The glamour team of the J.League's early days, Tokyo Verdy have struggled in recent years but maintained their Brazilian ties and commitment to attacking football.
Birth of an institution
Inspired by Japan's bronze medal at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament in 1968, and the massive interest that ensued, Matsutaro Shoriki, the head of the Yomiuri Group, established Yomiuri FC, Tokyo Verdy's predecessor, in 1969. Japan had no professional league at the time, so the vast majority of clubs were amateur or corporate teams.
From the outset, Yomiuri had lofty ambitions. They built a new training ground and devoted significant resources to developing a youth system on a par with major European clubs.
In 1972, the club entered the Japanese Soccer League's second division, and signed several Dutch players and Brazilians of Japanese ancestry. George Yonashiro was the heart and soul of the team during the early years - he would later be affectionately nicknamed 'Mr. Yomiuri' - and was instrumental in persuading a talented 20-year-old Brazilian forward by the name of Ruy Ramos to come to the Far East in 1977. Ramos would become a pillar of the Verdy team and wear the No10 shirt for Japan after becoming a naturalised citizen.
Verdy were promoted to the top tier in 1977, and the club's blend of youth and Brazilian flair proved to be a recipe for success in the 1980s. Ramos, midfielder Tetsuya Totsuka, and defenders Hisashi Kato and Satoshi Tsunami became mainstays in the national team and helped Verdy win five domestic titles in the decade, before the inception of the professional J.League in 1993.
Making of a legend
The club's golden age would come in the early years of the new league. The likes of Ramos and forward Kazuyoshi Miura, who had played for Brazilian club Santos, swept aside every team in their path and Verdy were crowned J.League champions in 1993 and 1994.
Capable of tying defenders in knots with the step-overs and repertoire of tricks he perfected in Brazil, Miura banged in 20 goals in 1993 to become the season's top-scoring Japanese player and win the inaugural J.League MVP award. 'King Kazu' would later become the first Japanese to play in Serie A when he signed with Genoa in 1994, although he returned to Verdy the following year. His tussles with Yokohama F Marinos defensive linchpin Masami Ihara added further spice to the fierce rivalry between the two clubs from their corporate days.
A handful of titles in the first two seasons suggested Verdy would dominate the J.League for years to come. However, the club's lustre started to fade from the mid-90s and the flow of silverware quickly dried up.
Verdy's current decline dates back to the start of this decade, and although former coach Osvaldo Ardiles kept the team in the top division in 2003 and 2004, the capital side were relegated the following season after finishing a club-worst 17th out of 18 teams.
In 2006, Verdy turned to club legend Ramos to take up the coaching reins. The addition of prolific Brazilian striker Hulk (currently with Porto) gave the team the necessary firepower to finish second in 2007 and rejoin the top flight. The joy was short-lived, however, with Verdy finishing 17th in 2008 to drop straight back down into the J2.
Verdy's youth system remains the envy of many clubs, and their women's team, NTV Beleza, has built a proud record, with eight players representing Japan at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008.
Verdy's home is now the Ajinomoto stadium, a 50,000-capacity ground in western Tokyo. Although Verdy was originally established in Kawasaki, the club moved to Tokyo in 2001 and shares the Ajinomoto with FC Tokyo.