Much like the entire category, the Talent Radar Team of the Season feature has been limited to Europe’s big leagues, with players being monitored in our Team of the Week and Player Rankings feature. We’ve decided to broaden our horizons in the recent past and Steven Davies provides us with the inaugural J-League Young Players Team of the Season.
You can read this for all details on Talent Radar, who is eligible under it and what else we publish within this feature.
From the likes of Hidetoshi Nakata – who, having started out at Bellmare Hiratsuka (now Shonen Bellmare) in 1995 at the age of 18 went on to have a long and successful career in Italy where he represented the likes of Roma, Parma and Fiorentina whilst also being capped on 77 occasions by his country, to the likes of current Japanese international, Keisuke Honda – who, having slipped through the net at Gamba Osaka, made his professional bow for Nagoya Grampus Eight in 2004 before embarking on a European adventure that has taken in stints in the Netherlands, Russia and Italy where he currently plies his trade with AC Milan, and fellow international, Shinji Kagawa – who, despite having yet to graduate from high school, was signed to a professional contract by Cerezo Osaka at just 17 years of age before going on to light up the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund over two spells either side of a stint at Manchester United, to the J-League’s 2015 Rookie of the Year, Takuma Asano – who made his full international bow while helping Sanfrecce Hiroshima lift the J1 crown for a second time in his short career in 2015 before being snapped up by Arsenal in July of the following year and farmed out to German second tier outfit, VFB Stuttgart on a season-long loan to gain further experience, Japan’s J-League has long since been recognised as a fertile breeding ground for youthful talent.
With the 2016 J-League season having recently culminated with the league’s most successful club, Kashima Antlers lifting a record 8th J-League crown since the inception of professional football in the country in 1993, the end of the calendar year in Japan is traditionally a time of reflection and recognition of collective and individual achievement.
Kosuke Nakamura // Kashiwa Reysol // Japan // 21 // Goalkeeper: Despite graduating from the youth system at Kashiwa Reysol in January 2013, Kosuke Nakamura’s breakthrough arrived during a season-long loan at second tier promotion chasers, Avispa Fukuoka in 2015. Having made a handful of appearances for the J-League U22 Selection in 2014 down in J3, the talented young ‘keeper made his senior bow in a narrow away victory at Jubilo Iwata on 29th April in which the then 20-year-old also posted a clean sheet. In all, Nakamura would record 15 clean sheets in 23 games while conceding just eleven goals before unsurprisingly being recalled by parent club Kashiwa Reysol and installed as their number one ahead of the 2016 campaign.
Despite making a few mistakes towards the end of the season which are so often par for the course with young goalkeepers, the 21-year-old shot stopper has had a season to remember. His outstanding reflexes combined with a commanding presence that belies his tender age along with his ability to come off his line and sweep up behind his back four when the situation requires drew inevitable comparisons with a young Manuel Neuer. Like his German counterpart, Nakamura is held in high regard by those involved with the international set-up, having represented his nation at various youth levels as well as at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and has the potential to become the best goalkeeper Japan has ever produced.
Ryoma Ishida // Jubilo Iwata // Japan // 20 // Right Back: A product of the Jubilo Iwata youth system, Shizuoka-native, Ryoma Ishida has garnered international recognition at both U17 and U18 level for his country.
Following his elevation from the Iwata-based club’s youth ranks in January 2015, Ishida spent much of the year gaining valuable experience turning out for the J-League U-22 Selection in the third tier but was handed his senior debut for his hometown club – playing the full 90 minutes in a narrow home victory over Hokuriku University in the 1st round of the Emperor’s Cup on 29th August 2015.
But it was in 2016 that the versatile full back came to the fore – making 13 appearances in all competitions and adding four assists for Hiroshi Nanami’s side while showcasing an ability to not only operate anywhere along the back line but also pose a threat down either flank.
Shinji Yamaguchi // Vissel Kobe (loan at Oita Trinita) // Japan // 20 // Left Back: A graduate of hometown club, Vissel Kobe’s youth system, former Japanese U18 international full back, Shinji Yamaguchi took his senior bow during a 7-1 demolition of Sagan Tosu in a J1 clash on 29th August 2015 – being introduced as a 75th minute replacement for Takahito Soma before going on to make four appearances in all competitions over the course of the remainder of the season.
2016 saw Yamaguchi – who can operate on either side of the defence and also provide a threat going forward, farmed out to third tier outfit, Oita Trinita in mid-August having been frustrated by a lack of opportunities in Kobe where the 20-year-old not only gained much needed time on the field but also made the left back berth his own during his ten appearances in all competitions as Oita secured the J3 title and with it, promotion back to the second tier after one season away.
Yamaguchi is set to return to his parent club for the 2017 season where the 20-year-old will look to press his claim for a starting spot in Nelsinho’s side.
Bueno // Kashima Antlers // Brazil // 21 // Defender: Wellington Daniel Bueno may have been born in Sao Paulo but the Kashima Antlers centre half has spent his entire career in Japan having been signed out of Chiba Kokusai High School by Shimizu S-Pulse in August 2014.
After making his senior debut in a last 16 tie in the Emperor’s Cup away at FC Tokyo in which the Brazilian played the full 90 minutes and helped Shimizu progress into the quarter finals of the competition on 7th September, the then 19-year-old went on to make a handful of league appearances in 2014 before being loaned out to Vissel Kobe in 2015 where the young centre half gained valuable top-flight experience – making 15 appearances in all competitions.
A player of undoubted potential, Bueno was then snapped up by Kashima Antlers in January 2016 where he went on to make eleven appearances in all competitions for the eventual champions.
Shinnosuke Nakatani // Kashiwa Reysol // Japan // 20 // Defender: Having graduated from the Kashiwa Reysol youth set-up at the start of 2014, 20-year-old centre half, Shinnosuke Nakatani made a number of appearances for the J-League U-22 Selection in the third tier before eventually being handed a top flight debut by Kashiwa on 22nd October 2014 where, despite being right footed, he played the full 90 minutes against Gamba Osaka at left back before starting four of the last five games of the 2014 season at centre half – a position which the current Japanese U23 international would gradually make his own over the next two seasons – making 64 appearances in all competitions to date.
Yosuke Ideguchi // Gamba Osaka // Japan // 20 // Midfielder: 2016 has been a standout year for Gamba Osaka’s 20-year-old Yosuke Ideguchi who, in addition to claiming the New Hero Award of the Levain Cup, was named J-League Rookie of the Year at the recent end-of-season awards – becoming only the second Gamba player to win the honour after Takashi Usami picked up the prestigious award in 2010.
Having graduated from the Gamba youth set-up in March 2014, Fukuoka-native, Ideguchi was faced with the mammoth task of breaking into Gamba’s star- studded midfield trio of Yasuhito Endo, Yasuyuki Konno and Shu Kurata. However, the then 17-year-old was handed his first team debut just a month later during a J-League Cup victory over Sagan Tosu on 16th April where the midfield starlet played the full ninety minutes for Kenta Hasegawa’s side and would appear as a substitute in the following cup match against Kashima Antlers a month later before gaining further experience by turning out in a handful of games for the J-League U-22 Selection in the third tier.
After beginning the season with the J-League U-22 Selection in J3 – where he also notched his first senior goal during a 2-1 win over SC Sagamihara on 12th July, Ideguchi made great strides in the second stage of the 2015 J1 campaign – appearing 20 times in all competitions and showcasing impressive composure and technique for one so young.
But Ideguchi truly came to the fore for Gamba in 2016 – making 34 appearances in all competitions and finding the back of the net on four occasions. The talented midfielder also represented his country at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and received a call-up to the full national team from Vahid Halilhodzic.
Like his predecessor as J-League Rookie of the Year – 2015 recipient, Takuma Asano, it will surely be only a matter of time before this outstanding young talent departs for a new challenge in one of Europe’s top leagues.
Hayao Kawabe // Sanfrecce Hiroshima (loan at Jubilo Iwata) // Japan // 21 // Midfielder: Having graduated from the Sanfrecce Hiroshima youth set-up on 25th March 2013, versatile midfielder, Hayao Kawabe made his first team debut just five days later – playing four minutes of hometown club Sanfrecce’s opening game of the 2013 J1 season – away at Shimizu S-Pulse.
After playing a handful of games the following season, 2015 saw Kawabe loaned out to promotion chasing, Jubilo Iwata in J2 where he enjoyed a fruitful year – making 34 appearances and finding the net on three occasions while also providing four assists in all competitions as he helped Hiroshi Nanami’s side achieve automatic promotion.
2016 saw Kawabe return to Jubilo on a temporary basis where the talented midfielder showcased his undoubted potential by turning in a similarly productive season in the top flight – making 31 appearances while adding a pair of goals and an assist as he helped the newly promoted side consolidate its J1 status.
With opportunities at his parent club few and far between, the 21-year-old is set to spend a third successive year on loan at Jubilo in 2017.
Daichi Kamada // Sagan Tosu // Japan // 20 // Midfielder: Having been snapped up from Higashiyama High School by Sagan Tosu in January 2015, versatile midfielder, Daichi Kamada made his first team debut in a J-League Cup match at Albirex Niigata in which he replaced Ryota Hayasaka for the final quarter of an hour.
Equally comfortable whether operating centrally or in a more attacking role and possessing an unerring ability to glide past would-be tacklers reminiscent of Ryo Miyaichi, Kamada would go on to appear on 29 occasions in all competitions, providing three goals and a trio of assists in his first top flight campaign.
2016 would prove even more productive for the Japanese U23 international who made 34 appearances while notching an impressive 8 goals and 6 assists in all competitions for Massimo Ficcadenti’s side.
Takahiro Sekine // Urawa Red Diamonds // Japan // 21 // Midfielder: Urawa Red Diamonds wide man, Takahiro Sekine made his first team debut in a home tie against Montedio Yamagata in the 3rd round of the Emperor’s Cup on 16th October 2013 – replacing Shinya Yajima in the 69th minute and playing 21 minutes despite still being a youth team player.
Having formally graduated from the Urawa youth set-up in January of the following year, Sekine would go on to feature on 29 occasions, scoring three goals and adding one assist while 2015 would see the talented winger, who despite being right footed can operate down either flank, rack up a further 42 appearances and find the back of the net on eight occasions while adding nine assists.
The Japanese U23 international enjoyed a similarly productive season in 2016 – notching a pair of goals and eight assists during his 45 appearances in all competitions.
Takahiro Kunimoto // Avispa Fukuoka // Japan // 19 // Second Striker: Despite plying his trade with struggling Avispa Fukuoka, 19-year-old forward, Takahiro Kunimoto has earned international recognition at under-18 level. The Kitakyushu-native was picked up by his local side from the youth ranks of Urawa Red Diamonds in January 2015 where he had made his senior debut as a goal-scoring substitute – tying the game up at two apiece with 14 minutes to play before a Romero Frank effort three minutes later inflicted a surprise home reversal on the mighty Urawa in the 3rd round of the Emperor’s Cup against Montedio Yamagata on 16th October 2013.
A versatile player who, despite being left footed, can operate on either flank when not deployed in his preferred position of secondary striker, Kunimoto split his time between turning out for the J-League U-22 Selection in J3 with sporadic substitute appearances for Avispa following his move to his hometown club in 2015 as the Fukuoka-based outfit secured promotion to J1 via the playoffs.
Having endured a frustrating 2015, the talented young forward made up for lost time the following year and was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise poor Avispa side that were relegated after having finished bottom of the table in both stages of the 2016 season – making 28 appearances and netting on four occasions.
Yuma Suzuki // Kashima Antlers // Japan // 20 // Striker: Having graduated from the Kashiwa youth system at the start of 2015, Chiba-born striker, Yuma Suzuki spent much of the year turning out for the J-League U-22 Selection in J3 – scoring three goals and adding two assists in eight matches before being handed his first team debut in the 2nd round of the Emperor’s Cup in a home tie against FC Ryukyu on 9th September – Suzuki replacing Masashi Motoyama in the 87th minute of a 3-1 victory for the hosts before going on to feature a further ten times over the remainder of the season – finding the net twice.
But it was the following year that truly proved to be the breakout campaign for the 20-year-old who made 42 appearances for the eventual champions, scoring nine goals and adding four assists in all competitions including drawing the decisive penalty in 79th minute of the second leg of the 2016 J1 Championship that Mu Kanazaki duly converted to tie up the scores on aggregate and consequently secure a record eighth J-League title for the league’s most decorated club by virtue of away goals.
The victory meant that Kashima would host the FIFA World Club Cup – a competition in which Suzuki also made his mark – appearing three times from the bench. The talented young forward would set up Mu Kanazaki for Kashima’s second goal two minutes from time in their 2nd round victory over Mamelodi Sundowns FC before scoring the host’s third in their semi-final triumph over Atletico Nacional to set up a show piece final against UEFA Champions League holders, Real Madrid – a match in which the 20-year-old would also appear – replacing Shoma Doi in the 88th minute with the game locked at two apiece before Kashima capitulated to the Spanish giants with Cristiano Ronaldo completing his hat-trick by adding a brace in extra time.
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