Shinji Kagawa, Eiji Kawashima & the top five Japanese in Europe in 2011-2012

26 May 2012

By Dan Orlowitz | Japanese Football Editor

The last year has been a rollercoaster month for Japan as the team has largely flourished under manager Alberto Zaccheroni. Compared to 15, 10, and even five years ago, more Japanese players than ever are challenging themselves in Europe and succeeding in the continent's top divisions.

But some Japanese players struggled to break through, with Tomaki Makino, Kisho Yano, Yuki Abe, and Masahiko Inoha returning to Japan. Takashi Usami languished on the Bayern bench, while Samurai Blue captain Makoto Hasebe struggled at Wolfsburg. Promising players such as Tadanari Lee and Keisuke Honda had injury-shortened seasons, while newcomers like Mike Havenaar and Gotoku Sakai began to prove their potential.

On the whole positive performances far outnumbered the negative, and to reflect this Goal.com has put together its top-five Japanese players in Europe for the 2011-12 season. One thing is for certain: if Japan continues to send players of such high calibre overseas, next year's selection will be even more difficult.

5. HAJIME HOSOGAI | Augsburg, Midfielder, 24




2011-12 SEASON STATS


Appearances

32


Goals

3


Assists

1


PLAYER FACTS


Season highlight

Shutting down Kagawa


2011-12 starts

31


Home next season

Bayer Leverkusen








The former Urawa Reds man had an impressive season with Augsburg, who some would argue overachieved in their first-ever Bundesliga season in finishing in 14th and avoiding relegation. Hosogai's first goal in the top flight came in September against Leverkusen, the team that had loaned him to Augsburg in the first place. In Round 25 against Dortmund, he proved to be the only defensive player in the league capable of shutting down Shinji Kagawa. Hosogai will likely return to Leverkusen next season and has proven himself more than capable of holding his own in Germany.

4. MAYA YOSHIDA | VVV Venlo, Centre-back, 24




2011-12 SEASON STATS


Appearances

32


Goals

5


Assists

0


PLAYER FACTS


League highlight

Bicycle kick goal vs. PSV


International highlight

Game-winner vs. DPRK


Estimated value

1 million








Though not necessarily as flashy as some of his peers, 23-year-old Yoshida’s steady play was instrumental in VVV Venlo’s Eredivisie survival after they managed to scrape through the recent promotion-relegation play-off. The centre-back put in 32 appearances, and his five goals were tied for second-best in the team.

The highlight of Yoshida’s season came in September, when his right-footed bicycle-kick snuck under the crossbar to give VVV a 3-2 lead against PSV. Though the visitors equalised late, the goal was still voted best of the year by the league.

3. EIJI KAWASHIMA | Lierse, Goalkeeper, 29




2011-12 SEASON STATS


Appearances

30


Goals allowed

36


Assists

0


PLAYER FACTS


Season highlight

voted MVP for second year


Fluent languages

Japanese, English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese


Wants to play at

AC Milan








The 29-year-old had another monster season between the posts in the Belgium Pro League, conceding just 36 goals - fifth best in the league. But Lierse’s position players utterly failed to support their captain as they managed to score a league-worst 24 goals.

Unfortunately for the supporters who voted Kawashima as MVP for a second year in a row, he's already turned down an extension and has reportedly set his sights on Serie A giants AC Milan. With the World Cup just two years away and young goalkeepers like Shuichi Gonda rising up the depth charts, the former Kawasaki Frontale man may only have a few years left to make his Italian dream a reality.

2. SHINJI OKAZAKI | Stuttgart, Striker, 26




2011-12 SEASON STATS


Appearances

26


Goals

7


Assists

1


PLAYER FACTS


Number of starts

18


Scored most against

Schalke, Hannover


International caps (Goals)

51 (27)








In his first full season at Stuttgart, Okazaki found his pacing with seven goals in 26 appearances including a remarkable three-game streak in February. The 26-year-old’s production fell off in the spring due to injury, but if anything the winter arrival of fellow Japanese Gotoku Sakai helped as the two combined often in plotting dynamic attacks up the sides. Next season should prove even more fruitful, as with Kagawa’s expected departure to England Okazaki will have the chance to emerge as the top Japanese striker in the Bundesliga.

1. SHINJI KAGAWA | Borussia Dortmund, Midfielder, 23




2011-12 SEASON STATS


Appearances

31


Goals

13


Assists

12


PLAYER FACTS


Season highlight

March double at Koln


Future home

Manchester United?


Estimated value

17m








There’s little that hasn’t already been written about Kagawa’s performance this season, but it goes without saying that he is the undisputed choice for Japan's top performer in Europe. If he does indeed head to the Premier League next season, he’ll be remembered as a crucial part of the Dortmund squad that earned won two Bundesliga titles as well as this year’s DfB-Pokal. And yet at the age of 23, it's clear that Shinji Kagawa has his best years ahead of him, at Manchester United or any other club lucky enough to secure his services.

Do you agree with Goal.com's Top Five Japanese in Europe for this season? If not, who do you think should be on the list?

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