German Bundesliga, Japanese Football Share Mutually Beneficial Relationship

Stefan Bienkowski@@SbienkowskiFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2013

RECIFE, BRAZIL - JUNE 19:  Daniele De Rossi of Italy competes with Shinji Kagawa of Japan during the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Group A match between Italy and Japan at Arena Pernambuco on June 19, 2013 in Recife, Brazil.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Despite being the first side to be eliminated from this year's Confederations Cup, Japan will leave Brazil with experience, pride and a whole host of new fans.

With a squad full of exciting, technically superior players, the Samurai Blue were unfortunate in their three decisive matches. They ultimately surrendered to Brazil but fought admirably against Italy and Mexico, with poor refereeing decisions effectively deciding the fate of the game.

Yet what truly turns people to the Japanese cause is the manner in which they have been able to reinvent their national team over the course of what seems like a single generation. From Asian lightweights to potential world-beaters, Japan have been on the rise for some time now.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Japan's inaugural professional league, the J. League. It acts as a bold marker underlining just how far this nation has come and an ever-present tool for furthering the Japanese game.

The J. League was founded on principles of developing youth within the country and forever creating better players for Japan. Instead of simply creating a professional league and paying those who took part in it, the JFA hand-picked each side for this new league based on their geographical location and how they could develop the community around them.

From there the league has continued to strive, with the pinnacle moment of its work in youth development coming shortly after the 2002 World Cup, which Japan co-hosted. That was when the J. League Academy Scheme was introduced. Since then, 28 centers of excellence have been built around the country as the sport continues to flourish.

To compare such progress and exquisite efficiency with Germany's modernized youth system and flourishing Bundesliga would initially seem a little ignorant. However, the two countries have crossed paths in the past, helping the Japanese game become what it is today.

Prior to the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, the Japanese national team traveled to Duisburg in Western Germany to study how they, too, could effectively harbor a useful national side akin to the Germans' side that won the World Cup in Switzerland in 1954.

There they found the foundations of a sporting system that would bring a further two World Cups back to Berlin and form the basis for a national league that would become the Bundesliga we all adore today. In that trip, Japan found the inspiration they would need for their own league.

Fast-forward 50 years, and the German Bundesliga is well and truly reaping the benefits of that special partnership with Japanese football. Of the 28-man squad that have just finished their Confederations Cup campaign, eight will be travelling together back to Germany, where they have forged a number of successful careers.

From the experienced captain of the national side, Makoto Hasebe, an integral part of Wolfsburg's midfield, to Schalke right back Atsuto Uchida—who became the first Japanese player to reach the Champions League semifinal—to the exciting wide forward Shinji Okazaki of Stuttgart fame, this side is dependent on its Bundesliga-based players.

Add to that a further four players who served the competition on the bench, Takashi Inui, Hajime Hosogai, Hiroki Sakai and Hiroshi Kiyotake. Along with star player Shinji Kagawa, who made his name in the Bundesliga for Dortmund, the sheer number of German-based players changes that dependency on the German league to an absolute necessity.

With no fewer than 10 Japanese players playing throughout the Bundesliga this season, the concept of the Bundesliga relying on Japan for technically gifted players looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.

For Japan, a nation synonymous with invention and the pursuit of perfection, this current crop of players continue to strive toward better things as the nation as a whole wrestles with the world to be considered one of the big guns of international football. All the while, the Bundesliga continues to support and benefit from its ever-increasing success.


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