Prior to the establishment of the J-league in 1993, Japanese football was in a decline.
The J-League marked the beginning of an increasing trend for football in Japan. It has had a significant impact on the game in the country during the previous ten years or so. The quality of football played in Japan has grown tenfold, and this has been reflected in the country’s success.
Even at the club level, clubs from the J-league are competing against the best in the AFC Champions League. Japan is establishing a dominant market position in the Asian football market.
This growth of the J-league has been further fuelled by the presence of big-name European and South American superstars in the competition.
The league has experienced a huge influx of Brazilian players in Japan, and they have made a substantial influence on the teams’ ability to compete. Some of the top foreign players have also chosen the J1 League, boosting competitiveness in the country.
So, let’s find out who these elite foreign players are, to grace and support the ever-growing football market in Japan.
Thomas Vermaelen (Vissel Kobe)
The Belgium international has been a prolific signing for Vissel Kobe back in 2019 when they signed him from Barcelona.
Vermaelen arrived in Japan with a bang, winning the Japanese Cup and the Super Cup in 2019 to kick off his career with Vissel Kobe. Since then, he has been a major figure for the organization.
Even though he is nearing the end of his career, the 35-year-old is still going strong. Vermaelen has made 85 appearances for Belgium and has previously played for Ajax Amsterdam, Arsenal, AS Roma, and FC Barcelona.
Vermaelen’s next goal will be to end Frontale’s domination and lead Vissel Kobe to the J1 League title.
Eduardo (Sagan Tosu)
The domination of Brazilian footballers is widely recognized in Japan, and Eduardo of Sagan Tosu demonstrates this once again. The 28-year-old center-back is one of Japan’s longest-serving foreign players.
Now he is the captain of Sagan Tosu but he won two consecutive Japanese League titles while playing for Kawasaki Frontale.
Eduardo may not have played for a prominent team before moving to Japan, but he has risen in the J1 League.
Leandro Damiao (Kawasaki Frontale)
Damiao began his career with Hermann Aichinger in Brazil and has played for clubs such as Club Atletico Tubarao, Internacional, Cruzeiro, Santos, and Flamengo. He also played for Real Betis in the Spanish La Liga after joining the club on loan from Santos in 2016.
Damiao joined Frontale in 2019 and has been a significant goal threat for them ever since
Andres Iniesta (Vissel Kobe)
Andres Iniesta, without a doubt Japan’s biggest star, requires no introduction. Even at the age of 37, the Spanish magician is still going strong for Vissel Kobe.
Iniesta has achieved everything in football, but his passion for the game drives him to continue. When the Spaniard chose to leave FC Barcelona and move to Japan, it was a watershed moment. The J1 League made headlines, and Spaniards fell in love with Iniesta all over again.
He is yet to win the J-League with Vissel Kobe, but he continues to be ever so magical on the pitch.