In recent years it is hard to ignore the strong Japanese contingent heading overseas to start their European football careers in Belgium. The Belgian Pro League has proven to be a brilliant starting ground for these players, allowing them to settle into an environment which nurtures them and allows them to grow.
Sint-Truiden are certainly one team which has seen many Japanese players thrive during there time there and move onto 'big club's' in leagues such as Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1.
But why is that? Well in 2017 Sint-Truiden were bought over by DMM (An e-commerce and internet company) and since then they have been active in recruiting young players both from the local province of Limburg but also from J.League. In the 2018/19 Belgian Pro League season alone, Sint-Truiden had six Japanese players on the team, which included the likes of Takehiro Tomiyasu (Now at Bologna), Yuta Koike, Wataru Endo (Now at Stuttgart), Takahiro Sekine, Daichi Kamada (Now at Eintracht Frankfurt) and Kosuke Kinoshita (Now at Stabæk).
Whilst this year is no exception either, with Daiki Hashioka (on loan from Urawa), Daniel Schmidt, Yuma Suzuki, Tatsuya Ito and Ko Matsubara currently with the squad.
Sint-Truiden is not the biggest club in Belgium however, under the new ownership they have sought to change the club ethos and adopt a community-based approach. Replicating a model similar to the J. League. They are also ambitious and hope to become one of the top teams in the Belgian Pro League. Whilst that has not come to fruition as of yet, it certainly is great to see so many Japanese players flourish with the side. There has been so much pride and excitement seeing so many players make the jump, that Sint-Truiden created a Japanese twitter handle for the club in 2018 which has 15k followers, whereas the English/Belgium handle has 16.1k followers despite being created in 2009.
Sint-Truiden are very much a side that are in a win-win situation regarding the abundance of Japanese players. They are bringing in these talents on the cheap and are rewarded with hardworking, efficient and technically skilled players who may be overlooked by 'bigger clubs and leagues'. These players help contribute to the team and showcase their abilities which inevitably attracts potential buyers and offers. The players then move on for much higher fees and the money is once again invested back into the club.
Sint-Truiden and the Belgian Pro League are proving that they are the perfect stepping stone into Europe.
Yuma Suzuki scored 17 times in 34 appearances for De Kanaries as well getting 4 assists in 2020/2021 season. He will certainly be a player to look out for once again this upcoming season.
It is worth noting as well that there are more Japanese Players in the Belgian Pro League, not just at Sint-Truiden. Ryota Morioka is at Sporting Charleroi, Koji Miyoshi is at Antwerp, Junya Ito is at Genk and Musashi Suzuki is at Beerschot.
You also have upcoming future talent Koki Saito in Belgium after leaving Yokohama FC and is currently with Lommel SK in the Proximus League.
There is good reason to watch Belgian football right now!