September 20, 2019
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Japanese soccer rises in value in Spain

 Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa reacts during his presentation as a new Real Zaragoza player at La Romareda stadium in Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain, Aug. 13, 2019. EPA-EFE FILE/TONI GALAN

Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa reacts during his presentation as a new Real Zaragoza player at La Romareda stadium in Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain, Aug. 13, 2019. EPA-EFE FILE/TONI GALAN

Madrid, Aug 16 (efe-epa).- Japanese soccer has been thriving over the past few years, which led to an increase in the number of Japanese players in Spain, helping to boost its sporting and economic value.

Jan. 16, 2000 was a historic day for the Japanese soccer, when Shoji Jo made his La Liga debut with Valladolid against Numancia, becoming the first Japanese player to do so.

But he was not the first player to arrive in a La Liga team, a fate that belonged to Nobuyuki Zaizen, who joined the then first-tier club Logroñés in 1996.

Zaizen, however, did not get to play with his team due to the excess of extra-communitarian players in the squad.

Before Jo, it was only Sotaro Yasunaga who played in Spain back in the 1997/1998 season, but he did so with second-tier Lleida.

Since then, Spanish soccer has had some Japanese players, but it was not till the past few years when La Liga’s perspective of the soccer in the Asian country has changed.

That has been mirrored in a long list of Japanese players joining Spanish teams.

The list includes Akinori Nishizawa (Espanyol), Hiroshi Ibusuki (Girona and Sevilla), Kenji Fukuda (Castellón, Numancia and Las Palmas), Yosuke Ideguchi (Cultural Leonesa), Daisuke Suzuki (Nastic), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Sevilla), Mike Havenaar (Córdoba), Akihiro Ienaga (Mallorca), Yoshito Okubo (Mallorca) and Shunsuke Nakamura (Espanyol).

They all paved the way across the past few years for two players who managed to break the barrier to triumph in Spain.

The first was Takashi Inui, who joined Eibar in August 2015 on a transfer from Eintracht Frankfurt.

Inui’s estimated market value at the moment was 2.5 million euros, according to the specialized Transfermarkt website.

Three years later his market value was doubled as he was presented as a Real Betis during an event held inside the Japanese embassy in Spain.

The same applies to Gaku Shibasaki, who joined Tenerife in January 2017 on a transfer from Kashima Antlers.

A few months later, he moved to Getafe where his market value reached a peak of three million euros.

Both players were part of the homage La Liga gave to Japan on Sept. 9, 2017 at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez stadium.

They took honorary kick-off alongside figure skater Javier Fernandez, a Spanish popular figure skater in Japan, and they left the field through an arch with the slogan of “Hello Japan”.

Now, youngster Takefusa Kubo will be hoping to follow in their footsteps.

At 18 years old, he joined Real Madrid and he left a good impression during the preseason under coach Zinedine Zidane.

Another bet for the future is Hiroki Abe, who joined Barcelona B.

But even so, putting on the Catalan team’s shirt and training with some of the best players in the world on occasions is an achievement that appeared to be away from the Japanese reach.

More experienced Japanese players also were attracted to Spain, such as Shinji Okazaki, who joined Malaga after a long European tour that included Bundesliga’s Mainz and Stuttgart and was part of Leicester City squad that won the Premier League in 2016.

The 33-year-old, an idol in Japan, has played 119 international matches including three FIFA World Cups.

His fellow international Shinji Kagawa has recently arrived in Real Zaragoza, having won two Bundesligas with Borussia Dortmund and a Premier League with Manchester United.

He joined the second-tier club after decreasing his salary to lead the club back to the first flight. EFE-EPA

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