5 Dec via ÜberTwitter
I'm posting this a lot later than originally intended, but a relaxing week back home in Australia, and almost two more in Japan have me well and truly calmed down, and dealing with the reality that FC Tokyo will play in J2 in 2011. So here, in Part 3 of my wrap-up of the 2010 season, we'll look at what lies ahead as we get set for our first season in the second division since 1999.
The goals are simple: win the two derbies against The Spews; and finish in the top three, which will see us return to J1 in '12. The latter looks very attainable the way our squad is shaping up, but there should be at least five teams battling for promotion, and we'll be a big scalp for the minnows, so it won't be as easy as some fans seem to think. Anyway, I'm gunna stay positive (I promise!), so lets do this in two sections:
Section One - The SquadIn the immediate aftermath of our relegation, I feared we'd lose up to eight of our best players, as might be expected with dropping down a division, and with several of our squad in the National Team frame. In particular, as you've already seen from my tweet above (follow me @benjmaxwell), I thought it was dead certain that Yasuyuki Konno would be off, as he's a permanent fixture in Japan squads, while there had to be major doubts over the futures of Shuichi Gonda, Takuji Yonemoto and Naohiro Ishikawa, as Gonda and Yonemoto are sure to be involved in the national set-up in the near future and would, I thought, want to advance their claims in the top flight, and Ishikawa, despite his poor 2010 season, would still hope to be involved in Alberto Zaccheroni's plans with a strong bounce-back season somewhere in J1 in '11.
On top of those four, I thought players like Yohei Kajiyama, Naotake Hanyu and Masato Morishige (two relegations in two seasons, nice going buddy, maybe he should go join Urawa) might feel they were "better" than J2 (and would all be on decent money that we might not now be able to afford), while it was my fervent wish that Tatsuya would finally rack off, and there are plenty of Tokyo fans who want shot of Sota Hirayama - despite his strong finish to 2010. If Gonda were to stay, that would surely mean the end of Hitoshi Shiota, as we wouldn't need two top-level keepers in J2, and lastly, relegation was always going to mean the end of hired gun Masashi Oguro's time with us.
So all that meant we were going to be in for a major overhaul. Or so I thought. But, amazingly, as news began to filter out of Kodaira in dribs and drabs, it was almost all positive, and whether the players have made a pact to atone for the horrors of '10 together or not, as it stands, here in early January, all of the big names bar Oguro will be back in the 2011 season. Not only that, we'll finally fill our allowed number of foreign players for the first time in three seasons (too little, too late on that score if you ask me).
In particular, the commitment that Konno, Gonda and Yonemoto have shown - possibly forgoing national team ambitions - is a massive boost ahead of the new season. That is not unprecendented of course in the J.League - Seiichiro Maki of Chiba and Hisato Sato of Hiroshima famously stayed on with their teams after relegation - but its great to see that loyalty from our big names.
Here's the information we have to hand about who's in and who's out so far, with thanks to dokool from the original English FC Tokyo blog http://www.aishiteru-tokyo.com/ (posted on the forums of Big Soccer and edited after further comings and goings from the original posting date of December 30):
SayonaraEnd of Loan
-FW Masashi Oguro
-FW Shunsuke Maeda (thank the Lord)
-MF Seo Yong-Duk
Full Transfer - Out
-FW Shingo Akamine (to Sendai)
-DF Kim Young-Kwon (to Omiya)
-GK Nobuyuki Abe (to Shonan)
Loan - Out
-MF Toshihiro Matsushita (to Sendai)
-FW Kentaro Shigematsu (to Fukuoka)
-DF Ryo Hiraide (to Toyama)
plus some other youngsters not in the first team frame
YokosoFull Transfer - In
-FW Roberto César Zardim Rodrigues (from Avai FC, Brazil) [registration name: ロベルト]
-MF Roberto Julio De Figueiredo (from Yokohama FC) [registration name: ホベルト]
-MF Tatsuya Yazawa (from Chiba) oh shit, another guy named Tatsuya!
-DF Tomokazu Nagira (from Fukuoka)
-GK Satoshi Tokizawa (from Kusatsu)
Loan - In
-FW Pedro Junior (from Gamba Osaka)
-FW Daiki Takamatsu (from Oita)
-MF Kazumasa Uesato (from Sapporo)
Taking all that in, starting with the "Outs:" its a shame to see Kim leave, but he has South Korean National Team ambitions so fair play to him; Aka had run his race with us and we wish him well in his first full season in Sendai; and it was inevitable that Oguro would go. As for Shigematsu, well, he's a fan favourite and there'll be plenty who would've liked to have seen him stay, but it'll probably be better for his development if he has a full season with a team he will feature for more prominently, and then return with his tail up. Ditto for Hiraide. Of the others, I'm certainly not sad to see Rica, Matsushita or Maeda shown the door. Rica made Emerson look like Garrincha, Matsushita never settled with us, and Maeda....Maeda....well, we're all still wondering why we brought him in in the first place.
Of course there's still time for guys like Hanyu and Shiota to leave, I would've thought some J1 clubs could use their experience, but as it stands both will be with us at the start of the season (and both probably won't play much at all). The signing of Tokizawa makes Shiota, in particular, expendable, and perhaps the club are just waiting for a bid on him.
On top of the eight confirmed "Ins" you can add players like Sotan Tanabe and Daishi Hiramatsu, who played next-to-no part last season, but the first thing about the list above that jumps out at you is our improved depth in midfield. The problems we had in 2010 after Yonemoto's knee injury, and Kajiyama's injury-hit and sub-par season are well documented, with converted full back Yuhei Tokunaga playing practically the whole season in central midfield, central defender Morishige joining him on (too many) occasions, Hanyu failing to gel with Tokunaga in the first month and Matsushita failing to fit in anywhere. So the additions of the ホベルト Roberto and Uesato give us two more central options, and mean the defenders can return to defending. This covers the loss of Kim, and means we go back to having three specialist full backs (Toku, Kenta Mukuhara and Hokuto Nakamura) on top of our solid group of centre halves.
On the wings I'll admit to not knowing much about Yazawa, but he scored 15 goals the past three seasons with Chiba, and joins Ishikawa, Yohei Otake, Tanabe and Hanyu (plus possibly Hokuto if Tokunaga and Mukuhara establish themselves as our starting full backs) as our "wide-boys".
The two Brazilian strikers will hopefully make us forget Rica (and Cabore...and Emerson) quickly, and both come with decent scoring records - a big difference from Rica - with ロベルト Roberto scoring 22 times in the past two seasons in Brazil, and Pedro Junior netting 15 J.League goals in spells with Omiya, Niigata and (his parent club) Gamba. Also upfront, Takamatsu is an interesting signing, he's joined us after ten years and 58 goals with Oita, but he never really kicked-on to elite status after playing in the Athens Olympics in '04 and winning two full Japan caps under Ivica Osim.
These additions appear to have strengthened us where we needed it most, and mean we'll easily have the biggest, most expensive and most experienced squad in J2 in 2011 (perhaps ever in the history of the second division).
Section Two - The DivisionAh, yes, the second division. J2 has doubled in size since our last (and only) season there, 1999, with Tottori joining as the 20th J2 club, and the expansion has been rapid, with six other teams joining in the three previous years. All that has meant the end of the triple (and earlier quadruple) round-robin format, and means in 2011 we'll play 38 league games (as recently as '09 each team played 51 games!) on all four main islands of Japan, with four teams in Kyushu, two in Shikoku, and Sapporo in Hokkaido.
What does this all mean for us? Well, some new away trips for our fans to far and distant corners of the country, and plenty of empty seats in the away end of Aji Sta. On the pitch though, expansion has seen the overall level of the league slide, and means our squad's "name" players and experience will make us prohibitive favourites to win the league. The other obvious teams I expect to be in the hunt for promotion are: Chiba, who finished fourth in 2010; The Spews (5th); Shonan, who will hopefully play the same open, attacking football that they stuck to despite finishing bottom of J1 last season; and Kyoto, who sent us down in the last game of 2010, long after their own relegation was sealed. Of the other teams, Tokushima will need to tighten up their defence to be in the mix but should be good to watch as they were fairly free-scoring last season, enjoying their highest league finish (8th) in their six-year J2 tenure, while Sapporo (despite losing Uesato to us) are always well supported and were in J1 as recently as 2008 (and The Fat Man plays for them!).
Speaking of the way clubs are supported, that will be a huge change for our fans, especially away from Ajinomoto Stadium. Attendance figures between the divisions are naturally skewed because of the smaller cities in J2, but the difference in 2010 was startling:
- Average J1 crowd in 2010: 18,426 (our average: 25,112, fourth in the league)
- Average J2 crowd in 2010: 6,696
Our average hasn't been under 24,000 since 2002, but that is certain to change due to the much lower number of away fans to Aji Sta, as well as an expected decrease in fans in the ホーム自由席 seats based on A) apathy towards J2 and B) the lack of games against our J1 rivals (Kawasaki, Urawa, Kashima, Yokohama).
On rivalries though, the big one against
So there you have it. Nine Months of Hell is over and done with. If you managed to get all the way down here, thanks for sticking with me. I got a lot of things off my chest in Parts 1 & 2, and now that its over I feel ready and excited to renew my SOCIO membership. Mission accomplished.
COME ON YOU GASMEN!