Nagoya Grampus goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki capped a triumphant year which saw his club win the J. League title for the very first time by becoming the first ever keeper to be chosen as the J. League's Player of the Year. Nagoya manager Dragan Stojkovic was named the most outstanding manager and Nagoya team mates Marcus Tulio Tanaka, Takahiro Masukawa, Luis Danilson Cordoba Rodrigues and Joshua Kennedy all joined Narazaki on the roster of the J. League's Best Eleven.
"Looking at the past winners of this award and the other players with me here today, I really wonder whether it is OK for me to receive this," said Narazaki, "but thank you very much for presenting me with this wonderful award. I think this is due to my team mates and all of the people who have supported me. I don't really know how to communicate just how grateful I feel. I do think it means something extra for a me to receive this award as a goalkeeper, that this is something that will give encouragement to all other goalkeepers as well. I want to carry on enjoying football, keep on winning games, and keep on playing well for the sake of the J. League and Japanese football.
Anyone who suspects that the goalkeeper of the championship winning team did not have much to do all season should take another look at the statistics. Nagoya allowed 483 shots against them this season, which was the second highest total of any team other than bottom club Shonan Bellmare! It was Narazaki's fifth time to make the Best Eleven but he also expressed special joy this year at having been able to come along to the gala evening with the whole championship winning team.
And why were Nagoya so strong this season? "I don't really know," said Narazaki, "but I think it was because the manager was good."
Dragan Stojkovic added the Manager of the Year award to the Player of the Year award he won while playing for Nagoya in 1995. Stojkovic led Nagoya to the J. League title in his third year at the helm. "First of all," said Stojkovic, "I don't think that I'm the best manager. Of course, thanks to the results of my team, we became champions for the first time in eighteen years. We touched our dream. I hope it is for that reason that you choose me. I'm not the best but thank you very much. I am very proud and privileged and this is a great memory for me in my career as a coach. And I would like to thank my players, of course, for the incredible work, results, the coaches for their skill, the club for its very logical and stable polity, and the supporters who have given us a lot of energy this year. And I will continue to teach my players, of course, to play beautiful football and to enjoy their football."
Stojkovic finished his address with a particularly moving tribute. "But special thanks are due to one person I love so much. She was always behind me, gave me a lot of support in difficult times. Of course, she is my wife. Thank you for your support, thank you for your courage, and I love you." He then invited her up onto the stage to receive his bouquet.
J. League Chairman Kazumi Ohigashi opened the gala evening in central Tokyo by saluting the progress that Japanese football has made this year, both in the last-sixteen finish at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa and in the J. League itself. "All of them (the national team players) either belonged to J. League teams or used to do so. Many players have spread their wings to go out from J to the world."
Ohigashi spoke with special feeling about two aspects of Nagoya's title success. "First, there was the stability of Nagoya's performance all season. This was the first time since the switch to a single, season-long league that the title has been decided without waiting till the last day and it demonstrated Nagoya's stand-out power. Secondly, there was the moment they clinched the title at Shonan Bellmare's home game. The Bellmare supporters applauded Nagoya Grampus. Nagoya manager Stojkovic and the players then thanked the Shonan supporters and the Nagoya supporters cheered Shonan. That, I felt, was sportsmanship."
Ohigashi congratulated Kashiwa Reysol on their quick return from J2 and Jubilo Iwata on their thrilling triumph in the J. League Yamazaki Nabisco Cup. He described 2010 as a season in which the J. League has had to take another close look at what kind of entity it should seek to be and how it should contribute to the community, and promised renewed commitment to making the J. League indispensible to society.
Ryoichi Maeda of Jubilo Iwata became the first player ever to take the top scorer's award two years in a row, though this year he had to share it with Nagoya's Josh Kennedy at seventeen goals apiece. The only other player ever to win it twice was Masashi Nakayama, also of Jubilo Iwata, in 1998 and 2000.
"It's thanks to my team mates that I'm able to stand here two years in a row," said Maeda. "I especially felt that in the last match," he joked, "when everyone took risks trying to get the ball to me, and perhaps that's why we lost so heavily! Next year, I want to help my team mates more, polish my goal scoring and be a member of a team that grows even stronger."
Kennedy congratulated Maeda and apologised to the organisers by doubling the cost of the top scorer awards, "because now you have to buy two of everything for us and it's going to be quite expensive. On a serious note," he continued, addressing his team mates, too, "the best thing about being champions is that the whole team gets to come along tonight. Everyone has a bit of this – it's a team thing, so thank you very much."
Nagoya defender Tulio, who joined from Urawa Reds this season, was named to the Best Eleven for his seventh time in a row and Gamba Osaka midfielder Yasuhito Endo for his eighth. Six players – Takahiro Masukawa (Nagoya), Tomoaki Makino (Hiroshima), Marcio Richardes De Andrade (Albirex Niigata), Jungo Fujimoto (Shimizu S-Pulse), Danilson (Nagoya) and Kennedy were all named for their first time. The others were Narazaki (5th time), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale, 4th time), and Maeda (2nd time).
Gamba Osaka's Takashi Usami won the award for the Best Young Player. Three teams qualified for this year's Takamado Cup for team Fair Play. Sanfrecce Hiroshima won the cup for achieving the highest Fair Play score but Montedio Yamagata and Yokohama F-Marinos were also recognised with the same prize money. Hiroshima defender Tomoaki Makino won the individual Fair Play award and gave a stirring speech about the importance of giving children dreams. The Best Pitch award was shared by Yokohama's Nissan Stadium and Shimizu's Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira. FC Tokyo won the award for the best youth nurturing schemes and Yuichi Nishimura and Toru Sagara, who both reached the World Cup final this year as the fourth and fifth officials, were named, respectively, as Referee and Assistant Referee of the Year.