Photo: Vissel Kobe fans cheering on the team (C) VISSEL KOBE

It has been a watershed season for Vissel Kobe Football Club, as the team impressed its fans with a strong consistent run and finish near the very top of the table in J-League J1, Japan’s top football league. The team’s performance already has fans and pundits eagerly anticipating what the team might deliver in 2017.

At Rakuten football has a special place. Hiroshi "Mickey" Mikitani, Chairman of Crimson Football Club, Inc., addresses the crowd at the final home game of the season (C) VISSEL KOBE

Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani, Chairman of Crimson Football Club, Inc., addresses the crowd at the final home game of the season (C) VISSEL KOBE

After an unremarkable first half of the season, which saw Vissel Kobe sitting in 12th spot out of 18 teams after 17 games, the team seemingly transformed its performance as summer dawned. From July 2 through to the final regular season match on November 3, Vissel won 11 of their 17 matches, drawing 2 and losing 4, a record bested by just one team: league leaders and perennial favorites, Urawa Reds. It was a great turnaround on the first half of the season and positioned Vissel Kobe in 7th place overall at the end of the season, the team’s best-ever finish in Japan’s top league.

In 2016, it wasn’t just games that Vissel was winning, but fans as well, attracted to the team’s creative attacking style, spearheaded by joint league leading scorer Leandro. The Brazilian, who joined Vissel in 2015, notched 19 J-league tallies and 21 across all competitions. The team itself hit the back of the net 56 times in 34 league games, a total surpassed by only 3 other teams.

At Rakuten football has a special place. Vissel Kobe's Leandro, the joint league leading scorer, spearheads the team's creative style (C) VISSEL KOBE

Vissel Kobe’s Leandro, the league’s joint-leading scorer, spearheads the team’s creative style (C) VISSEL KOBE

The results were great news for Rakuten, which owns the team. The company is also deeply invested in sports as title sponsor of Japan’s largest tennis tournament and only ATP event in Japan, the Rakuten Japan Open, and owner of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japan Professional Baseball League (NPB). After becoming the first new NPB franchise in 50 years, the Eagles won their first championship in 2013, in only the club’s 9th year of operation.

No doubt Rakuten will be eager to replicate the Eagles’ success as soon as possible and one advantage they already possess is mutual DNA. This can be seen in the team slogan, “One Team, One Family, One Dream (一致団結),” which was crafted by Hiroshi Mikitani and his late father Ryoichi Mikitani, and also happens to be one of Rakuten’s five Brand Concepts. Shared values can be a very powerful tool in unifying a team behind a vision, which is something that can only help Vissel Kobe as it aims for even greater success in 2017 and beyond.

For Vissel Kobe, its fans, and Rakuten, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.