transfer so far has been wide attacker Naohiro Sugiyama coming from a Roasso Kumamoto side that dazzled in J2 and nearly grabbed a ticket to J1 via the playoffs. Also, it looks like Kosei Tani is finally here to stay in Gamba to fight for a place between the sticks against veteran Masaaki Higashiguchi.
There has already been some big departures from Gamba as the Brazilian trio of Patric, Wellington Silva, and Leandro Pereira were all let go. While the latter two under performed during their time at Gamba, I was surprised they didn't keep Patric around. Despite getting on in his years, he's still a good veteran presence to have in your squad but I agree that big moves like this were needed to make a statement. Talking about veterans, Gen Shoji has also left the team by moving back to Kashima Antlers. I've been pretty disappointed at Shoji since injuries ruined what could have been a good step up in Europe but I'll refrain from saying anymore here. Kosuke Onose has also left, another disappointing signing that promised quite a lot back in 2019.
Big signings still to come in the form of Maccabi Haifa's center midfielder Neta Lavi and Tunisia's World Cup striker Issam Jebali, that are confirmed by most sources but not officially revealed by the clubs in question. With Lavi's signing especially, I am very interested in who else leaves the squad as from the squad graphic below it is getting pretty crowded in midfield (and also out wide). I am also concerned about the quality available at Right Back but lots of sources are talking about Montedio Yamagata's excellent Riku Handa coming in so that should be a good upgrade if it comes true.
Can Gamba finally escape their relegation battle malaise of the past few seasons?
Mischa Petrovic's Sapporo, once again, despite shipping an enormous amount of goals and looking shambolic defensively at times were able to steady the ship and finish well above safety in 10th place. Still, it was looking pretty dicey in August but a somewhat fortuitous win over Cerezo Osaka in September sparked a run of good form (last 8 games of the season: 5 W 2 D 1 L). The big question hangs around Sapporo that I proposed in the mid-season review... where exactly do Sapporo go from here?
The big departure from the team so far has been Tomoki Takamine, who has moved on to Kashiwa Reysol.
This is what I said of him in the season review:
I quite like Tomoki Takamine but he’s not the type to be the Central Center Back in a 3 and is better kept in his usual position as Left-sided Center Back or in the double pivot. I don’t see him improving to the point of entering the national team (unless maybe a future EAFF cup place?) nor going to Europe but as a good-to-very-good J1 level Center Back? Yep, fine and I can see him moving to a top-half J1 team in the next year or two if Sapporo keep floundering around in lower-mid table.
He'll definitely be a big miss as at Left Center Back they are once again left to the capricious Akito Fukumori, whose brilliant passing and free kick deliveries are counterbalanced by his complete lack of mobility in defending spaces.
To make up for the numbers in the back line, Sapporo have brought in Seiya Baba from Tokyo Verdy. While I haven't watched him enough to make a opinion, the people I trust all have been quite critical of his defending which does raise some alarm bells. As a result and the fact that Shunta Tanaka has the Right Center Back position nailed down currently, I've put him as a midfielder in the squad depth chart below.
Another midfield acquisition is Yuki Kobayashi (no, not related to the defender that signed for Celtic...), who on his return from Europe, played a not insignificant part in Vissel Kobe's revival in the 2nd half of the season. The hope is that he'll provide a bit more technical quality to the brawn and hard work of the likes of Takuma Arano, Komai, and Fukai in the center of the park.
Further up the pitch has seen Yuya Asano (younger brother of Japan's World Cup "hero" Takuma) come in to add some more spark to Sapporo's attack. Thai attacker, Supachok, who showed glimpses of potential as a late substitute last season impressed enough to make his loan permanent.
Going backwards to the goalkeeper position, the young Kojiro Nakano has left on loan which has opened up a spot for Gu S.Y. to return to Sapporo, where he played as a starter up until 2020 when he had to join the Korean army. Despite Takanori Sugeno's heroics, he is getting old (even for a goalkeeper!) so some healthy competition should shake things up in that department.
This Sapporo team is honestly fascinating (in a good and bad way) to watch and it's hard to nail down player's positions as many (like Komai, Aoki, and Kaneko) can play many different roles. Will we see the good Sapporo side that we saw in the run-in last season or will this be another false dawn?
Here is a small glimpse of what I wrote in the season review:
It’s all gone belly up in Kashima. Rene Weiler was fired in August despite Antlers still in the top 3 (although they had been without a win in the 5 games prior to the sacking) due to “differences with the upper management” and Daiki Iwamasa, who was installed as a coach just a few weeks prior, was given the full time gig until the end of the season. The team from Ibaraki prefecture was in the mix for the title for nearly half a season but a horrendous loss of form in the 2nd half of the season, saw Antlers only win 3 (three!) games since my mid-season review in mid-June!
So yeah, it was pretty awful despite ultimately finishing in 4th! The upper management still trust in Daiki Iwamasa so he's been allowed to continue but he'll certainly be under a lot of pressure (Antlers have not finished below 5th in the past decade). Anyway, on to their transfers!
The big departure has been Kento Misao, who will be starting a European adventure with Santa Clara in Portugal (joining up with fellow Japanese, ex-FC Tokyo forward Kyosuke Tagawa). He'll be a big miss (on and off the field) but Antlers already had a solution in place last season with the Pituca-Higuchi double pivot partnership as Misao had been forced to play at Center Back.
Also departing are the two reasons Misao was playing in defense in the form of the out-of-form or constantly injured duo of Bueno and Naoki Hayashi. To beef up their back line is the home-coming of Naomichi Ueda and Gen Shoji, the Center Backs that played a big part in Kashima's most recent golden era in the late 2010s.
In midfield, Ryuji Izumi rejoins Nagoya Grampus after a season where he was played in nearly every position for Kashima except Center Back and Striker. While Antlers will miss his versatility, they have brought in Kaishu Sano to shore up the center while Sanfrecce Hiroshima's speedy winger, Tomoya Fujii has joined the Ibaraki side. With Antlers playing a back 4, I imagine Fujii will be playing as the wide midfielder on a regular basis although it would be quite fun to see him as a very attacking Full Back when Antlers are chasing a goal late on.
Up top will see two new faces vie for a position to partner Yuma Suzuki as Kei Chinen joins from Kawasaki Frontale to seek regular playing time while Yuki Kakita finally comes home from long formative years away on loan. This does raise questions about what is going to happen to Itsuki Someno (another loan or perhaps cutting ties completely? EDIT: Someno IS staying.) as well as Blessing Eleke (who was acquired for Rene Weiler, only for Kashima to fire the manager a few weeks later...). This all unfortunately means that the writing is on the wall for Everaldo. It's a real big shame as his debut season in 2020 was absolutely fantastic. Then injuries plagued his 2021 season and in 2022 despite scoring 5 goals in very limited minutes, he just didn't seem to have the trust of neither Rene Weiler nor Daiki Iwamasa.
Outside of the transfer realm, I am personally hoping for Ryotaro Araki's return to full fitness after an injury plagued 2022 season that ruined the momentum of a spectacular 2021 season.
Wow, I could probably write an entire newsletter just on Reysol! Have they "won the transfer season"? Maybe, maybe not. Let's investigate.
There has been quite a lot of departures that need to be noted before we get into the arrivals. Veterans such as Kazushige Kirihata, Hidekazu Otani (a one club man of 20 years!), and Yuta Someya all were released or retired. Two Brazilians in Pedro Raul and Dodi returned to their native country.
But most importantly, a huge chunk of Reysol's back line were picked apart by other teams. Key and “entering peak-age” players in Takumi Kamijima and Takuma Ominami were taken by the "top" clubs (Marinos and Frontale, respectively), while Yuji Takahashi and Kengo Kitazume played some part in a unofficial swap-like deal with relegated Shimizu S-Pulse.
With these big shoes to fill, Reysol have brought in Yugo Tatsuta and Eiichi Katayama (both from S-Pulse), Diego from Sagan Tosu, and finally Tomoki Takamine. While Yugo Tatsuta is a very straightforward swap for the departing Center Backs, the other players provide the manager, Nelsinho, with lots of options.
Katayama can play as a Wingback or Full Back on either side and may even play as the wider Center Back especially if it's a back 3 that transforms into a back 4 in different phases of play. Diego is very similar in that regard, potentially playing that Wide Center Back/Full Back/Wing Back hybrid that he showed at Sagan Tosu. The presence of Taiyo Koga and Diego on the left, is why I'm imagining Takamine to play more in midfield as a possible upgrade or next to Shiihashi in a double pivot.
As you can see in the squad depth chart below, I have a big question mark over Right Center Back. Provided there aren't any other signings (which can't be ruled out yet obviously), I imagine that Taiyo Koga could be moved over to the right and share Right Center Back duties with Kawaguchi. This then leaves Katayama to move over to start as a Right Wing Back with Kawaguchi, Keita Nakamura, and Sachiro Toshima providing cover which fills in that `???` I have quite nicely.
Further forward, Keiya Sento joins to provide more creativity from midfield on the opposite side of the excellent Matheus Savio. Kota Yamada had a very good season at Montedio Yamagata and this could also mean Reysol play more of a double pivot this season as well.
It doesn't seem like there will be too many changes up front. Mao Hosoya will be hoping to finally break double digits in goals with the support of either Douglas or Muto, with Koyamatsu also able to provide support partnered up with a proper #9.
A pretty disappointing season for Frontale as they finished 2nd (with some truly terrible performances) as well as crashing out of all domestic and international cups early.
So, what happens now? Manager Tohru Oniki is confirmed to be staying but the squad needs more freshening up (I said this last year too…). Takumi Ominami has come in at Center Back from Kashiwa Reysol. I was hoping that with Shogo Taniguchi staying it would mean Frontale finally have some decent coverage across their back 4 but with Frontale's captain saying his good-byes this only ends up being a mere like-for-like replacement. While Ominami (and Asahi Sasaki, provided Noborizato can stay fit at Left Back) should still be able to cover for Right Back Miki Yamane, it will again leave Center Back a bit short with Kurumaya and Yamamura not really at their best recently to play alongside the imperious Jesiel.
In goal, surprisingly, Naoto Kamifukumoto makes his way to Kanagawa from Kyoto Sanga. On one hand, at 37 years old, Jung S.R. isn't getting any younger but the ex-Kyoto shot stopper is 33 himself...
There's been zero incoming or outgoing changes in the midfield 3 which makes sense as it's fairly settled now. Frontale fans will hope the injury stricken Chanathip or Ryota Oshima will be able to make more appearances to help the team next season while Tatsuki Seko will also be raring to go after a disappointing first season at the club. I expect Schmidt to keep his place at the base of the midfield after his 2nd half of the season renaissance which means that Tachibanada will simply keep playing slightly further forward in the box-to-box role next to the brilliant Yasuto Wakizaka.
The front 3 will see some changes. Kei Chinen, who scored 7 crucial goals in limited minutes for Frontale last season, will leave for Kashima Antlers for more playing time while Ten Miyagi on the left wing does the same by dropping down into J2 for V-Varen Nagasaki. Despite lots of rumors of a departure, it does look like Leandro Damiao is set to stay despite a very poor season by his standards. Taisei Miyashiro finally returns from multiple years away on loan to challenge for the starting spot alongside new university recruit, Shin Yamada.
Yusuke Segawa should be an interesting signing. In Shonan Bellmare’s season review I remarked on his awful performance in front of goal, vastly underperforming his xG. But I did note that the fact that he is able to consistently get into great positions speaks well of him and clearly Frontale thinks the same. The one thing I'm still not quite sure of is where he'll play. He could be the one giving veteran Akihiro Ienaga a rest on the Right Wing but we may also see him slightly deeper in one of the box-to-box midfield roles as well.
Kyoto Sanga were one-ball-hitting-the-post away from relegation as they narrowly avoided defeat from J2 challengers Roasso Kumamoto in the wildly-J1-team-favoring playoff system. From that sentence I'm sure you can imagine just how their season went...
While the 38 year old Peter Utaka wowed the J.League with 8 goals in the first 11 games of the season, he couldn't keep it up and Kyoto struggled. So it was a teary farewell for everybody's (well, mine at least) favorite Nigerian striker and Kyoto Sanga, with a stiff upper lip, made big changes in the striker position. In came slightly-younger Patric from Gamba Osaka, Kazunari Ichimi from J2 Tokushima Vortis, and Kosuke Kinoshita from J2 Mito HollyHock while promising striker Yudai Kimura officially joined the team from Kwansei Gakuin University after spending the past season on loan. Now Kyoto have a lot of players up top as Yuta Toyokawa, Ismaila, and Ryogo Yamasaki are still at the club as well. It does seem likely that there will be more departures, most likely Ismaila's contract won't be renewed while Toyokawa might stay as he can at least provide cover out wide as well.
Quite a few other veterans left in the form of Kosuke Taketomi, Genki Omae, Yuki Honda, and Naoto Kamifukumoto. Of these, I think Kamifukumoto will be missed the most as his superb saves kept Kyoto from direct relegation for most of the season. One of the younger goalkeepers in Michael Woud or Tomoya Wakahara (contract renewal still uncertain) will have to make the step up at the J1 level.
There's not a whole lot of change in midfield with Daiki Kaneko making his loan permanent to provide competition for Sota Kawasaki.
In defense, Kyoto have added two Center Backs from J2 with Osamu Henry Iyoha from Roasso Kumamoto and Oita Trinita's Yuto Misao (older brother of Kento Misao). With the amount of Center Backs they now have, it might be that manager Cho Kwi-jae is thinking about more permanently moving to a back 3/5 instead of the usual 4-3-3 shape.
I’ll release the other half of the league (from Nagoya Grampus to Yokohama Marinos) in the next few days. I may or may not include Albirex Niigata and Yokohama FC, we’ll see…
That’s all for now and thanks for reading!
Thank you very much.
It would be particularly useful to update the article every couple of weeks, until the start of the season. There are still many changes with the transfers ongoing.
Incredible work as always, thank you for this recap. Can't believe it's still 2 months away from the start of the season, so excited for J-League football to be back