Thursday, January 22, 2009

The J. League Awards - Best Players

The J. League Awards - Best Players.
Following on from Part I of Soccerphile's J. League awards, this time we take a totally biased and unobjective look at some of the best performers in the league in 2008.

Adopting a one-club, one-player rule meant several glaring omissions - the likes of Kashima's Daiki Iwamasa and Kawasaki's Chong Tese miss out, while others such as Yokohama F. Marinos stalwart Yuji Nakazawa and Tokyo Verdy's Diego were overlooked due to their team's lacklustre campaigns.

No goalkeepers made the list - this is a top ten, after all - and it's a top ten full of grit and guile, with a few surprises thrown in as well.

Without further adieu, here's Soccerphile's 2008 J. League top ten.

10. Hidekazu Otani - Kashiwa Reysol

They may have only finished eleventh in the standings, but Kashiwa's redoubtable captain was a model of consistency for the Chiba-based side.

Demonstrating considerable versatility, Otani operated as either a full-back or a midfield anchor man and his defence-splitting passes and splendid vision were also responsible for much of Kashiwa's best attacking play.

As long as he's at Kashiwa then Otani is always likely to fly under the radar, but new coach Shinichiro Takahashi can expect nothing less than 100% commitment from Kashiwa's outstanding young skipper in 2009.

9. Yuto Sato - Kyoto Sanga

How JEF United could have done with cast-off Yuto Sato during their epic struggle against the drop.

As it was, Kyoto Sanga picked up a real gem in the one-time Japan international and alongside Brazilian veteran Sidiclei, Sato was rock-solid in midfield for the team from the former imperial capital. Another of the league's most under-rated players, Sato went about his business with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency.

He started every single league game for Kyoto, and his cool-head and experience - not to mention a fluid passing game and gritty determination - were largely responsible for Kyoto avoiding relegation with relative ease.

8. Davi - Consadole Sapporo

After netting 17 goals in J2 during their successful 2007 promotion run, Consadole's mercurial striker Davi picked up where he left off in the top flight as he banged home 16 goals in 26 appearances... for a team that finished dead last.

It wasn't just the volume of goals that impressed, as the Brazilian reached into his bag of tricks to turn on the style with several virtuoso strikes.

Ill-discipline eventually let him down as the temperamental front man lost it with both referees and his hapless team-mates - but it hasn't cost him personally - with Davi sealing a lucrative switch to AFC Champions League combatants Nagoya Grampus for the coming season.

7. Yoshito Okubo - Vissel Kobe

2008 was a mixed year for Vissel Kobe's enigmatic Yoshito Okubo, with the Japan international switching from the sublime to the downright stupid in giddying fashion.

Widely condemned for a brutal attack on Oman goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi during a World Cup qualifier in June, a bemused Okubo then found himself selected as an overage player in Japan's Olympic squad without his club's consent - only to have Vissel turn down the Japan Football Association's invitation.

On the pitch 2008 wasn't Okubo's most prolific campaign - not the least because the former Real Mallorca player dropped back from a striking role to act as a playmaker midway through the campaign - but Okubo was as effective as ever for the Kansai side, chipping in with vital goals, contributing assists and eventually earning himself a multi-million euro transfer to German outfit VfL Wolfsburg.

6. Marcus Tulio Tanaka - Urawa Reds

Love him or loathe him - and there are plenty in either camp - Marcus Tulio Tanaka was once again inspirational for Urawa Reds.

Deployed at the start of the season as a holding midfielder, Urawa's "everywhere-man" then dropped back into his customary role as a combative central defender. The Brazilian-born Japan international also charged forward at every opportunity, with Urawa's lack of firepower up front as much to blame for the Reds' poor season as anything.

His individual displays might not always encompass perfection, but few could question Tulio's commitment to the cause, although some Reds fans could be forgiven for tiring of the histrionics that are always quick to bubble to the surface.

5. Yasuhito Endo - Gamba Osaka

Like a fine wine, Yasuhito Endo seems to get better with age.

The diminutive midfielder was in sparkling form in 2008, and although his team only finished eighth in the J. League, the Japan international was largely responsible for firing his team to an AFC Champions League and Emperor's Cup double.

Endo's influence cannot be overstated given their goal-shy attack, and it is the midfield wizard who cajoles and coaxes the best out of his team, with his incisive passing and unparalleled set piece ability.

4. Hiroyuki Taniguchi - Kawasaki Frontale

Kawasaki Frontale possess such an array of attacking talent that Hiroyuki Taniguchi seems an unlikely choice as their best. Yet the Beijing Olympian enjoyed a stellar campaign in 2008 - capped by an impressive ten league goals from midfield.

Taniguchi possesses more than just goal-scoring instincts, as he constantly harrasses and harries opponents and gets up and down the pitch with his all-action style.

He could add some more discipline to his game, and occasionally his tactical and positional awareness lets him down, but with room for improvement the youngster looks one of the bright sparks of Japanese football.

3. Masato Morishige - Oita Trinita

If Oita's outstanding 2008 was based mainly on defence, then youngster Masato Morishige should take most of the plaudits for the Kyushu-based side.

Playing alongside the more experienced Yuki Fukaya and Taikai Uemoto, the Beijing Olympian was a tower of strength at the back and a constant menace from set pieces, while Morishige tasted the first success of his career as Oita lifted the League Cup crown.

Oita conceded a miserly 24 goals in 34 league games - the best defensive record in the top flight. With Morishige marshalling proceedings at the back the southern club look to be in safe hands, although the 21-year-old is bound to attract attention from some of the league's bigger outfits.

2. Yoshizumi Ogawa - Nagoya Grampus

At times overshadowed by his more illustrious team-mate Magnum, Nagoya's dynamic Yoshizumi Ogawa enjoyed a superb 2008.

The pacy midfielder demonstrated his prowess in front of goal - he scored 11 times in the league - but it was his penetrative wing play and excellent vision that set up countless opportunities for Nagoya strikers Frode Johnsen and Keiji Tamada. Indeed, had Ogawa been afforded more support in the second half of the season, Nagoya could be polishing their first ever J. League trophy by now.

As it was Grampus were forced to settle for third and a place in next season's AFC Champions League. Ogawa wasn't left empty handed, as he was named the J. League's Rookie Of The Year, and deservedly so.

1. Marquinhos - Kashima Antlers

In his eighth season in Japanese football, Brazilian striker Marquinhos finally found his rhythm at his fifth J. League club in the form of Kashima Antlers.

The season got off to a strange start for the 32-year-old when he missed two penalties on the opening day against Consadole Sapporo. It's how he finished that matters, as the Brazilian plundered 21 goals in 30 starts on the way to lifting back-to-back J. League titles with the Ibaraki giants.

It wasn't just for his goals that Marquinhos was named the J. League's Most Valuable Player, as the much-travelled front man demonstrated considerable maturity to help his team to the title, particularly when Kashima lost captain Mitsuo Ogasawara to a season-ending injury.

In a successful year for Kashima Antlers, Marquinhos was the key, and he wins the Soccerphile gong as the best player in the 2008 J. League campaign.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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