Ahead of Saturday's Osaka Derby, Cerezo officials and players spoke to Goal about the club's history as the corporate team of Yanmar Diesel as well as the futureJ-League clubs Cerezo Osaka and Gamba Osaka will meet this Saturday in an Osaka Derby that will also observe the commemoration of the newly-renamed Yanmar Stadium Nagai.
It’s a highly-anticipated matchup between international high-risers Cerezo, who are participating in this year's AFC Champions League, and Gamba, the former league and Asian champions who experienced their first relegation in 2012.
“Everyone understand that the Osaka Derby is special,” Cerezo president Masao Okano told Goal. “Because of the renaming [from Nagai Stadium to Yanmar Stadium Nagai] we’re under pressure to win, especially against Gamba.
“The game has sold out, so I hope we can firmly establish Cerezo’s presence in this city in front of over 40,000 fans.”
2014 marks Cerezo’s 20th anniversary, but the club’s history extends much further. Founded as Yanmar Diesel FC in 1957, the team won four league titles and three Emperor’s Cups before turning professional.
“All of the players went to work in the morning and practiced in the afternoon,” Okano reflected.
“The great thing about company sports is that there’s a strong feeling of fellowship with the players. Back then, even the top teams in Japan practiced on dirt fields that weren’t regulation size. Unlike today the players were more relaxed; they drank as well.”
From Kunishige Kamamoto, known as Japan’s all-time greatest striker, to technical ace Daishiro Yoshimura, Yanmar’s success was defined by their stars.
“Their strength, technique, and mentality were all professional,” Okano explained. “You wonder how those two would do at their peak with Cerezo in the modern J-League.
“Imagine Kamamoto playing as the top striker, or Yoichiro Kakitani breaking through the back line and picking up a through pass from Yoshimura. You get excited just thinking about it.
The team’s name comes from the Spanish word for cherry blossom, the official flower of Osaka City. The signing of 2010 World Cup MVP Diego Forlan and their 2013 friendly against Manchester United are just the start of Cerezo’s efforts to make their trademark pink uniforms known worldwide.
“2012 was Yanmar’s 100th anniversary, so in 2013 we decided to kick-start the next century by doing something special to promote the brand globally,” Okano elaborated. “After becoming Manchester United’s sponsor, we conceived this match to further Yanmar’s reputation as a premium brand.”
Shinji Kagawa’s presence in the sold-out 2-2 draw was a reminder of Cerezo’s numerous contributions to some of Europe’s top clubs; “Cerezo-bred” is considered a mark of quality among Japan’s internationals. But bonds between the club and former players remain strong.
“When Kagawa, [Takeshi] Inui, and [Hiroshi] Kiyotake finish their season, they always return to Japan and visit Cerezo’s training ground,” said Okano.
“We want to continue our deep relationship with players like these, so that one day if they return to the J-League they’ll want to play for Cerezo again.”
The face of Cerezo in their first professional season was undoubtedly Hiroaki Morishima. After joining Yanmar in 1991, he stayed with the club for 17 years. Remembered fondly nationwide for his goal against Tunisia at Nagai Stadium during the 2002 World Cup, the No. 8 he wore until his retirement has been worn by successive Cerezo aces.
“I received the No. 8 by chance, and the players who have worn it since have made it even bigger,” Morishima tells Goal. “Shinji [Kagawa], [Hiroshi] Kiyo[take], Yoichiro [Kakitani]. Their efforts have made the No. 8 mean as much as it does to Cerezo.
24-year-old Kakitani inherited the No. 8 uniform in 2013 before making his international debut later that summer.
“Yoichiro is a symbol of Cerezo’s appeal” said Morishima, now an ambassador for the club. “Without performances like that, the number wouldn’t matter as much as it does.
Kakitani, who appeared in both 2012 Derbies, is looking for his first goal of the season against Gamba on Saturday.
“I’ve only played in two Derbies so far, but all the football fans in Osaka pay attention to the result,” the player said after practice. “As rivals, as citizens of Japan, as players who want to make the J-League more exciting, we all want to make it a great match.”
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