Football column

Behind-the-scenes players who support the team in the J-League

Soccer is a team sport, so while there are flashy players, there are also black players who support the team. One of the best examples of this is Engolo Kante of the French national team. In this article, we will introduce you to some of the most famous black players in the J-League.

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The behind-the-scenes players who support the team in the J-League

Four of the most prominent players in the J-League are as follows

  • 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. Yamaguchi has been a member of the Japanese national team for a long time, so I’m sure many of you are familiar with him. He has played in two World Cups for Japan, in Brazil and Russia.

Yamaguchi is characterized by his athleticism and ability to sense danger. Although he is not listed in the mileage rankings, he is often seen running around the pitch and contributing to the team even after 90 minutes of play. Defensively, Yamaguchi ranks second in the league with an average of 0.8 interceptions per game, and in the 2020 season, he ranked first in the league in total interceptions.

But beyond the defensive side of the ball, the offensive side of the ball should be mentioned as well, with goals and passes. This is because he has grown a lot since moving to Vissel Kobe. Let’s compare his three years in Kobe (2019-2021) with his three years in 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, he was involved in 5G5A and scored 10 goals, which is a career high in total goals scored, despite being out of action due to injury.

This is a career high in total goals scored, partly due to the influence of Iniesta. His quality of passing has also improved since his time at Cerezo, and he is now an indispensable player for Vissel Kobe, not just a black player.

Hiroaki Okuno

Hiroaki Okuno

The second player is Okuno, who belongs to Cerezo Osaka. He originally played for Vegalta Sendai for a long time, but has been playing for Cerezo Osaka since 2019. Although he has no national team experience, he is a well-known bi-player.

Okuno is characterized by two things. In the 2021 season’s mileage ranking, Okuno was ranked in 7 of the top 20 matches. The fact that the runners-up Koizumi (Urawa Reds) and Iwata (Yokohama F. Marinos) were ranked in only two games shows the magnitude of the seven games. It’s not that he ran a lot in a single game, but that he played with high dedication in every game. Blacks have an image of running ability, and Okuno also has that characteristic.

Another characteristic is 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. Conversely, in the 2021 season, he played mostly in the midfield, averaging 3.1 tackles per game, fourth in the league, and 71 fouls committed, second in the league. He was fourth in the league in tackles per game with 3.1 and second in fouls committed with 71. These high numbers show his contribution to the defense and his ability to get fouls and keep the team calm. From the above, you can see 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 want.

Sho Inagaki

Sho Inagaki

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

He was selected for the Japan national team for the first time in March 2021. Inagaki’s defensive abilities, such as his ability to win the ball, are what set him apart from the rest, and his data for the 2021 season shows that he is 7th in the league in tackles per game with 3, and 7th in interceptions per game with 0.4. He also runs a maximum distance of 13.17 kilometers, which is 18th in the league. His dedication to running and reaping the rewards of his work makes him a true team player.

In the 2021 season, he also played an active role in the attack. He is tied for 17th in the league with 8 goals scored this season. This is a career high for Inagaki. This is a career high for Inagaki, and the fact that he scored five more goals than the three he scored the previous year shows how much he has grown as an attacker this year. He also scored the game-winning goal in the final of the Luban Cup to seal the team’s victory.

He was also selected as one of the best eleven players for the 2021 season, and is sure to play an active role next year.

Miki Yamane

Miki Yamane

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

Yamane is a side back, so of course he has the dedication of a DF. However, what is noteworthy is the number of chances he is involved in making. He has 12 assists in the 2021 season, which ranks first in the league, and he averages 35 passes per game in the opposition half, which ranks sixth in the league for a side-back.

According to the football lab that handles the data, they are third in J1 in the ranking of players involved in the attack. The fact that he ranks third out of all the players, including the midfielders, shows just how good a side-back he is.

When it comes to the progress of Kawasaki Frontale, Leandro Damien and Sanogi (now in Belgium) tend to be the focus of attention. However, Yamane is undoubtedly one of the right backs who helped Kawasaki win back-to-back titles. He was also chosen as the Best Eleven and Individual Fair Play Award for the 2021 season.


In this article, I introduced some of the great behind-the-scenes players who are active in the J-League. What can be said about all of them is that they contribute to the team not only in defense, but also in attack.When you watch a game of a team with the above four players, please pay attention to the activities of the players behind the scenes.


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