Sunday, 16 June 2024

J League History: 1996

In 1996, another two teams joined the league, and it was clear that the league could not continue the format of a double round robin for both the first and second stages. The decision was made to hold only a single stage, like most European leagues. This was something of a departure from previous JFA decisions, which had typically tended to reflect South American thinking rather than European norms. As it turned out the idea failed dramatically on the first attempt, as nearly everyone involved, from fans to teams to sponsors, thought that the lack of a showdown series at the end of the year between first stage winners and second stage winners diminished the excitement. It would be a decade before the League would try again to switch to a single-stage format, though in 2005, this was finally done with a much less serious backlash

J.League 1996

Rank Team Pts Win L GF GA G Dif.
90 PK
1 Kashima Antlers 66 21 6 3 61 34 27
2 Nagoya Grampus 63 21 9 0 63 39 24
3 Yokohama Flugels 63 21 9 0 58 44 14
4 Jubilo Iwata 62 20 8 2 53 38 15
5 Kashiwa Reysol 60 20 10 0 67 52 15
6 Urawa Reds 59 19 9 2 51 31 20
7 Verdy Kawasaki 57 19 11 0 68 42 26
8 Yokohama Marinos 42 14 16 0 39 40 -1
9 JEF United Ichihara 40 13 16 1 45 47 -2
10 Shimizu S-Pulse 37 12 17 1 50 60 -10
11 Bellmare Hiratsuka 36 12 18 0 47 58 -11
12 Gamba Osaka 33 11 19 0 38 59 -21
13 Cerezo Osaka 30 10 20 0 38 56 -18
14 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 30 10 20 0 36 60 -24
15 Avispa Fukuoka 29 9 19 2 42 64 -22
16 Kyoto Purple Sanga 24 8 22 0 22 54 -32
Scoring: Win in 90 minutes= 3 Pts, PK win = 1 pts Loss pt


Scoring Leaders

Goals Name Team
23 Kazu Miura Verdy Kawasaki
21 Edilson Kashiwa Reysol
20 Evair Yokohama Flugels
15 Salvatore Scillaci Jubilo Iwata
13 Magron Verdy Kawasaki
12 Yoshiyuki Hasegawa Kashima Antlers
12 Hacek JEF United Ichihara
11 Mazinho Kashima Antlers
11 Masayuki Okano Urawa Reds
11 Yukiji Noguchi Bellmare Hiratsuka
11 Dragan Stojkovic Nagoya Grampus
11 Yoshiyuki Moriyama Nagoya Grampus
11 Takuya Takagi Sanfrecce Hiroshima


1996 Awards

MVP Jorginho Kashima Antlers
Rookie of the Year Toshihide Saito Shimizu S-Pulse
Golden Boot Kazu Miura Verdy Kawasaki

Best 11

GK Seigo Narazaki Yokohama Flugels
DF Masami Iihara Yokohama Marinos
DF Naoki Soma Kashima Antlers
DF Guido Buchwald Urawa Reds
MF Jorginho Kashima Antlers
MF Hiroshi Nanami Jubilo Iwata
MF Masakiyo Maezono Yokohama Flugels
MF Motohiro Yamaguchi Yokohama Flugels
FW Masayuki Okano Urawa Reds
FW Dragan Stojkovic Nagoya Grampus
FW Kazu Miura Verdy Kawasaki

 Another issue that the league again tried to address was the problem of scoring. In 1995, PK winners were awarded all three points, but losers were awarded one point, to compensate for the obvious disadvantage to teams that struggle to a draw in 120 minutes yet still go home with no points. But it still seemed that there was an element of inequity for teams that won a match based on something that many consider just a "roll of the dice". Many felt that a golden-goal winner did not deserve the same amount of points achieved by a team that won in regulation. In 1996 the system was changed so that one point was awarded for a PK win, and no points for a PK loss


The two teams that joined the J.League in 1996 were Avispa Fukuoka and Kyoto Purple Sanga. This raised the number of teams in the league to 16, matching the size of many European leagues. For the first time, however, there were signs that there was not enough talent in Japan to go around. Kyoto and Avispa finished far behind the rest of the clubs, and added little to the quality of the competition. This problem would be addressed more directly in 1997.


Although a great deal of good football was played in 1996, some of the excitement seen in previous years was lacking. The league championship was played out over 30 matches, but a powerful Kashima Antlers team led by Brazilians Jorginho and Leonardo, and bolstered by a solid Antlers back line which would go on to form the core of Japan's 1998 World Cup team gave Kashima such a comfortable margin that for most teams, the "competitive" part of the season was over by summer time. This caused fans to desert the stadiums and hurt the weaker clubs financially. At the end of 1996, the league decided that it was too soon to expect fans to remain loyal to a team (at least as far as showing up for matches) if its hopes of winning anything were extinguished with several months remaining in the campaign. Therefore, in 1997, the league returned to a two-stage format.


1996 also marked the introduction of the Nabisco Cup -- cup matches were played at mid-week, and the semifinal and final rounds played while the league took its summer break. The Nabisco Cup was actually one of the best decisions that the league made in 1996, and it has become a core element of the J.League season ever since. To make up for the absence of a true championship series in 1996, a match was arranged between the league champion and the Nabisco Cup champions, one week before the start of the next year's season. This match was sponsored by Fuji Xerox, and has also become a J.League tradition. The Xerox Cup continues to serve as the official kick-off to the year's J.League season, though it now pits the Emperor's Cup winner against the League champion..


Despite the lack of a championship playoff series in 1996, the Antlers dominance of the league was absolute. Jorginho, Leonardo and Mazinho provided a veteran contingent of players with great international experience, but just as important was a crop of young Antlers defenders like Naoki Soma, Akira Narahashi and Yutaka Akita who would provide the solidity at the back which would carry the Antlers through to several more championships in later years.


1996 also marked the first glimmers of success at Jubilo Iwata, who brought in Carlos Dunga to whip a team of young and talented kids into a professional unit. Dunga's contribution would be felt for many years to come, as Jubilo were on their way to becoming a league powerhouse. Dunga's impact at Jubilo was comparable to that of Zico, at Kashima, and he continued to do work for the Jubilo organization, as a scout and "consultant", for many years after his retirement. Under his tutelage, Jubilo developed a short passing game with fierce midfield pressure which would come to typify Jubilo teams for the next decade. Indeed, the Antlers and Jubilo teams that emerged in this era jointly provided the template for most of what is viewed, today, as the uniquely "Japanese style" of football.

 However, while some teams were beginning to emerge as league powers, others were headed in the opposite direction. For example, 1996 marked the beginning of Verdy Kawasaki's dramatic decline. Though the team had dominated the sport in the pre-J.League JSL, and won the lion's share of the titles in the first three years of J.League play, 1996 was a problematic year, which closed with a tailspin that would take the team out of contention for titles permanently. Verdy collapsed due to a combination of advancing age, which dragged down the performances of several key players, and improvements at rival teams. However, the most serious problem as an extreme hubris that would persist until long after the team had lost any reason to warrant any hubristic notiions. The team -- players and management alike -- clearly let success go to their heads.

The "bad boys" of Verdy would provide one of the most dramatic collapses ever in the subsequent season, and by the end of the century they had become little more than a historical footnote.The story of this decline is one that deserves its own chapter in J.League history, and our page on Tokyo Verdy history delves into the events in greater detail. The 1996 season marks the watershed, however, because the late-night carousing activities of many top Verdy stars first began to receive notice during this campaign. The team's seventh-place finish that year may offer statistical verification of the rot that had set in, but the full gravity of the situation was only apparent if you listened to the lurid stories emerging from exclusive night clubs in Roppongi and Sakuragicho.

As the J.League's "marquee team" gradually lost its luster, and mainstream media began to regard the Verdy "Golden Boys" with increasing scorn, the football boom that had hit Japan in 1993 gradually decelerated as well. Though it is hard to draw any direct connections, the excesses that fueled Verdy's collapse may also have been part of the reason for the general decline that would hit the J.League over the next 3-5 years.