Southeast Asia Indonesia

The Liga 1’s Japanese Revolution

With the proven success of both Taisei Marukawa and Renshi Yamaguchi in the previous season, Liga 1 Indonesia clubs are raiding the market for Japanese players for their 2022/23 season squads. Up to five Japanese players were rumored to have finalized their contracts with a number of Liga 1 clubs, while three are set to take the stage in the upcoming season.

The likes of Taisei, Renshi, and Kei Hirose have confirmed themselves to be playing in the 2022/23 Liga 1 season. Taisei have moved clubs from Persebaya Surabaya to PSIS Semarang, while both Renshi and Hirose have decided to stay at their respective clubs, Arema FC and Borneo FC.

Taisei, Renshi, and Hirose were known as the best Japanese imports that the Liga 1 has seen in recent years. Taisei was crowned as last season’s MVP thanks to his 17 goals and 10 assists for Persebaya – leading to PSIS’ successful pursuit of him, while Renshi has proven himself to be a capable defensive midfielder for Arema. Hirose, on the other hand, was fondly remembered as “the man with three lungs” thanks to his tireless performances for Persela Lamongan in the 2019 Liga 1 season, leading to his move to Johor Darul Tai’zim II in the Liga Premier Malaysia in the 2020 season. He then made his return to Indonesian football with Borneo in the second half of the 2021 season.

The impressive performances being dished out regularly by the trio – as well as the overall hard-working and tenacious reputation of Japanese players – led to Liga 1 clubs performing a mad dash into the market for their own Japanese imports for the upcoming season.

Bhayangkara FC have reportedly gained the signature of Katsuyoshi Kimishima for the upcoming season. The 23-year-old primarily operates as a midfielder and is currently in the books of FK Jonava in the Lithuanian top-flight, the same league that Hirose had played in a few years prior.

Two more Japanese players with European experience are also set for a switch to the Liga 1 next season – strikers Ryosuke Nagasawa and Sho Yamamoto. Ryosuke, who could count Albirex Niigata Singapore and Serbian top-flight side FK Radnicki Nis as his former employers, is set for a switch to Persikabo 1973, while Yamamoto, formerly of Iskra Danilovgrad from the Montenegrin top-flight, is being prepared as Taisei’s successor at Persebaya.

PSM Makassar have also reportedly signed their own Japanese attacking import in preparation for their campaigns in both the league and the 2022 AFC Cup. Kenzo Nambu, a name synonymous with the Thai League 2, is being linked to a move to the Juku Eja. Nambu’s experience in Southeast Asian football is quite extensive, having played for five Thai League 2 clubs in his career, namely Kasetsart FC, MOF Customs United (now Customs Ladkrabang United), Uthai Thani FC, Nakhon Pathom United, and Rayong FC.

Last but not least, newly-promoted RANS Cilegon have accepted Kodai Iida as a trialist. 27-year-old attacking midfielder Iida has played for multiple clubs in both the United States and Canada, representing the likes of Washington Premier, HFX Wanderers, and Oklahoma City Energy.

The aforementioned five players are also joined by a number of Japanese names who have been associated with Liga 1 clubs in recent days. This includes Ryohei Miyazaki, who recently failed a trial at Persib Bandung, Arihiro Sentoku, who was once linked with a move to Persebaya, Ryota Noma, FC Istiklol’s former midfield general who was constantly rumored with a move to PS Barito Putera, and even Shinji Kagawa, the former Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund player who was rumored to be signing for Persib.

This influx of Japanese talent to the Liga 1 is a proven domino effect of Taisei’s, Renshi’s, and Hirose’s excellent form for their respective clubs. Liga 1 clubs are recognizing the refined talent, versatility, and tenacity of Japanese players, slowly shifting from a trend of utilizing either South Korean or Central Asian players for their AFC slots.