These overseas stars have helped to increase the quality of the Japanese top-flight.
The top-flight of Japan, J1 League has grown immensely in the last decade and that has reflected in the country’s national team’s performance on the global stage. Teams from the Land of the Rising Sun have progressed ten folds in the last decade and have challenged for the AFC Champions League title multiple times.
With the growth of the J1 League, the level of the foreign players have also increased. The league has seen a massive influx of Brazilian players in Japan and they have made a significant difference for the teams in being more competitive. Some of the top foreign players have also chosen the J1 League, helping to increase the competition in the country.
Here are the top five foreign players in the J1 League currently.
5. Andres Iniesta (Vissel Kobe)
Undoubtedly the biggest star in Japan, Andres Iniesta needs no introduction. Even at 37, the Spanish magician is going strong for Vissel Kobe. Iniesta has won everything in football but his love for the game forces him to keep going. It was a historic moment when the Spaniard decided to move away from FC Barcelona and came to Japan. The J1 League made the headlines and the people from the country fell in love with Iniesta all over again.
Ever since joining Vissel Kobe, the 2019 season was his best till now. He played a pivotal role in helping the Ushi win the Japanese Cup as well as the Super Cup. Head coach Atsuhiro Miura uses the Spanish midfielder as the primary creative outlet in midfield. The magician still has that deft touch, excellent passing range and great vision to facilitate his teammates up front. Iniesta has won nine La Liga titles with FC Barcelona but he is yet to win one with Vissel Kobe.
4. Sung-ryong Jung1(Kawasaki Frontale)
The South Korea international has been one of the most vital cogs in Kawasaki Frontale’s rise in the Japanese top flight. Jung has been exceptional for the Frontale between the sticks and has bagged three J1 League titles with them. The veteran custodian has also guided the club to two Super Cups and a League Cup in his stint with the outfit.
Jung started his career at Jeju United’s youth team back in South Korea. He then joined the Pohang Steelers and became the champions of South Korea in the 2006-07 season. His consistent performances for the Steelers earned him a move to Seongnam FC in 2008. In the following season, he won the AFC Champions League with Seongnam FC, proving his worth as a goalkeeper. Jung has featured in 67 matches for the South Korea national team and is one of the leaders in the Kawasaki Frontale side.
3. Thomas Vermaelen (Vissel Kobe)
The Belgium international is definitely one of the most high-profile foreign players in the J1 League. He has been pretty good for Vissel Kobe since joining the club from FC Barcelona in 2019. Vermaelen has entered Japan with a bang as he won the Japanese Cup and the Super Cup in 2019 to start his proceedings with Vissel Kobe. He has been a pivotal figure for the outfit since then.
The 35-year-old might be in the dusk of his career but he is still going strong. Vermaelen has 85 appearances for Belgium and has plied his trade for some of the top European clubs like Ajax Amsterdam, Arsenal, AS Roma and FC Barcelona. Although he was never a part of Barcelona’s starting lineup, he still played a role in their historic sextuple winning team back in the 2014-15 season. Vermaelen’s next aim will be to break the dominance of Frontale and guide Vissel Kobe to the J1 League title.
2. Leandro Damiao (Kawasaki Frontale)
The second foreign player from the Kawasaki Frontale in this list proves how strong and dominant they are in Japan. Damiao has been a consistent goalscorer for them ever since reaching Japanese shores in 2019. He led the attack for Frontale last season as they won the domestic double. He netted 13 goals along with six assists last season in the J1 League and has already built on his tally this season with 14 goals and eight assists.
Damiao started his career with Hermann Aichinger in Brazil and has plied his trade for several Brazilian outfits like Club Atletico Tubarao, Internacional, Cruzeiro, Santos and Flamengo. He also represented Spanish La Liga outfit Real Betis after joining the club on loan from Santos in 2016.
Damiao joined Frontale in 2019 and has been a potent goalscoring threat for them since then. The 32-year-old striker has also represented the Brazilian national team and has appeared in 18 matches for the Selecao, scoring three goals. He also featured for the Brazilian Olympics team and ended the 2012 Olympics as the top scorer with six goals as Brazil won the silver medal.
1. Eduardo (Sagan Tosu)
The dominance of Brazilian footballers are very well known in Japan and Sagan Tosu’s Eduardo once again proves that fact. The 28-year-old centre back is one of the longest-serving foreign players on Japanese shores. He first joined the Japanese third division side Gainare Tottori on loan from Brazilian outfit Club Atletico Metropolitano in 2013. Since then he has plied his trade for Japanese clubs like Kashiwa Reysol, Kawasaki Frontale and Matsumoto Yamaga before joining Sagan Tosu in January 2020.
The current captain of Sagan Tosu has won two Japanese League titles during his time at Kawasaki Frontale in consecutive seasons. He is a very dependable centre-back and has the ability to lead a team from the back. Eduardo may not have played for top teams before coming to Japan but he has grown in stature in the J1 League.