Yokohama F-Marinos captain Shunsuke Nakamura was the toast of the J. League on Tuesday evening when he was named 2013 J. League Player of the Year at the grand J. League Awards ceremony in the Yokohama Arena. Hajime Moriyasu was Manager of the Year again after leading Sanfrecce Hiroshima to back-to-back championships and Takumi Minamino of Cerezo Osaka the Best Young Player.
Shunsuke Nakamura's second J. League Player of the Year award came after a gap of thirteen years - his first was in 2000! - and capped an inspirational and eventually also heartbreaking season in which he led his team to the very brink of the J. League championship only for them to fall into the runners-up position on the very last day of the season. This was also his first time on the J. League's Best XI in thirteen years, having played in Europe from 2002-9 until returning to Yokohama in 2010.
"I have two emotions right now," said Nakamura on receiving the Descente Golden Ball Trophy, Adidas Glass Ball and a Caribbean cruise voucher from Sky Perfect JSAT. "One is simple delight. The second is gratitude. Today, I was one of ten F-Marinos players nominated for the Best XI. As you can understand from this, it is because I have such outstanding team mates that I am able to receive this award. I am grateful to my team mates. Thank you very much!"
Nakamura also thanked everyone at the club and the supporters, referring especially to a banner they had raised on September 21st with the words, `We want to win the championship with Shunsuke!' "That really moved me", he said, "I'll never forget it!" He carried on to make special mention of two team mates in particular to whom he owes a huge debt. One was the late Naoki Matsuda, about whom he said simply, "Without him, I wouldn't be the person I am."
The other was Yuji Nakazawa, himself Player of the Year in 2004 and now back on the Best XI with Nakamura this year. "I shouldn't say this, but in my heart my team mate, Yuji Nakazawa, was Player of the Year this season. I think he has earned that through how he has played for the past few years. His passion for football and attitude in daily training are an inspiration not only for the young players but also for me."
Nakamura thanked his family, too, for supporting him through good times and bad at home and abroad and then repeated what he had said the first time thirteen years ago: "I want to carry on playing in a manner that will be worthy of this award and contributing whatever I can, however small, to the world of football."
Hajime Moriyasu has also enjoyed an extraordinary season in leading Sanfrecce Hiroshima to a second straight title. He received an EOS Kiss X7 digital camera from Canon and a one million yen travel coupon from Nike Japan. "First of all, I'm delighted to be back here with my whole team" - for only the champion team has all of its players at the Awards - "and couldn't be more delighted to receive this prestigious prize again." He thanked the players first "because this result was achieved by their effort" and the whole club and all of their supporters.
"We have learned two things this season," Moriyasu continued, "the importance of never giving up till the last and of carrying on believing. This was a very difficult season. We had injuries at the start and our condition was as bad as it could be. We also had a poor period when we couldn't win in the summer and then kept on dropping points to our rivals at the finish. But all through this the players kept up their spirit, hung together and battled to the finish. We carried on doing our job and that led to this result."
"There is one other thing we mustn't forget," said Moriyasu. "We achieved our goal of winning the title but we also mustn't forget the players and staff of the other clubs who gave their all throughout the year. We have to consider and respect our rivals, and celebrate our achievement on that basis." And how will he celebrate personally? "I'll use the close season to travel with this Nike coupon and take a lot of memorable photos with this Canon camera."
The Sanfrecce Hiroshima players revelled in their victory by taking to the stage with yet another original performance, hopping on slowly from foot to foot in formation, and finishing, too, with their grand arrow-firing pose. Their victory was all the more tremendous because they also won the J. League's team Fair Play Prize, the Takamado Cup, for the second season in a row and third time in four years! Vegalta Sendai also qualified for the Fair Play Prize, and four teams - champions Gamba Osaka, runners-up Vissel Kobe, Matsumoto Yamaga and Fagiano Matsumoto - won Fair Play Prizes in J2. There were individual Fair Play Prizes for Hiroshima captain Hisato Sato, also for his second year in a row and third time overall, and Yoichiro Kakitani of Cerezo Osaka, who credited Sato with having inspired him to aim for the highest standards in his own game. Kakitani won the new Goal of the Year award, too, for a goal he scored against Kashima Antlers on November 30th.
The prize for the Best Young Player went to Kakitani's team mate Takumi Minamino who became a major creative force for Cerezo this season and scored five goals himself in 29 league games. This year's award was for players born on or after April 2nd, 1992 who made at least 17 J1 appearances. He received a luxury Breitling watch and a year's supply of the Calbee fruit granola breakfast cereal from Calbee and a gold medal and folding plaque from Puma Japan.
Yoshito Okubo of Kawasaki Frontale was presented the Mizuno Golden Shoe Trophy, a Gold Trophy and year's supply of Coca-Cola from Coca-Cola Japan, and Plug-in Products' platinum and diamond pin broach, for his 26 goals as top scorer in J1.
Yuji Nakazawa was named to the Best XI for his sixth time, Shunsuke Nakamura for his third and Hiroshima players Shusaku Nishikawa and Toshihiro Aoyama for their second. The other seven all made the Best XI for the first time: Daisuke Nasu (Urawa Reds), Masato Morishige (FC Tokyo), Hotaru Yamaguchi and Yoichiro Kakitani (Cerezo Osaka), Yuya Osako (Kashima Antlers), Yoshito Okubo (Kawasaki Frontale) and Kengo Kawamata (Albirex Niigata).
Yuichi Nishimura and Toru Sagara maintained their recent monopoly of the match officials' awards. Nishimura was Referee of the Year for his fifth time in five consecutive years and Toru Sagara, Assistant Referee of the Year for his sixth time, the last five also in a row.
Four stadiums shared the Best Pitch Award: Cerezo Osaka's Kincho Stadium, Shimizu S-Pulse's IAI Stadium Nihondaira, Urawa Reds' Saitama Stadium 2002 and Albirex Niigata's Tohoku Denryoku Big Swan Stadium.
There were Special Service Awards for three former players: Masashi Nakayama, Yoichi Doi and Kota Hattori. Cerezo Osaka won the prize for the Best Youth Scheme. Yasuhito Endo of Gamba Osaka was named the Most Exciting Player in J2 and 19-year old Shoya Nakajima of Tokyo Verdy won the prize for the Best Goal in J2.