|All aboard the good ship Popovic!!!|
Here in Part 3 we'll look ahead to what we can expect in J1 and the Asian Champions League this year, and run through a long list of already-confirmed and rumoured personnel changes and how they'll impact new manager Ranko Popovic's preseason preparations. Its under two months until the Super Cup, so lets get started!
J1 & A.C.L.
Back To J1
We return to the top flight with our tails between our legs, but also with a definite momentum from the Cup win, and with the new gaffer coming in the players will be forced to prove themselves all over again in the preseason, with the possibility/likelihood we'll set up completely differently than under Mr. Okuma in the Super Cup on March 3rd.
Until last season we'd almost always been a 4-4-2 side, and with Sota Hirayama returning from injury and Kazuma Watanabe coming on board the pressure will be on Mr. Popovic to play two up front, and the competition for places in attack should be a feature of the preseason, with Lucas and The Salad still around and Kentaro Shigematsu returning following his loan season at Fukuoka. That change in formation (if it comes) threatens to marginalize Naotake Hanyu, and the best Roswell can hope for is a start here and there in the ACL if we do indeed go back to 4-4-2. There are other positional battles to watch before March 3rd, but we'll come back to those in later posts. To the league itself...
Despite the presence of Nagoya and Gamba in the top three its a much-changed J1 we're coming back to, with Kashiwa the defending champions after one of the best title races in league history in 2011. The success of the Sun Kings is the benchmark that we'll try and match, as their run to the title the season after winning J2 was astounding, incredible and several other adjectives... BUT NOT unbelievable, as they simply went a couple of steps further than promoted teams the two previous seasons...
- In 2008 Hiroshima won J2, in 2009 they finished 4th in J1
- In 2009 Cerezo finished 2nd in J2, in 2010 they finished 3rd in J1 (And Qualified for the A.C.L.)
But it wasn't only at the very top where things changed in J1 in 2011, as our two nearest relegation rivals in '10, Kobe and Sendai, made strides up the table, Kobe to 9th and Sendai all the way up to 4th, while our Tamagawa Classico rivals Kawasaki and the above-mentioned Cerezo plummeted down the league, Kawasaki from 5th down to 11th, with the pink side of Osaka slipping even further, from 3rd down to 12th.
And while we're on Cerezo, its here I'd like to return to the 'massive caveat' I referenced in the opening paragraph. It applies to Kashiwa as well, though perhaps not as much, and with Cerezo finishing 12th in their first ACL season the warning signs are flickering in the distance...
How will our exertions in the ACL affect our J1 Campaign?
I expect Masato Morishige and the rest of the defence to play almost all of the games in both competitions, fitness permitting, but further up the pitch I'd hope to see more rotation than Big Bear employed, with the first XI preserved for the league and players likely to be J1 bench regulars, again, fitness permitting, like Sotan Tanabe, Hanyu, Hirayama and perhaps Shigematsu to get opportunities in Asia.
I saw a very interesting tweet from ntoshi05 that showed we could play completely different XIs in the league and ACL, but while I wouldn't go that far we do have enough depth to field a strong team on a Wednesday night in China while keeping our powder dry for a weekend league game.
The example of Cerezo though, who progressed the furthest of the Japanese sides in the 2011 ACL but finished by far the lowest of the four in the J1 table is a cautionary tale that we'll need to be careful not to replicate.
Ins & Outs
We're only 10 days into the offseason but the club have been very busy sorting out the squad for 2012, with one massive 'Out' still to be confirmed (and hopefully a big 'In' on the way).
Jade North (full transfer to Sapporo)
Tatsuya Suzuki (full transfer to Tokushima TOOT TOOT on my whistle!!!)
Tomokazu Nagira (full transfer to Tottori)
Daisuke Sakata (full transfer to Fukuoka)
Kazumasa Uesato (back to Sapporo - loan expired (then shipped off to Tokushima on loan!))
Daiki Takamatsu (back to Oita - loan expired)
Genki Nagasato (back to Kofu - loan expired)
Kota Morimura (full transfer to Kitakyushu)
Toshihiro Matsushita (spent 2011 on loan with Sendai and has now completed full transfer TOOT!)
RUMOURED:Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba)
ON LOAN:Takumi Abe (will spend 2012 with Yokohama FC)
Ryo Hiraide (will spend 2012 with Toyama)
Kenichi Kaga (defender from Iwata)
Kazuma Watanabe (forward from Yokohama)
Aria Jasuru Hasegawa (midfielder from Yokohama)
Yuichi Maruyama (defender from Meiji University)
Jang Hyun-Soo (defender from Yonsei University, South Korea)
Yohei Hayashi (forward from Chuo University)
RETURNING FROM LOAN:
Yohei Otake (5 appearances for Cerezo from August to December)
Kentaro Shigematsu (25 appearances and two goals for Fukuoka)
Shuto Kono (18 appearances for Oita on full season loan)
Thats at least 10 Outs (and 2 on loan), but only one of them was a regular, important player for us in 2011. And that is obviously Konno, but we've already wasted enough breath hoping he'll stay so lets just get it announced so we can move on with our lives. The man to take his spot is Kaga, who played 30 times for Iwata last season and has made over 120 J1 appearances at the age of 28, although Maruyama and Jang are very interesting prospects and could push for the second central defensive spot alongside (hopefully) our next captain, Morishige.
Of the other Ins the most intriguing is Watanabe - he's bagged 28 goals in his three J1 seasons - but the feeling by the bay is that he didn't really kick-on since his excellent 2009, when he scored 13 times and beat out Takuji Yonemoto for the Best New Player Award. Last season he notched seven goals but they all came in the first half of season, and he fell out of favour, starting just three of the last 13 games. He comes over with a clean slate and with his Kunimi High School chums Hirayama and Hokuto to keep him company, so hopefully Mr. Popovic can get the best out of him.
With Jang taking Jade's spot as our AFC foreign player we still have one non-Asian foreign player slot to fill, and if the club do bring someone in (and we've got the cash to do it) I hope they target a playmaking centre mid, someone who can provide competition to Casual and get us playing at a quicker tempo alongside either Yonemoto or Hideto Takahashi. Watch this space.
OK then, THAT'S IT! Nine Months of Job Done is a wrap, we can now look forward to what should be a belter of a 2012 for our Gasmen. Thanks for reading this series, I hope you've enjoyed it, and keep checking back throughout the preseason for FC Tokyo news, views and opinion with no punches pulled!
Roll on March 3rd! Up the Gas!