A year after the 2002 World Cup Korea/Japan, football still featured prominently in television and the print media - even though it was European football. Keeping pace with global trends in the football world, the Japanese mass media has come to focus its attention on the UEFA Champions League, the European football market and national leagues, rather than on Japan's own national league (the J. League). At the same time, it has become increasingly evident that ever-rising numbers of football clubs in European countries have realised Asia's potential as an incipient, huge football market and started to extend their marketing activities to the Far East.
To commemorate the first anniversary of the World Cup, for example, various clubs from Italy and the Netherlands came to Japan and played matches against J. League teams. On 4 June 2003, Parma AC, with Japanese player Nakata Hidetoshi, played against Cerezo Osaka in Osaka, watched by 45,755 spectators. On the same day, Feyenoord Rotterdam, with Japanese player Ono Shinji, played the Urawa Reds (Ono's former team) in Saitama in front of 52,247 spectators, and AC Chievo Verona played Vegalta Sendai in Sendai before 14,224 spectators. On 5 August, Real Madrid CF (by now David Beckham's team) played a match against FC Tokyo at the National Stadium in Tokyo before 54,268 spectators. The next day, Reggina Calcio, with Japanese player Nakamura Shunsuke, played Nakamura's former team Yokohama F. Marinos at the International Sports Arena in Yokohama in front of 54,335 spectators.
The Japanese mass media circulated several 'triumphal return' stories about Nakata, Ono and Nakamura. From these reports, however, it seems that European clubs who are having difficulty in raising funds do not merely rely on their Japanese employees' ability on the pitch but are also expecting to capitalise on their 'Japaneseness'. In general, football club managers have become aware of the decisive power of economic disparity for victory off the pitch or defeat on it. Hiring high-profile players that can be easily marketed or open up foreign markets has become increasingly prominent among risk-containing strategies. Feyenoord Rotterdam, for example, hired Ono Shinji and managed to close a deal with