At 6 ft 4 1⁄2 inches, Mike Havenaar isn’t your typical Japanese male. In a land where the average height is 5 ft 7 1⁄2 inches, Havenaar doesn’t just stick out for being tall – he is the only white player on the national team after former head coach Alberto Zaccheroni handed him a debut in 2011.
Havenaar was born and raised in Japan after his father Dido (a professional goalkeeper) moved to the country in 1986 to accept a contract with Mazda F.C. (now Sanfrecce Hiroshima) before the establishment of the J.League.
The family, originally from Holland, decided to stay in Japan after Dido’s playing career with him taking up several coaching roles around the country.
It was at Yokohama F. Marinos where Mike made his breakthrough and debuted in the J. League in April 2006. Although he played for the team for four seasons, he failed to find the net in any of his outings and was loaned in successive seasons to Avispa Fukuoka and Sagan Tosu respectively.
At Sagan, he bagged 15 goals in 33 J. League 2 appearances to kick start his career. Those goal-scoring abilities earned his unfancied team a fifth place finish.
Although his career was starting to take off, the striker was sold to J. League 2 outfit Ventforet Kofu where he found instant success in gaining promotion to the top tier and becoming the league’s top-scorer with 20 goals in 31 games in the process.
It was now becoming apparent that Havenaar was attracting interest from Europe and after one season in the J. League where he came close to the top scorer award despite his team’s relegation, he was transferred to Vitesse Arnhem to link up with the now Manchester City forward Wilfried Bony in his parent’s homeland.
His final season in Japan proved to be an eventful one as he was awarded his first cap for the Nippon Daihyou during a FIFA World Cup Qualification game against North Korea. Only months before in the April, he was subjected to racist abuse in an away game against eventual Champions Kashiwa Reysol.
After initially struggling to adapt to the Dutch game and being mainly used as a substitute he ended his first season in Europe with five goals. During an interview with FIFA, he explained:
The intensity involved in winning the ball and the speed of the game have been the two areas where I’ve had to adapt the most. Football is really quite different here, and it takes time to adjust.
Havenaar adjusted well and his second and third seasons in Holland saw him become a more important member of the team which resulted in 21 goals in 64 league games helping Vitesse into the European positions. During this period he also scored his first two goals for the Samurai Blue against Tajikistan in an 8-0 drubbing in Osaka.
After three seasons in Holland, Spain’s La Liga beckoned and Havenaar transferred to the newly promoted Córdoba CF in July 2014 who were taking part in the top division for the first time in four decades.
Following a disastrous time in Andalusia making only five appearances without finding the net, the club and player mutually agreed to rescind his contract which originally ran until the summer of 2016.
The striker has still to sign for a club and his future is still in doubt. A similar player to Stoke City’s Peter Crouch in terms of aerial prowess and skill on the deck, it is obvious he still has a lot of offer his next club – whether that be in Japan or Europe remains to be seen.
There have been rumours of a contract offer from Feyenoord in Holland, Werder Bremen and Hamburger SV in Germany and a return to Yokohama F. Marinos who are desperate to improve on their seventh place finish in the previous campaign.
Personally, I’d prefer to see the 27-year-old continue his career in Europe as he was really starting to find his feet before the ill-fated move to Spain.
A spell back in the familiar Eredivisie may suit him, but it would be interesting to see him in another league such as Serie A, The Championship or even a mid-to-lower table Premier League team.
Surely he is worth a punt on a free transfer? Liverpool?!