The J.League turned 25 on 15 May, and Brazilian legend Zico was in Tokyo to join in the celebrations, attending a star-studded party on the 14th which also included live music performances from KREVA, Little Glee Monster, and BRADIO.
The 65-year-old played a huge part in establishing the J.League when it was launched in 1993, including scoring a hat-trick for Kashima Antlers in their maiden game, and then went on to manage Japan to Asian Cup glory in 2004 and the World Cup in 2006.
Back in the country to mark the festivities, the former selecao ace was full of praise for the impact the J.League has had on Japanese football’s development.
“I’ve travelled all around the world but I don’t think there is another league that has such a ‘players first’ approach,” he said. “Since becoming professional Japan has not once missed out on the World Cup, and more and more players are progressing to the biggest leagues in Europe, which is fantastic.”
Current J.League players Tomoaki Makino and Yuji Nakazawa were also in attendance, with Urawa Reds’ Makino displaying plenty of his characteristic enthusiasm.
“I want everyone to leave this event feeling like they want to go to the stadium,” he said. “I always tell the escort kids as we walk out together before games to remember the scenery standing on the pitch, as that kind of small thing can become a big impetus.”
Indeed, acting to encourage and assist people all around Japan to participate in sport is one of the J.League’s reasons for existence, and a press conference was held with Special Olympics Japan (SON) on 24 May to announce the participation by Japanese teams in the 2018 Special Olympics Unified Cup Chicago presented by Toyota.
SON provides training for athletes with mental disabilities as well as hosting international events, and next year will also be its 25th in operation.
Motohiro Yamaguchi, Nagoya Grampus Academy Director and a former Japan national team player, welcomed the Japan team to train in Nagoya ahead of the competition and was full of praise for their efforts.
“Myself, Nagoya’s youth players, and the club itself received smiles and gratitude from the Japan team – there was a pure enjoyment to playing football and we learned a lot,” he said.
“The Unified Cup will take place after the football World Cup in Russia, and I’d like everyone to consider it as another World Cup.”