Michael Olunga named J. League MVP

Michael Olunga named J. League MVP

An unprecedented season ended in a historic night for Kashiwa Reysol striker Michael Olunga, whose J. League-leading 28 goals saw him named Most Valuable Player during Tuesday’s J. League Awards.

The Kenya international became the league’s first African MVP and the eighth player to claim that award as well as the Golden Boot in the same season.

Olunga’s tally, which accounted for nearly half of Reysol’s 60 goals this season, was the highest in the league since the 33 Araujo scored for Gamba Osaka in 2005.

Joining Olunga in the Best XI were Kashima Antlers’ Brazilian striker Everaldo — who scored the J1’s second-highest tally of 18 goals — as well as nine players from league champion Kawasaki Frontale, adding another line to the list of records shattered by manager Toru Oniki’s men this season.

Olunga, 26, credited Reysol for sticking with him after a slow start following his August 2018 arrival. Following the club’s relegation that season, he notched 27 goals in 2019 to help Reysol clinch the second division under returning manager Nelsinho Baptista and swiftly return to the top flight.

“(Relegation) was really frustrating and depressing. But I knew I had a lot of responsibility on my shoulders, because the people of Kashiwa trusted me with the responsibility and I decided to fight for the team,” Olunga said.

“I’ve tried to acclimate with the weather, I’ve tried to get to know the Japanese way of playing and I’ve been able to form a good relationship with the teammates. I believe a combination of these factors has led to my success, both in the J2 and J1.”

Olunga praised Nelsinho, whose first stint with Kashiwa from 2009 to 2014 resulted in some of the club’s greatest successes, including the 2011 J1 title and the following year’s Emperor’s Cup crown.

“He’s a demanding coach in terms of results. He always wants victory, whether it’s a friendly, a league game, a cup game. And victory doesn’t come without hard work,” Olunga said. “The best thing he implemented is the hard-working mentality in the players.

“For him, trusting me to lead the line to get the goals, I feel responsible to try to repay his faith and the only way I can do that is by scoring a lot of goals so the team can do better.”

Olunga said he hoped to continue to be a positive influence in both Japan and Kenya, adding that he hoped other African players would join him in “the best league in Asia.”

“Coming here to compete with the best Japanese players, it’s really impressive because you see the hard work in the players. They have good mobility, they have good positioning, they are very hard working,” Olunga said.

“A player like me coming with speed and strength leads to the growth of Japanese players. They’ll learn to tackle a striker like me, and that’s something they can use at the later stage of their career, or if they leave Japan and go to a much harder and tougher league.”

-Report by japantimes