The J.League prides itself on its ability to develop the best young Japanese talent and no teams did it better than Kashiwa Reysol and Shonan Bellmare, who were named the Best Youth Development Clubs for 2021.
Honored with two world-famous delicacies from Miyazaki — one head of beef and five kilograms of ripe mangoes — Reysol and Bellmare were presented with their awards over the past two weeks at their home stadiums. 2021 was a landmark year for both clubs, whose sporting success and player development are well-known at this point.
Reysol have long been an excellent developer of talent with some noteworthy professionals starting their careers in yellow and black, including the likes of national team standout Hiroki Sakai. Elsewhere, the legendary Hidekazu Otani, who made his debut with the club in 2003 and has played for them every year since, is also an academy product.
The first team had immense homegrown quality in 2021 as 20-year-old Mao Hosoya bagged three goals and another academy graduate, 23-year-old Taiyo Koga, made headlines by leading the team in appearances with 36.
Shonan also have a long history of terrific academy products. National teamer Wataru Endo came through their system and played five years with the first team before going onto Urawa Reds and eventually Europe, where he now plays in the German Bundesliga at VfB Stuttgart.
In 2021, Shonan’s appearance leader was then-22-year-old Hirokazu Ishihara. The center back was a youth player before making his way to the first team. Teenager Satoshi Tanaka played 34 times for Bellmare, while 22-year-old Shuto Machino was among their most-used players as well.
Both Kashiwa and Shonan have demonstrated a clear pipeline to the first team from the academy — and both now have promising new classes progressing through award-winning development schemes.
The future of the J.League resides in the ability to develop top Japanese players from the youth level into top flight stars. The league has done it for years and in 2021 nobody contributed to the next generation better than Kashiwa Reysol and Shonan Bellmare.