Kawasaki Frontale midfielder Akihiro Ienaga was named the J. League’s Most Valuable Player at Tuesday’s J. League Awards.
It was the first MVP award for the 32-year-old Ienaga, whose club won its second consecutive league championship. He is the third straight Frontale player to win the league’s top honor, following Yu Kobayashi last year and 2016 winner Kengo Nakamura, who is now 38.
“We had a 36-year-old MVP on our team,” Ienaga said of Nakamura. “And I pushed myself to get better after I turned 30. I was able to earn this honor because I had the support of great teammates.”
No other club has ever had the league’s MVP for three straight seasons.
“He’s a player whose value exceeds statistics,” Frontale manager Toru Oniki said of Ienaga, who scored six goals and assisted on seven others.
Ienaga and Nakamura were joined on the league’s Best 11 by five teammates. Not surprisingly for a club that conceded only 27 goals in 34 games, goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong and defenders Elsinho and Shintaro Kurumaya each held a place on the honor roll along with midfielders Ryota Oshima and Shogo Taniguchi.
Frontale’s seven Best 11 winners matched the highest total in league history.
The four non-Frontale players named to the Best 11 team were Kashima Antlers defender Daigo Nishi, Consadole Sapporo and Thailand midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin, Nagoya Grampus forward and league-leading scorer Jo, and Gamba Osaka’s South Korea striker Hwang Ui-jo.
Chanathip became the first player from Southeast Asia to be named to a Best 11 team.
“It was a superb season. Thank you,” Chanathip, who scored eight goals this season, said in Japanese.