川崎フロンターレ / Kawasaki Frontale
- City: Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, Honshu
- Founded: 1955 (as Fujitsu SC)
- Ground: Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium (26,232)
- Nicknames: Grêmio from Japan; Azzurro Nero (Blue-black)
- Colours: Blue shirts with black and white trim, black shorts, and black socks.
- 2022 League: J1 League
- Club Website: https://www.frontale.co.jp/
- Club Twitter: @frontale_staff
- Best League Finish: 1st in the J1 League (2017, 2018, 2020, 2021)
- Best Emperor’s Cup Finish: Winners (2020)
- J1 League
- Champions (4): 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021
- Emperor’s Cup
- Winners (1): 2020
- J.League Cup
- Winners (1): 2019
- Japanese Super Cup
- Winners (2): 2019, 2021
- J2 League
- Champions (2): 1999, 2004
Kawasaki Frontale / 川崎フロンターレ is a Japanese football team that currently plays in the J.League Division 1, the top tier in the Japanese football pyramid, and is considered one of the strongest teams within Japanese football having won the J1 League four times in the past six years, most recently in 2021. The club comes from the port city of Kawasaki, one of the main cities within the Greater Tokyo Area, and is the eighth most populated city within Japan with a population of just over 1,5 million people. Kawasaki is the second largest city in terms of population within the Kanagawa Prefecture, and is roughly situated between central Tokyo and Yokohama on the Tama River, positioned on the western shore of Tokyo Bay on Japan’s central-eastern coast. Kawasaki Frontale plays their home games at the 26,232-capacity Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium / 川崎市等々力陸上競技場, situated in the Nakahara ward of the city, within the Todoroki sports complex that sits beside the Tama River in the north of Kawasaki.
The club was founded way back in 1955 as Fujitsu Soccer Club, becoming the football team for the future multinational technology and services company (who still owns and sponsors the club to this day), having limited success whilst competing within the Japan Soccer League (JSL). It wouldn’t be until the club became fully professional in 1997 that the team changed to its current name, with “Frontale” meaning “frontal” in Italian, meaning for the club to stand out in front and set an example. Kawasaki would also adopt their club colours and original club logo from the Brazilian side Grêmio, whom they have had a cooperative agreement with since March 1997, and are thus sometimes called the Grêmio from Japan.
Two years after turning professional, Kawasaki Frontale reached the J2 League for the first time and made an instant impact when they became champions in their debut season and earned a promotion to the J1 for the first time. Alas, their stay in the top flight was another brief encounter as they finished bottom of the overall table and suffered an instant relegation back to J2. After spending four consolidatory but successful years in J2, they clinched their second J2 title and promotion back to the top tier when they won the 2004 J2 title by finishing with a points total of 105 points and scoring over 100 goals!
Kawasaki Frontale has played in the J1 League since 2005 and during that time, the club has seen a steady increase in attendance numbers throughout the seasons. They managed to finish as runners-up on three occasions during the late 2000s, finishing in second position in 2006, 2008, and 2009, agonisingly missing out to Kashima Antlers in both 2008 and 2009 by just three and two-point margins respectively. It wouldn’t be until 2017 (following a couple of third-place finishes between 2010 and 2016) that Kawasaki Frontale finally became Japanese champions, when they finally overcame their old title rivals by clinching the title on goal difference after both Frontale and Kashima finished on 72 points after the 34-game season. Frontale confirmed their position as one of Japan’s strongest teams when they successfully defended their title in the following year, this time lifting the 2018 J1 title with a winning margin of eight points from second-placed side Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
The club was unable to achieve three titles in a row when they finished fourth position in 2019, although they did win their first J.League Cup that year when they defeated Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo on penalties after a 3-3 draw. However, they soon returned back to the summit of Japanese football in 2020 to achieve an impressive season for Frontale. Not only did their lift their third title in four seasons in impressive style, winning by a margin of 18 points, but they achieved the domestic double when they also won their inaugural Emperor’s Cup by beating Gamba Osaka in the final by a single Kaoru Mitoma goal in the 55th minute. Kawasaki confirmed their dominance within the league in 2021 when the club successfully defended their J1 title, losing just twice all season to finish the campaign with 92 points and a 13-point winning margin over neighbours Yokohama F. Marinos. Alas, just as in 2019, Kawasaki Frontale has been unable to achieve three consecutive league titles having finished as runners-up to Marinos in the 2022 season, missing out on their fifth league title by just two points.
To talk about a club who are four-time Japanese champions and one of the strongest teams within the J.League currently, we spoke to the excellent Frontale Rabbit. They are an English-language blog based in Japan that reports on all things going on at Kawasaki Frontale. To find out more about the Frontale Rabbit blog, as well as their social media channels, follow the links below:
- Blogsite: http://frontalerabbit.blogspot.com/
- Twitter: @frontalerabbit
Q. Who would you say is Kawasaki Frontale’s best player, and coach/manager of all time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
For the player, I think people would find it tough to answer anyone other than Kengo Nakamura, a club legend, one-club man, someone who apparently turned down offers from overseas to stay with us and won his and our first title in his late thirties and then retired a hero a couple of seasons later. We’ve been blessed with some great midfielders over the years, particularly so recently, but Kengo’s probably the one who most people know and respect.
For the coach, it has to be the current one, Toru Oniki, as before he took over [in 2017] we had won nothing and now have won four league titles and both domestic cups in the last six years. Some might say he inherited a good set-up and a system, but it would be unfair to ignore the fact that he’s turned us from a team who often fell at the final hurdle to one that actually wins things. Well, except for this year…
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ for the club in both the past and present squads?
In the past, certainly Kengo. Currently, it’s a bit more difficult to choose one as our fans seem to always be quite positive about all of our players. Recently we’ve been good at producing players in our youth team (sometimes via a stint at university, which is a standard route for football players in Japan) who go on to bigger and better things after a few seasons with us. Kaoru Mitoma [a Brighton & Hove Albion player who joined from Frontale in 2021], Ao Tanaka [currently at Fortuna Düsseldorf, joining permanently from Frontale in 2022], Ko Itakura [who left to join Manchester City in 2019 but now plays for Borussia Mönchengladbach], and Koji Miyoshi [who left Frontale permanently in 2020 to join Royal Antwerp] are the recent ones. And there are also players who we sign from university and make their name with us who’ve gone on too, like Reo Hatate [who joined Celtic from Frontale in early 2022] and Hidemasa Morita [who left Frontale in 2021 to play for Azorean club Santa Clara before further moving to Sporting in 2022]. I think though that when it comes to a current hero, people would probably say Ryota Oshima [29-year-old attacking midfielder]. He’s an incredibly talented player who has had a career that’s been blighted by injuries. Everybody loves him though, so we probably would hope that he’d have stayed even if he wasn’t so injury-prone. He’s just an all-around nice guy.
Q. Of the current squad, who would you say is the best player at Kawasaki Frontale and why?
This year it’s a bit more difficult to answer this question as we’ve not been as strong as in recent years. Leandro Damião is an ex-Brazilian international and was the top scorer in the 2012 Olympic football tournament. However, some might say he’s past his best [he’s currently 33 years old] and this year he has been injured and hasn’t had his best year. [36-year-old winger] Akihiro Ienaga has played overseas but has been playing the best football of his career with us in the last few years and when he’s on form he is amazing. Marcinho [a 27-year-old Brazilian winger] has been getting attention from overseas recently and could well leave us before the start of next season. His goals have been crucial this year in helping us finish second. But in my opinion, it’s our [28-year-old] Brazilian centre-back Jesiel who is the best player. He was injured for most of this season and I don’t think we would have found ourselves in so much trouble on so many occasions this year if he’d been fit and playing often. He just seems to have a knack for always being in the right place to stop opposition attacks.
Q. Who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent at the club?
We have had a bit of a conveyor belt of good young players recently. Out of the current crop, perhaps most people would say our [24-year-old] defensive midfielder Kento Tachibanada. He’s probably the one most likely to leave for a European team in the near future. Oniki has a habit of slowly introducing youngsters unless he really has to use them. So we’ve got a few players who people say are great but have barely played. Next year I expect to see more of Renji Matsui [22-year-old defensive midfielder] and Takatora Einaga [19-year-old attacking midfielder/forward]. But maybe their next step might be a year somewhere on loan. It’s a bit difficult to say as our managerial situation next year isn’t completely clear yet.
Q. Who would you regard as Frontale’s biggest or historical rivals?
There are probably two that immediately spring to mind. Yokohama F. Marinos are our neighbours to the west and have won the league on the two occasions we haven’t in the last six years. They’re certainly the team I most dislike at the moment, but until recently when we started winning things there was definitely a feeling from them that we were way below them and didn’t count as a real rival. Outperforming them more often than not in recent seasons has changed that a bit. We also play the Tamagawa Classico against FC Tokyo, who I guess are the team from the city that borders us on the east but play so far out of central Tokyo that they actually play in a stadium to the northwest of us. These games are ones that both sets of fans are always desperate to win. But at the same time, our fans are quite a nice bunch and it’s very unlikely that there would ever be any serious bad feelings between us and FC Tokyo.
Q. How would you describe the current performance or state of the club? How do you think this season has gone?
I’m perhaps a bit harsher than most fans but I think this season has been a disaster. Ok, maybe a big disappointment might sound a bit better. Admittedly we finished second in the league but it was behind our rivals from Yokohama so that was quite irritating. We crashed out of all the cups including the Asian Champions League at almost the first hurdle, and on most occasions to what were weaker teams on paper. Add to this that the football played has been pretty dull this year and you have all the ingredients for a disappointing season. We lost a few important players for the squad from last year which is what most people think is to blame for our failures, but personally, I think we’ve been found out and have a manager who struggles to change anything. Our second place this year comes thanks to quite a few very lucky wins or draws that we absolutely didn’t deserve. Sadly our luck couldn’t get us over the line but if we’d won the league it would have felt like daylight robbery.
Q. Looking at Kawasaki’s history, what would you say has been the best game, result, or performance in your opinion?
It’s difficult to pick one as our main success has come in the league rather than in one-off games. When it comes to knockout competitions, the two times we’ve won we’ve not exactly set the world on fire and instead just got the job done. So it seems a weird answer, but I’d say the best performances were the 2020 and 2021 seasons as a whole. On both occasions, we won the league early and by a long distance. In 2020, we had 9 out of 11 in the J League’s team of the year. This year will not be the same!
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the history of the club?
Of all time, probably the first one I got when I started following the team in 2005. A simple but good design. Recently I’d say that perhaps concepts have got in the way of nice designs, but I do like the fact that they are often trying to do something interesting with them. More recently, perhaps the 2018 kit, which looks pretty similar to 2005, so you can see I’m not exactly a massively adventurous guy. Special mention should go to the 2020 summer black kit, which had a loose black and blue vaguely like a Union Jack theme to it as Team GB were due to train at our home stadium for the Olympics, which got postponed… Got us a nice kit though. The away kits are always white or off-white with a version of the design concept from the home kit, so aren’t that exciting, to be honest.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the club?
The best things are the relentless positivity of the fans and our reputation as a friendly bunch. Personally speaking, I’m not a particularly positive person, so I find the other fans keep me from getting too pessimistic. We’re quite a family and community-minded club which I really like. Supporting Leyton Orient back in England, I’ve seen some unsavoury things at football games, so I quite like how friendly and welcoming it is at Frontale. The best thing about football in Japan is the away trips. We get to go to some great places every year and away games are always much more fun than home games, regardless of the result (to some extent). I’m struggling to find the worst thing, but perhaps it could be the same as the best thing. Sometimes being relentlessly positive seems a bit naive. But on balance I’m quite happy for us to stay that way.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of Kawasaki Frontale?
Many people’s big dream is success in the Asian Champions League. I’m not as excited about that competition as some are, but understand that we will constantly be criticised until we’ve had a really decent run in it. Personally, I’d like us to take the handbrake off a bit in general in the near future. My relentless negativity means that even when we finish second in the league I see it as a big failure. And it does feel like a big failure with the players we’ve got currently in the squad. I’d like a bit of a change in focus next year. I’m not sure that’s going to happen if we still have Oniki in charge though. If I’m looking further forward, I’m really excited about the plans for our new stadium as although our current one is a nice place to watch football, getting rid of the running track and increasing the capacity would make things even better I think. From a club point of view, I’d like us to keep producing young talent. Perhaps we might even get a decent transfer fee for one of them sometime in the next few decades!
A massive thank you to the Frontale Rabbit blog for answering our questions on the successful J1 side Kawasaki Frontale. Remember you can find their excellent blogsite and social media accounts in the links towards the top of the blogpage.
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