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[ODDS and EVENS] Yuya Osako Set the Tone for Title-Winning Vissel Kobe

Chosen as the J.League's Player of the Year, veteran forward Yuya Osako scored a career-high 22 goals to lead Vissel's rise to the top.

Yuya Osako was the perfect choice to receive the J.League Player of the Year award for the 2023 season.

More than any other player, Osako's individual impact was the driving force of success for his team. In addition, Osako's productivity set the standard of excellence that defined title-winning Vissel Kobe's overall performance throughout the J.League campaign, which started in February and ended on Sunday, December 3.

Osako's goalscoring output helped transform Vissel into a title contender, and the club's climb from 13th place (out of 18 teams) in the 2022 season to league champion a year later was nothing short of spectacular.

With a career-best 22 goals in 34 matches, Osako shared the league lead with Yokohama F. Marinos star Anderson Lopes.

Two days after the season concluded with Vissel at the top of the standings and Marinos in second, Osako was recognized as the season's top player at the league's annual awards ceremony in Yokohama. (The award was formerly known as the J.League MVP award.)

At this stage of the 33-year-old forward's career, he expresses pride in his dedication to daily training and practice, things that usually take place away from the spotlight. For example, he employed a trainer after the 2022 season ended, according to published reports.

"Every day, I continued to work hard, and that made each and every day exciting," Osako said, reflecting on his successful season, according to The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Yuya Osako
Yuya Osako, the J.League Player of the Year. (KYODO)

For Yuya Osako, Disappointment Leads to Success

Osako was not selected to play for the Japan men's national team, aka the Samurai Blue, for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Clearly, that snub served as motivation to prove that he remains a quality player ― and one worthy of a spot on the national squad.

Osako dealt with hip and right thigh injuries during the 2022 J.League season, which factored into Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu's decision to leave him off the squad.

The Kagoshima Prefecture native scored in 19 of Vissel's games and also contributed seven assists. He scored six times on penalties and delivered an additional five goals on headers. 

How valuable were Osako's goals? The team went 18-1 in those games.

It all added up to this: Osako had his highest-scoring season since he netted 19 goals in 2013 for the Kashima Antlers.

Then he played the next eight seasons in the German Bundesliga, including from 2018-21 with Werder Bremen.

Returning to Japan as a seasoned veteran in 2021, when he joined Vissel, Osako now says he needed to be a positive mentor for the side's younger players.

"I saw many young players who weren't living up to their potential," Osako was quoted as saying by The Yomiuri Shimbun on the night of the awards ceremony. He added, "I felt part of my job was to pave the way for the younger players."

Yuya Osako
Yuya Osako played a pivotal role in leading Vissel Kobe to the J.League title in 2023. (ⒸSANKEI)

'I'm Genuinely Happy'

In 2022, Osako had a forgettable season, finishing with seven goals in 26 matches. At the same time, Vissel escaped relegation to J2. So for the Kansai-based team, there was something to salvage as a positive.

And now, days after Vissel's final match of 2023, the collective joy that defined the team's season can be easily understood by anyone who's ever watched a team win a championship in any sport.

Thoughts on individual achievement and team glory intersected in Osako's remarks at the awards ceremony.

"I'm really pleased to be part of Vissel Kobe's wonderful history in winning the [team's] first J1 title," Osako was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. Continuing, he said: "I'm genuinely happy to have won the J.League MVP [accolade] and top scorer honor.

"There wasn't one easy game. We've kept striving and training and were able to spend exciting days right through to the end," Osako added. "I want to thank the other 17 teams in the league who played against us."

Based on what he accomplished in the now-concluded J.League season, Yuya Osako should emerge as a strong candidate to play for the national team once again in the near future.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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