Football column

The players behind the scenes in the J.League

Football is a team sport, so while there are the flamboyant players, there are also the behind-the-scenes players who support the team. One of the best examples in the world is France’s Engolo Kante. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best black players in the J.League.

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The players behind the scenes who support the teams in the J.League

Four of the J.League’s best players are listed below.

  • Hotaru Yamaguchi (Vissel Kobe)
  • Hiroaki Okuno (Cerezo Osaka)
  • Sho Inagaki (Nagoya Grampus)
  • Miki Yamane (Kawasaki Frontale)

Hotaru Yamaguchi

Hotaru Yamaguchi

The first is Yamaguchi of Vissel Kobe. You may know Yamaguchi from his long career with the national team. He has played in two World Cups for Japan, in Brazil and Russia.

Yamaguchi is characterised by his athleticism and his ability to sense danger. Although he doesn’t feature in the mileage rankings, he is often seen in regular matches running around the pitch and contributing to the team, even after 90 minutes. Defensively, Yamaguchi is second in the league with an average of 0.8 interceptions per game, and in the 2020 season he was first in the league in total interceptions.

But it’s not just the defensive side of the game that should be mentioned, it’s also the attacking side, with goals and passes. This is because he has improved a lot since joining Vissel Kobe. Let’s compare his three years at Kobe (2019-2021) with his three years at Cerezo (2016-2018). If you do so, you will see that 2016-2018 was 3G3A, while 2019-2021 was 14G9A, a big change.

In the 2021 season, despite an injury lay-off, he scored 5G5A and was involved in 10 goals, a career high for him.

This is a career high for him, partly due to the influence of Iniesta. His passing has also improved since his time at Cerezo, and he is now an essential part of Vissel Kobe’s squad.

Hiroaki Okuno

Hiroaki Okuno

The second player is Okuno from Cerezo Osaka. Originally he played for Vegalta Sendai for a long time, but from 2019 he plays for Cerezo Osaka. He has never played for the national team, but he is a great player for those who know him.

Okuno is known for two things. In the 2021 season, Okuno has played in seven of the top 20 games in the distance rankings. The fact that the runners-up, Koizumi (Urawa Reds) and Iwata (Yokohama F Marinos), were ranked with only two games in the top 20 gives you an idea of the magnitude of the seven games. It’s not a case of running a lot in one game, it’s a case of playing with dedication in every game. When you think of the Blacks, you think of running, and Okuno has that trait.

Another characteristic is his utility. Although he is a midfielder, he can also play in FW. For example, in the 2019/2020 season he played mostly in FW. In both years he scored 7 league goals. On the contrary, in the 2021 season he mainly played in midfield, where he averaged 3.1 tackles per game, fourth in the league, and 71 fouls per game, second in the league. He was fourth in the league with an average of 3.1 tackles per game and second in the league with 71 fouls conceded, showing his contribution to the defence and his ability to get fouls and keep the team calm. The above shows that he can play multiple positions with high quality.

Okuno is a veteran black player who can contribute to the team with his running ability and can also play multiple positions, making him a player that any team would like to have.

Sho Inagaki

Sho Inagaki

The third player is Inagaki, who plays for Nagoya Grampus. In March 2021, he was selected for the national team for the first time.

Inagaki’s defensive skills, such as his ability to win the ball, are a key feature of his game, and his defensive data for the 2021 season shows that he is seventh in the league in average tackles per game (3) and seventh in average interceptions per game (0.4). He also runs a maximum distance of 13.17 kilometres, which is 18th in the league. His dedication to running and reaping the rewards makes him a true team player.

In the 2021 season, he has also played an important role in the attack. He has scored eight goals this season, which puts him in a tie for 17th place. This is a career high for Inagaki, with eight goals. This is a career high for Inagaki, who has scored five goals, up from three in the previous season, which shows how much he has improved in attack this year. He also scored the game-winning goal in the final of the European Cup to seal the victory for his team.

He has been named in the 2021 Best XI and is sure to be an important player next year.

Miki Yamane

Miki Yamane

The fourth player is Yamane, who plays for Kawasaki Frontale. The above three players are midfielders, but Yamane plays at right back. During his time at Shonan Bellmare, he played mostly at centre-back, but since coming to Kawasaki, right-back has become his main position. Recently he has been selected for the Japanese national team, so more and more people may know him.

Yamane is a side-back, so of course he has the dedication of a defender. However, what is notable is the number of chances he is involved in making. In 2021 he averaged 12 assists, which is the highest in the league, and he averaged 35 passes per game in the opposition half, which is the sixth highest among all side-backs in the league.

According to the data provider football lab, we are third in J1 in terms of players involved in attack. The fact that he ranks third out of all players, including midfielders, shows just how attacking he is.

When we talk about the progress of Kawasaki Frontale, Leandro Damien and Sanogi (now in Belgium) tend to be the focus of attention. But Yamane is undoubtedly one of the right backs who helped Kawasaki win back-to-back titles. He was also named in the 2021 season’s best eleven and individual fair play award.


In this article, we have introduced some of the best players behind the scenes in the J League. All of them can be said to contribute to the team not only in defence but also in attack. When you watch a match of a team with the above four players, please pay attention to the activities of the players behind the scenes.


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