the home of cult football
Starting out in 1992, Japan’s first professional soccer competition - now called the J-League - continues to go from strength to strength.
Over the years, it has attracted numerous stars from around the world, with former England international Gary Lineker joining its ranks in its maiden season, when he turned out for Grampus Eight.
A few decades later, another ex-Barcelona star, Andres Iniesta, left La Liga to sign for Vissel Kobe, and the man who scored Spain’s winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final against the Netherlands is now into his second season in Japanese soccer.
At the age of 34, Iniesta remains one of the sport’s most cultured midfielders in the league.
However, it is Brazilians who rule the roost in Japan, regarding the number of foreign players competing in the top division of the J-League.Source: "NISSAN STADIUM" home of J-League Yokohama F·Marinos (CC BY 2.0) by kanegen
More than 50% of the foreigners, spread among the 18 teams in J-League 1, are from Brazil.
The clubs can have as many overseas stars on their books as they want, although only five can be part of a single match-day squad.
This rule does not apply to players from Japan’s ‘partner nations’ (Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Qatar) who are exempt from these restrictions.
The sole British player currently in Japan’s top flight is former Cardiff City, Coventry and Wolves striker Jay Bothroyd.
He also played for five other English clubs, although the much-travelled forward will be best remembered for his time in the Welsh capital where he made more than 100 appearances for the Bluebirds.Source: "Jay Bothroyd" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by joncandy
About to turn 37 this May, the Islington-born player left the UK in 2014 to join Thailand’s Muangthong United, before moving to Japan to sign for Jubilo Iwata a year later.
He now plays for Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo who made him their vice-captain, although according to J-League betting at William Hill they are not among the favourites for the title.
Bothroyd was part of the youth team squad under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, and played for England at four age-group levels before earning one full cap for the senior team.
This consisted of an entire 18 minutes in a friendly international against France in November 2010.
Bothroyd says he is happy in Japan and it has been reported he turned down lucrative offers from clubs in China and England, preferring to remain in the J-League.
He has also located the back of the Japanese net more times than Lineker, who managed just eight goals between 1992 and 1994.
Playing in Japan’s top two divisions, Bothroyd has netted more than 50 goals for his two clubs, although it must be mentioned that the BBC Match of the Day presenter did spend much of his time in Japan struggling with injuries.
And for all the teams who began their seasons in J-League 1 a few weeks ago, the ultimate aim is to qualify for the Asian Champions League in 2020.
As for Lineker’s Grampus Eight - now called Nagoya Grampus - they remain one of the J-League’s most famous clubs.