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Monday, January 24, 2011
Three Down, One Up?
All clubs that get relegated say their goal is to go straight back up the season after, but in recent J.League history that's been easier said than done. Since J1's expansion to 18 teams in 2005, only once has more than one relegated team bounced straight back into J1 - 2006, when Kashiwa and Kobe did the trick. As you can see from my bog-standard cutting and pasting, the average is one team a season going back up ("chart" shows the three - or two - teams relegated the season before and their position their first season back in J2 - green = promoted).
*In '08, J1's 3rd-from-bottom Iwata won the promotion/relegation playoff so only two were relegated.
Last year Kashiwa kept the average up by winning the league, Chiba were in the hunt for promotion all season but faded from September on and ended-up fourth, but Oita were a disaster, just two years on from finishing fourth in J1 and winning the Nabisco, they finished 15th in J2. "Doing an Oita" seemed nigh-on impossible for The Gasmen entering 2010, having progressed steadily and finished sixth and fifth the previous two years, but whether it was the Nabisco Cup Winners Jinx or not (it wasn't, we were shite), we met the same fate as them the season after winning the Cup (but I'll say it again - be careful Iwata!).
Comparisons with Oita can pretty much stop there: its clear for several reasons we aren't going to finish 15th, even a natural pessimist like me can see that; but as we find ourselves entering 2011 in J2, if the pattern of the past five years holds true again, how do we make sure its us, rather than Shonan or Kyoto, who return to J1 in 2012?
As we can't "make sure" of anything in January (although there are definitely keys to controlling our own fate), let me answer that question with a question, this one's easier to answer and is just sat there, begging to be asked, in much the same way that Tulio's face is begging to be slapped (or elbowed - one of the better things Morishige did for us last season)... Have the suits done enough this off-season to give us the best chance to go straight back up?
I'm pleased to report the answer to that second question is: yes, without a doubt. The club is taking a massive punt on us going back up at the first attempt, for which they should be applauded, but it goes without saying that they underestimated the danger we were in last season and didn't take the threat of relegation seriously until it was too late. And I could go on and on about the attitude around the club last season...but we're turning the page on that and I'm staying positive.
Anyways, after initially going into damage limitation mode, this off-season they've:
kept the budget for players' wages the same;
unloaded some dead wood and
brought in eight first-team squad players, including
As I said in Part 3 of Nine Months of Hell, its miraculous that all our important players/big names have stayed, and what the additions do - if you've read that piece then you know who they are - is give us more depth in midfield and options both in midfield and up front. Now, pre-season training has only just started (yesterday), and Roberto Cesar and Roberto aren't even in the country yet, but on paper all the pieces are in place, the front office have done their part, so now Kiyoshi Okuma has to mould this squad into a top three outfit. Of course we know from bitter experience the game isn't played on paper, but frankly, with the players he has at his disposal Okuma should be strung-up by his nuts if we don't go up.
Getting back to the original question though, generally speaking the keys will be:
winning the games against our promotion rivals (could be as many as six teams); while also
avoiding the slip-ups against the "lesser" teams that proved so costly last season;
building momentum and making Aji Sta a tough place to visit again
As for Shonan and Kyoto, well there's a good chance they'll both be in the scrap for promotion, and the only thing we can control is to take as many points off them as we can. They'll also have to worry about the likes of Chiba, Yokohama FC and The Spews, and will hopefully be dropping points here and there against your Tochigis and your Gifus etc. Personally, I'd like to see Shonan go back up with us, but obviously, if the pattern is going to hold and there can only be one of us....sorry Shonan!
Anyway, we're still over five weeks away until the season starts! But, with the second point above (avoiding slip-ups) in mind, a near-future post will focus on Okuma, and, with the squad he has available, the way I'd like to see him be more flexible tactically and formationally (is that a real word?).
For now though, I'll leave you with a treat. In honour of his arrival in the country tomorrow, here's some Robbie C to whet your appetites (looks a player, and rapid fast!)