Thought I’d better write something about this. Somehow it’s unseasonably turned out that this blog post title sounds a little bit like the chorus of a Christmas carol. This news came totally out of the blue for me and I’m sure that’s the same for many Frontale fans. Apparently the reaction has been mixed. Some understand him wanting to move somewhere where he can play a bit more regularly, some think it’s for the best as he’s a bit past it, some are angry about it after his ‘triumphant’ yet somewhat humble return to us this year, where he expressed his love for the club. My feelings are somewhat mixed and possibly not what you might expect after my thoughts on him towards the end of the season before last. I’ll try to keep this reasonably brief...
Firstly, this move shows what a ridiculous transfer his return was in the first place. Ridiculous given that we had just won the league and his previous last games with us and much of his time at FC Tokyo showed him to be not even half the player he once was. Sadly, time catches up with all of us. I was surprisingly quite positive towards him when he returned though. He seemed to have the right attitude and seemed aware that he wasn’t just going to waltz back into the starting line up at a team that were reigning champions. Whether this impression is true or not is another matter. The transfer was clearly much more for show and for an element of the fan base than it was for footballing reasons. I seem to remember, possibly inaccurately, that the chairman was talking about either improving the training facilities or getting Okubo back with the league win prize money. Perhaps this suggests that transfer originated from further up the chain than the manager, which is a bit concerning to be honest. I don’t know how things have worked out financially, but from a footballing point of view, it wasn’t exactly great business.
However, moving on to my second point, in spite of limited pitch time, Okubo is our joint second top scorer this year in all competitions. Admittedly, that is with only three goals, but he’s scored as many as Chinen who’s had a lot more pitch time. And he has got only two less goals than Kobayashi. Three goals from 8 starts and 9 substitute appearances in total, but these goals included a crucial winner at Nagoya with his first touch when we were struggling to find a breakthrough. I believe he was a useful player to have on the bench to bring on in exactly these situations. His other goals also came from substitute appearances. He was clearly much better from the bench as an impact sub, rather than starting, and definitely was better playing as a striker, rather than in the Kengo role. I’m not sure if that was where he wanted to play or where Oniki wanted him to play, but it was obvious at the end of the season before last that this position wasn’t working for him, so not sure why we tried it again. Which segues neatly into the fact that...
Thirdly, he'd clearly fallen out of favour with Oniki. Recently he’s dropped out of consideration for even a place on the bench it seems. I’m a little worried that the same has happened with Saito. Hopefully he won’t also be leaving. Perhaps Okubo was relatively ok with his role as a bench player, but clearly when even this wasn’t happening for him he probably considered the diminishing time he has left in his career and decided he’d be better off trying to play a bit more elsewhere. Sure, he’s only not been involved in the last three games, but I’m sure he’s more aware of his likelihood of playing than we are. Oniki’s rotation, if you can call it that, hasn’t really worked and now we’re out of the ACL the schedule has possibly cleared a little, so maybe there won’t be as much need for ‘rotation’. But there’s still a lot of games to be played in a short time given the World Cup break has taken a big chunk out of the season this year.
Clearly it’s hard to argue with the decision to leave from his point of view. I don’t know if promises were made and broken, or there has been some kind of disagreement or friction but evidently things weren’t working out for him this year. I think we’ll miss him as an impact sub, but if we were only going to use him in this way and he was expecting more, something had to give. Whether he has slipped further down the pecking order with a possible incoming transfer we don’t know about, or just wanted to get some more pitch time, we don’t know. It does seem a shame though, as he is well liked by a lot of fans and seems to have genuine affection for the club. I wish him all the best with Jubilo. Hopefully he can score plenty of goals against teams at the top of the table (apart from us, of course!).
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