This year might have brought the greatest success of the club’s history, but Kashiwa Reysol is hardly a new kid on the Japanese block. Founded in 1940 as Hitachi Ltd Soccer Company, they are one of the nation’s oldest clubs and numbered among the founder members of Japanese Soccer League. Their zenith - prior to 2011 at least - arguably arrived in 1972, with the winning of a league and Emperor’s Cup double. Lean years followed, and Reysol failed to make the original J.League cut, but the arrival of Careca in the early 1990s revitalised their fortunes. And although the past decade has witnessed both highs and lows, including two relegations, this is a club now very much on the up.
Key to the Sun Kings’ recent revival has been the 2009 appointment of Nelsinho. This was at a time when the club was at a low ebb, heading inexorably towards the second tier, a situation which makes the veteran Brazilian’s subsequent successes all the more miraculous. Instigating major changes in personnel, the former Verdy Kawasaki and Nagoya Grampus Eight coach comfortably secured promotion in his first full season, taking the J.League 2 title by a margin of ten points. What followed caused a nation’s football record books to be rewritten, with Reysol becoming the first team in Japanese history to win second and first tier titles in successive seasons. Brazilian duo Jorge Wagner and Leandro Domingues were among the star men as Nelsinho’s side, having led for most of the season, held off Nagoya and Gamba Osaka to clinch the title on a dramatic final day.
As if their rise hasn’t been meteoric enough, Reysol now begin their quest for the world title just five days after clinching their domestic crown. As a consequence, championship celebrations have been kept to a minimum, with the FIFA Club World Cup curtain-raiser against Auckland City now of utmost importance. As Wagner explained: "The Club World Cup starts soon so we shouldn't focus too much on winning this title." And the Brazilian isn’t allowing himself to be distracted by the prospect of a semi-final against his fellow countrymen. "I know all about Santos," said the 33-year-old. "But first we have to focus on our game against Auckland and prepare for that. Then we can think about the other games."
Reysol lost more games than either Nagoya and Gamba Osaka, the two sides with whom they were vying for the title until the final kick of the J.League season. Even Vegalta Sendai, who finished 16 points off the pace, suffered fewer defeats. The key to the Sun Kings’ success was in avoiding the draws that hamstrung their rivals, with Reysol sharing the spoils in just three of their 34 matches.
The numbers game
19 – the number of points Reysol took from an available 21 in the run-in to the J.League season. The Sun Kings showed nerves of steel to fend off their title rivals, winning nine of their final 11 matches and remaining unbeaten in the last seven.
|6||PARK Dong Hyuk|
|17||AN Yong Hak|