Image: ©Vissel Kobe and Rakuten Eagles

With the announcement in November that Rakuten would become FC Barcelona’s main sponsor, 2017 was always going to be a big year for sports at Rakuten. But few thought the excitement would be starting quite this soon…

And, no, we’re not talking about Lionel Messi and co, who won’t be pulling on Rakuten-branded jerseys until later in the year. We’re talking about Rakuten’s own professional football and baseball clubs here in Japan. A few weeks into their respective seasons and both Vissel Kobe and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are at the top of their respective leagues!

Sure, it’s still early days, but we sure like what we are seeing. After playing eight matches, Vissel Kobe is coming in third in Japan’s topflight football league, J1, having won five matches and lost just three.

Meanwhile, up in the northern city of Sendai, Rakuten’s baseball team, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, have also had a great start to their season with 13 wins and only four defeats. That’s their best season start this decade, including the championship season of 2013. Needless to say, Rakuten fans are excited.

Masataka Nashida, Manager of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (© Rakuten Eagles)

Masataka Nashida, Manager of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (© Rakuten Eagles)

Rakuten Eagles Manager Masataka Nashida took each of his two former clubs, the Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, to championships in his second year with them. That bodes well for the Golden Eagles’ 2017 campaign as this is also the celebrated manager’s second year with the team. “I’ve said this to the players as well, but I want everyone to have faith in me and come together to fight as one. I want to make our slogan of “Bringing dreams back to Tohoku” a reality,” said Nashida.

“Our batting lineup is working well, particularly with our strong second batter Carlos Peguero, who is really playing a major role in the team,” commented Nashida on the reasons behind their recent success. The addition of former Seibu Lions pitcher Takayuki Kishi has also made a big difference. “With Kohei Morihara taking to the mound in the seventh inning, Frank Herrmann in the eighth and Yuki Matsui in the ninth, we have set up a winning pattern which is allowing us to maintain the lead until the end of the game. Captain Motohiro Shima’s great leadership has also been a major factor,” said Nashida.

Vissel Kobe’s current success is also rooted in last season, which was their best ever. Now the club’s stated goal is to win the league and qualify for the Asian Champion’s League – and Vissel manager Nelsinho is confident he has the squad to pull it off.

Nelsinho, Manager of Vissel Kobe (© Vissel)

Nelsinho, Manager of Vissel Kobe (© Vissel)

“This year we were able to sign some very experienced players, and they have quickly adapted to the team. We have focused on enhancing physical fitness and teamwork, and thanks to that we have a strong defense,” commented Nelsinho. “The young players are also developing and are starting to show results. This is creating a feeling of competitiveness among the players which is helping the whole team to improve,” Nelsinho said.

“We set ourselves a target for the number of points we want to get for the six matches after the season opening, and managed to achieve it. Going forward, we are going to continue setting ourselves short-term targets and are focusing on clearing them. I want the players to maintain their level of intensity for the rest of the season. This year I am confident we can achieve our goals,” said Nelsinho.

And, of course, Vissel Kobe’s current success has been achieved even before the arrival of Lukas Podolski, the former German national team icon who will join Vissel Kobe later in the season.

Here’s hoping that the successful streaks continue! Go Rakuten Eagles! Go Vissel Kobe!