The 2017 J.League campaign officially came to a close on Sunday and, as always, there was many a player who emerged from the past 11 months with his reputation enhanced.
For those hailing from clubs like Kawasaki Frontale, who were crowned J1 League champions on a dramatic final day of the season, and Cerezo Osaka, who finished third in their first year back in the top flight, there was certainly plenty to be happy about.
Less so for the likes of Kawasaki Frontale after they led for much of the second half of the season only to lose the title on the last day, and Gamba Osaka, who earlier this year enjoyed AFC Champions League football but fell six spots to finish a disappointing 10th in the league.
There is still the Emperor’s Cup to be decided with four teams left in the running, but the transfer season in Japan has already kicked into overdrive.
Most of the activity will be done domestically but, as is usually the case, a number of standouts would have done enough in the past year to earn coveting glances from Europe.
Here, FOX Sports Asia looks at five stars of the season who could just find themselves on the receiving end of offers when the European transfer window reopens in January.
Kenyu Sugimoto (Cerezo Osaka)
Sugimoto in action for the Samurai Blue
It was a slightly disappointing end to the season for Kenyu Sugimoto as he was pipped to the Golden Boot by Yu Kobayashi’s hat-trick on the final day, but his haul of 22 goals is still a fine return for the 25-year-old.
Sugimoto is no stranger to top-flight football in Japan having made his professional debut at the age of 18, but he still would not have been expected to make such an impact after a season in J2.
Tall but not quite a traditional target man, the lanky 1.87m striker’s unique style of play poses quite the interesting challenge for opposing defenders, but his main attribute is something that is appreciated universally: scoring goals.
— Armando Farnós (@AFarnos) December 3, 2017
Having previously played for Cerezo in the AFC Champions League without ever scoring, a return to Asia’s premier club competition could appeal to Sugimoto although, as he enters the second half of his 20s, it could be the right time to explore Europe.
Perfect for? Dutch Eredivisie
Could be the next? Yuya Osako
Shintaro Kurumaya (Kawasaki Frontale)
Kurumaya has been a revelation for Kawasaki in 2017
While it may not be one of the most-glamourous positions on the field, full-backs of the all-action Japanese variation have been trending in Europe for the past decade now – Yuto Nagatomo, Atsuto Uchida, Gotoku Sakai, Hiroki Sakai… the list goes on.
— 川崎フロンターレ (@frontale_staff) December 3, 2017
The latest of the conveyor belt could just be Kawasaki left-back Shintaro Kurumaya, who started in all 34 matches of his side’s J1 League-winning campaign.
The 25-year-old’s excellent physical and mental attributes make him perfect for the position, but he is also blessed with a sublime left foot that has proved to be a real weapon on many on occasion.
— 車屋 紳太郎 (@kurumaya0405) June 19, 2017
Kurumaya recently won his first Japan cap in a 3-3 friendly draw against Haiti and will get another chance to prove his worth as part of coach Vahid Halilhodzic’s all domestic-based squad for the 2017 EAFF E-1 Football Championship later this month.
With first-choice Yuto Nagatomo not getting any younger, the Samurai Blue are crying out for a long-term replacement to emerge at left-back.
Perfect for? German Bundesliga
Could be the next? Yuto Nagatomo
Yosuke Ideguchi (Gamba Osaka)
Scoring THAT goal against Australia
It is remarkable to think that Yosuke Ideguchi is still only 21, such is the composure he exudes on the field and impact he makes even on the biggest of stages.
82' WHAT A GOAL! 2-0 @jfa_samuraiblue
Ideguichi drives towards the goal and unleashes a piledriver into the top corner.
— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) August 31, 2017
Look no further than the wonder goal he scored in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Australia, where he skipped past a defender and drove towards the opposition goal before unleashing a rocket of a 20-yard strike into the top corner.
There are shades of Roma pivot Radja Nainggolan to his game, especially with his direct running, all-round game and defensive pressure when his team are not in possession of the ball.
We understand #lufc may be prepared to shelve plans to sign Yosuke Ideguchi in January, despite an active interest in the player. But Leeds are hopeful of making two signings in the mid-season transfer window. #MOT https://t.co/tfRq88NxLb
— Leeds United Live (@liveleedsunited) November 29, 2017
The future looks extremely bright for Ideguchi and it already appears that his first port-of-call in Europe will be with Leeds in the English Championship.
Perfect for? Serie A
Could be the next? Keisuke Honda
Kazuki Nagasawa (Urawa Red Diamonds)
Nagasawa was arguably Urawa’s best player in the Champions League final
The one player on the list who has actually had a spell in Europe after making 24 appearances for German club Cologne across two and a half seasons.
— J.LEAGUE Official EN (@J_League_En) November 15, 2017
Kazuki Nagasawa may not have enjoyed as much success as he would have liked in his first stint in the continent, but there can be no denying that this past season playing for Urawa Red Diamonds has done him a world of good and he is now better prepared for another stab at it.
He may not garner much plaudits for his understated but efficient way he goes about his business, and he even had to play second fiddle in the earlier parts of the campaign as he struggled to break into the Reds starting XI.
— CHRISTOPHER (@Kurisu210) November 25, 2017
Nonetheless, once he was given his chance, Nagasawa took it with both hands and showed why Cologne were convinced to sign him just eight months after he made his professional debut.
The Chiba native also showed his versatility after producing a Man-of-the-Match display in the second leg of the Champions League final against Al Hilal as a defensive No. 10, an added string to his bow that would appeal to prospective employers.
Perfect for? French Ligue 1
Could be the next? Makoto Hasebe
Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers)
A taste of Europe for Shoji against Sevilla
When the man you have been tipped to one day replace in the national team personally backs you to succeed, you know you are doing something right but it wasn’t without a word of caution as well.
Back in June this year, ahead of a friendly against Syria, Gen Shoji had the best seal of approval young defender could ask for when Southampton stalwart Maya Yoshida said that he had “power, pace and [learns] really well”. However, the 75-cap centre-back also said it was an opportunity that his younger compatriot had to seize and that “he should have been where he is now ages ago”.
Yoshida’s words might have seemed slightly harsh but he only wants the best for Shoji and, truth be told, the powerfully-built, 1.82m-tall Kashima Antlers man has for a long time now promised to be the Samurai Blue’s next premier centre-back.
It has now been seven years since an 18-year-old Shoji made his debut for Kashima and he has spent the last four seasons as an integral member of the first team and, for someone who won the J1 League title last year and was named in the competition’s Best XI, the time has come for Shoji to take the big step forward that is required if he is to fulfil his potential.
According to Japanese media, Germany side SV Werder Bremen list Kashima Antlars defender Gen Shoji. https://t.co/SU8ApINC0u
— yosuke (@maimaidenden) March 23, 2017
The Kobe native should no longer be content being one of the best centre-backs on the domestic front but must look to challenge himself in a more-competitive league, because he certainly has the talent to do so.
Perfect for? Portuguese Primeira Liga
Could be the next? Maya Yoshida