Thursday, 20 June 2024

J League History: 2005

When writing a synopsis of the 2004 season, at the end of that year, we speculated that it will probably be viewed, decades from now, as a watershed for the J.League. Even in 2005, just a year on from that comment, the impression had begun to solidify. There were growing signs that League was moving from the early phase of formative struggle, into a new era of maturity and prosperity. Although there may be disagreements, in the years to come, about whether that 'watershed" was crossed as early as 2002 (with the World Cup, and the first hits of a plan for league expansion), or as late as 2005 (with the successful adoption of a single-stage format, and one of the most suspenseful title chases ever). However, as early as 2006 or so, there was general agreement with the view that the J.League's formative period had been completed by the end of 2005, and a new era had begun.

J.League Final Standings, 2005

. Team Pts GP W D L GF GA G.Dif
1 Gamba Osaka 60 34 18 6 10 82 58 +24
2 Urawa Reds 59 34 17 8 9 65 37 +28
3 Kashima Antlers 59 34 16 11 7 61 39 +22
4 JEF United 59 34 16 11 7 56 42 +14
5 Cerezo Osaka 59 34 16 11 7 48 40 +8
6 Jubilo Iwata 51 34 14 9 11 51 41 +10
7 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 50 34 13 11 10 50 42 +8
8 Kawasaki Frontale 50 34 15 5 14 54 47 +7
9 Yokohama Marinos 48 34 12 12 10 41 40 +1
10 FC Tokyo 47 34 11 14 9 43 40 +3
11 Oita Trinita 43 34 12 7 15 44 43 +1
12 Albirex Niigata 42 34 11 9 14 47 62 -15
13 Omiya Ardija 41 34 12 5 17 39 50 -11
14 Nagoya Grampus 39 34 10 9 15 43 49 -6
15 Shimizu S-Pulse 39 34 9 12 13 40 49 -9
16 Kashiwa Reysol 35 34 8 11 15 39 54 -15
17 Tokyo Verdy 30 34 6 12 16 40 73 -33
18 Vissel Kobe 21 34 4 9 21 30 67 -37


Promotion/Relegation Series

4 Dec Ventforet Kofu 2 - 1 Kashiwa Reysol
Kuranuki (25')
Bare" (48')
  Reynaldo (11')
12 Dec Kashiwa Reysol 2 - 6 Ventforet Kofu
Reynaldo (52')
Unozawa (86')
  Bare (10')
Bare (27')
Bare (53')
Bare (68')
Bare (69')
Bare (87')


Scoring Leaders

Rank Player Team Goals (PKs) Shots
1 Araujo Gamba Osaka 33 (0) 135
2 Washington Tokyo Verdy 22 (5) 102
3 Hisato Sato Sanfrecce Hiroshima 18 (0) 65
3 Edmilson Albirex Niigata 18 (1) 89
3 Magno Alves Oita Trinita 18 (2) 100
6 Juninho Kawasaki Frontale 16 (2) 115
6 Masashi Oguro Gamba Osaka 16 (0) 125
8 Alex Mineiro Kashima Antlers 15 (0) 66
9 Robert Cullen Jubilo Iwata 13 (0) 52
10 Seiichiro Maki JEF United 12 (0) 45
10 Ryoichi Maeda Jubilo Iwata 12 (0) 50
10 Yuki Abe JEF United 12 (5) 77
13 Mitsuo Ogasawara Kashima Antlers 11 (2) 67
14 Akinori Nishizawa Cerezo Osaka 10 (0) 44
14 Takuya Nozawa Kashima Antlers 10 (0) 45
14 Yasuhito Endo Gamba Osaka 10 (4) 64


J.League Awards, 2005

MVP Araujo 28 Gamba Osaka
Rookie of the Year Robert Cullen 20 Jubilo Iwata
Golden Boot Araujo 28 Gamba Osaka
Coach of the Year Akira Nishino 50 Gamba Osaka

Best Eleven

GK Motohiro Yoshida 31 Cerezo Osaka
DF Marcus Tulio Tanaka 24 Urawa Reds
Yuji Nakazawa 27 Yokohama Marinos
Ilya Stoyanov 31 JEF United
MF Mitsuo Ogasawara 26 Kashima Antlers
Yuki Abe 24 JEF United
Yasuhiro Endo 26 Gamba Osaka
Fernandinho 24 Gamba Osaka
Tatsuya Furuhashi 25 Cerezo Osaka
FW Hisato Sato 23 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Araujo 28 Gamba Osaka

In 2005 the J.League was still youthfully energetic, still growing rapidly, and still troubled by a variety of problems that one might associate with "immaturity" (such as an inefficient league bureaucracy, continued financial instability at a few clubs, and weak, unclear or inadequately enforced standards, particularly in terms of officiating). But despite these signs of youth, the J.League was now clearly a strong, healthy and vibrant sports organization. League officials no longer had to devote any energy to simply keeping professional football alive in Japan. Instead, the League shifted its focus fully to what they want the J.League to become in the future.


The J.League's so-called "Hundred Year Plan" -- an ambitious program of organisational development whose clear, though unstated goal is to replace baseball as Japan's national sport -- was only two years old, but already it had captured the imagination of football fans from one end of the country to the other. Perhaps the clearest signs of football's rapid growth and vibrant health in Japan could be seen in the activities of local, regional and nationwide "amateur" football teams. After following an ad hoc (or as they say in Japanese, "case by case") system of expansion over the first decade, in 2004 the J.League adopted a formal, detailed and fairly transparent system of promotion from the Regional leagues to the "semi-professional" JFL, and from there to the J.League.


Although there is a dramatic disparity in the relative success of teams that have been promoted since the "Hundred Year Plan" went into effect, there have been no examples of outright failure. After adding two clubs to the J2 in 2005, the League was sufficiently confident of the process to approve another team's promotion from the JFL at the end of the 2005 season. At the same time, two very promising franchises -- in Kumamoto and Okinawa -- advanced to the JFL from the regional leagues, and both made it clear that they were aiming to eventually earn a spot in the professional ranks. Suddenly there seemed to be a profusion of clubs, in every corner of the country, that began the journey down this same path towards membership in the J.League.


In the J.League's top division, meanwhile, progress towards an era of greater maturity was reflected in the successful adoption of a single stage season format. There were a few hints that the switch from a two-stage format to a single stage was affecting finances of weaker clubs (such as a drop in the average attendance per match, for the first time since the turn of the century, pulled down by weak numbers from the clubs in the bottom half of the table).


To address this problem, the J.League may eventually find it necessary to review its system of revenue sharing, or find some other means of encouraging the smaller and weaker clubs. Nevertheless, the single-stage season did come off successfully, even if there were some indications of "manipulation" to prevent any one team from running away with the title. Manipulated or not, the battle for the league title in the final few weeks of the season was breathtaking, to say the least. On the final day, five teams all had a theoretical chance to lift the trophy depending upon the outcome of that day's matches, and in the final standings, those five teams were all separated by just two points.


Another important sign of the League's transition was the fact that previously unheralded teams rose to the top of the heap. In League action, the Kashima Antlers were the only "traditional power" to remain in the title chase. The Marinos and Jubilo both finished mid-table, and the once-powerful Verdy went from New Year's Day triumph in the Emperor's Cup to relegation in late November. Meanwhile, both Osaka teams climbed into the ranks of title contenders (a good sign, given the weak support that football has received in the Kansai region, in the past), with Gamba edging out Cerezo on the final day to claim the J1 crown


Other up and coming teams also made their marks. JEF United, having just expanded its regional base to include Chiba city, captured the Nabisco (league) Cup. The team also moved to a new home stadium in the latter part of the season, and drew the largest crowds in the team's history. The Urawa Reds, 2004's unsuccessful finalist in the now defunct Suntory Championship Series, made another run at a title, and though they fell just short, they confirmed their place among the league's new title contenders.

 The results at the opposite end of the J1 table also provided an indication of the league's changing character. The most stunning result of them all, of course, was the relegation of Tokyo Verdy, which won the Emperor's Cup on January 1 only to collapse during the J.League season and finish in 17th place. Tokyo Verdy is a very different club from the Verdy Kawasaki organization, whose teams won the J.League crown in the League's first two seasons. Nevertheless, it was a surprise to all when the former league powerhouse was relegated to the J2. Both of the other teams that were relegated to the J2 at the end of 2005 are also clubs that have been in the top-flight division since joining the J.League. Kashiwa Reysol had been a J1 club since 1994, and Vissel Kobe since 1997. Both teams received their first taste of life in the second division, in 2006.

As exciting and suspenseful as the league title race might have been, the promotion-relegation series that followed the regular season provided another thrilling climax to cap off a fantastic year for football fans. Ventforet Kofu -- a tiny J2 club from the smallest town to host a J.League franchise, funded mainly by donations from local mom-and-pop stores -- took on Kashiwa Reysol -- an established J1 member with financial backing from the massive Hitachi conglomerate. Against all the odds, Ventforet won the home leg 2-1, and then marched into Kashiwa Stadium and ran their J1 opponents off the pitch with a 6-2 victory, on a double-hat-trick by Jader "Bare" Spindler. As a result, Ventforet joined Kyoto Purple Sanga and Avispa Fukuoka (the first and second-placed J2 teams) in advancing to the J1.