Summary

  • Kagawa was candidate for 2016 Bundesliga Idol.
  • Japanese stars playing a big role at several top flight clubs.
  • Okudera led the way in the 1970s.

The Japanese love affair with the Bundesliga began back in the 1970s, when Yasuhiko Okudera caught the eye of legendary 1. FC Köln manager Hennes Weisweiler. The young midfielder was offered a contract and made his debut for the Billy Goats in October 1977, becoming Japan's first professional player in Europe. He went on to help Köln land a Bundesliga and DFB Cup double in his very first season – and the rest is history.

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Okudera blazed a trail for future generations of Japanese footballers in Europe, and his legacy stretches right through to the present day – his compatriot Shinji Kagawa, who plies his trade at Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund, was among the candidates for Bundesliga Idol for 2016.

In honour of Kagawa's achievement, bundesliga.com runs the rule over the other Japanese players currently lighting up the German top flight...

Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt)

Makoto Hasebe has been one of Eintracht Frankfurt coach Niko Kovac's key performers.

The captain of the Japan national side has started all but two of the Eagles' games this season, either as a defensive midfielder or a central defender, and has helped them to stay remarkably solid at the back. Frankfurt have conceded just 12 goals in 16 Bundesliga games, which is second only to FC Bayern München (9).

As well as winning half of his tackles and challenges, Hasebe boasts an 85 per cent pass completion rate, and his calming influence has been invaluable as the Eagles have soared to sixth place in the table. A natural leader, he has also won over 100 caps for Japan, who currently sit joint-top of their 2018 FIFA World Cup group with Saudi Arabia.   

Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin)

Genki Haraguchi has been a regular on the Hertha Berlin wing.

Hertha are also enjoying a superb campaign, and Haraguchi has been a regular fixture on the wing, starting 13 of their 16 encounters so far. That is even more impressive given the number of air miles he has clocked up on international duty for the Samurai Blue. Since September, Haraguchi has travelled over 70,000 kilometres – twice around the world – scoring in each of Japan's last four World Cup qualifiers.

Nevertheless, he is always one of the first names on Pal Dardai's teamsheet. In the Bundesliga, only Rune Jarstein, Niklas Stark, Marvin Plattenhardt and Vedad Ibisevic have played more minutes for Hertha than Haraguchi, whose pace is one of the Old Lady's most dangerous assets. Having missed only one Bundesliga game in 2016/17, he will now be looking to keep his side in the hunt for a place in Europe next season.

Yuya Osako (1. FC Köln)

Watch: Check out Osako's equaliser against RB Leipzig on Matchday 5:

Following in the foosteps of Okudera, Osako has been a key figure for Köln this season, as the Billy Goats have also mounted an assault on the European places. The 26-year-old has formed an eye-catching partnership with Anthony Modeste, who is keeping Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on his toes at the top of the Bundesliga scoring charts.

Osako scored in successive games against FC Schalke 04 and RB Leipzig, as well as setting up both of Modeste's goals in the 2-1 win over Ingolstadt. He has also created no fewer than 47 scoring chances, an average of around three per game.

 Gotoku Sakai (Hamburger SV)

Gotoku Sakai was made Hamburger SV captain by Markus Gisdol.

Sakai's importance to Hamburg was underlined in mid-November, when coach Markus Gisdol promoted him to club captain. It coincided with a remarkable upturn in HSV's fortunes – they played out encouraging draws with TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Nordderby rivals SV Werder Bremen, before claiming their first wins of the campaign against SV Darmstadt 98 and FC Augsburg.

The 25-year-old has also been repositioned, moving from right-back to the right side of defensive midfield in Hamburg's 4-2-3-1 formation. In this more central role, the former VfB Stuttgart man is able to exert greater influence on the game, and HSV will be hoping to reap the benefits. While they are still very much in the thick of the relegation battle, down in 17th, recent performances suggest that the club still have what it takes to turn their season around.

Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund)

Shinji Kagawa (c.) was one of a select few names in the running for Bundesliga Idol 2016.

Kagawa – like his compatriots Yoshinori Muto (1. FSV Mainz 05), Takashi Usami (FC Augsburg) and Atsuto Uchida (FC Schalke 04) – has been hampered by injury this season, but he remains one of the most iconic players in the Bundesliga. Arguably the most gifted Japanese player of his generation, Kagawa has notched up 35 goals and 28 assists in 112 Bundesliga appearances for Die Schwarzgelben, and played a starring role as they won back-to-back league titles in 2011 and 2012.

The 2016 Bundesliga Idol finalist will now be determined to recover his former consistency and lend greater strength to Dortmund's already formidable attack. And he and his fellow compatriots will no doubt continue to light up the Bundesliga for generations to come.

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