Masanobu Matsunami was never the most talented striker in Japan, nor the most prolific. Indeed, in a league where Brazilians or other foreign players are usually brought in to provide most of the scoring, Matsunami spent much of his career in the role of late substitute -- the player who comes off the bench to provide an extra bit of offensive presure down the stretch. Only once in his career did he make over 30 appearances, and that was in his peak year - 1997 - when he tallied thirteen times. Even as a "late sub", though, Matsunami took a relatively limited role and made the most of it, establishing himself as one of the most widely recognised and most popular players in Osaka, even if he wasnt one of the most prolific.
From the start of his 13-year career at Gamba Osaka, Matsunami seemed to have a gift for catching the eye of fans, with his hard-charging work ethic and flashy feints and flourishes. Among other things, he pioneered the "upturned collar" look, which was later imitated by national team strikers such as Akinori Nishizawa and Naohiro Takahara. During the late 90s, uniforms with overlapping (and different-colored) collars were in fashion, and most J.League teams wore kits with collars at least for a season or two. One story has it that Matsunami was feeling a bit cold, at one late-season match, and during a stoppage in play, turned up the collar of his uniform to ward off the chilly wind, which kept blowing down his neck. An opposing defender made some dismissive remark along the lines of: "hey, are you trying to look cool with your turned-up collar?".
Even in a reserve role, Matsunami managed to pile up close to 300 appearances in his career, and tallied 45 goals, most as a late substitute. Having remained faithfully at Gamba throughout his career, he received a warm send-off in his final match, which provided a fitting capstone to his career, as Gamba clinched their first J.League title on that very day. In years to come, when a cocky striker comes onto the pitch with turned-up collar, signalling his intention to score the winning goal, long-time J.League fans will remember the player who set the whole trend in motion.