After making their mark with a host of big name European imports, Vissel Kobe reached the J. League summit this season led by a core of Japanese stars playing a style far removed from the Barcelona-inspired tactics that initially brought the club success.

Kobe's maiden J. League title was also the culmination of a sometimes turbulent 28-year journey whose first steps coincided with one of Japan's deadliest natural disasters — the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

Lukas Podolski, Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Tomas Vermaelen were all part of the Kobe side who won their first major title with the Emperor's Cup on New Year's Day in 2020. Nearly four years on, the high-intensity soccer under Takayuki Yoshida bears little resemblance to the previous style.