Sunday 28 January 2018

2018 season new arrivals

I thought I’d write a quick piece on this year’s squad additions. Some of these players need a little more introduction than others I guess. Unfortunately these are the ones that I don't have as much information about... Given that we won the league last year with a pretty fixed first eleven (at least towards the end of the season, injuries permitting), our off-season recruitment was going to be a little different from usual. There were no obvious holes to be filled and when we kick off the season next month in the Fuji Xerox Super Cup it wouldn’t be a great surprise if the team was the same one as finished last season. Aside from the loan moves of Itakura and Miyoshi which were a bit of a shock (at least to me), the only outgoing players were ones who were released and none of them were that much of a surprise. Thank you Morimoto, Otsuka, Kano, Igawa and Rhayner for your efforts! Igawa is now with last year’s ACL opponents Eastern in Hong Kong which is an interesting move. Morimoto has dropped back down to J2, presumably in search of more time on the pitch and is now with Avispa Fukuoka. Rhayner is back with one of his former clubs in Brazil, Vitoria. At this stage, not sure what the others are doing. Good luck to all of them though and I'm sure many Frontale fans will be wishing them well and keeping an eye on what they're up to. Anyway, on with the new players in squad number order, and like last year, sorry/thank you to the official website from where I have pilfered these pictures.

4 Okubo Yoshito

Okubo isn’t really a new player, having only left us for a season’s holiday at FC Tokyo. He seems delighted to be back. This is a complicated one for me, as the season before last, I was quite happy to see him leave, mainly due to him being the first name on the team sheet no matter how bad his form was and his negative effect on some of the younger players. He definitely wasn’t enjoying himself at that stage and it was reflected in his performances. I can now satisfyingly gloat about being correct that FC Tokyo were not getting the player they thought they were, as last season wasn’t much of a success for him. But now he’s back, so maybe the joke’s on us. But, he really wanted to come back, has expressed some kind of ‘don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ thoughts about Frontale and apparently paid half of his transfer fee himself. These things, combined with his interesting new haircut and training camp bonding with Tabinas has given me a new perspective on him. Of course, he’s not going to be the same player of four or five seasons ago. In his last season with us you could see that he was losing his edge a little. But he’s still a significant goal threat. I suspect he might be playing a little deeper this season, perhaps in more of a Kengo role. I think it would be a mistake to put him straight back into our starting line-up. The players who have those positions have earned them. But with there being plenty of talk about us having two complete starting elevens, (which personally speaking, I think sounds like a terrible idea, much preferring us to practice some team rotation rather than completely change the line-up), he definitely should get a chance to show us what he still can do. Providing the all round good feeling can last, it could be an interesting season for him and I’m back behind him again. Apologies for what I shouted at him regarding his pace and skills in the FC Tokyo away games last year…

9 Akasaki Shuhei

If you consider that Okubo will probably be playing a little further back this season rather than right up front, forward Akasaki could well be the only signing we’ve made that is not a midfielder. Signed from Kashima Antlers, but having spent last season on loan at Gamba Osaka, Akasaki looks like the natural replacement for Morimoto, although he’s a little younger and a little shorter than him. In the first couple of years when he broke into the Kashima team, he played a decent number of games and was scoring at a reasonable rate (around a goal every three games), but he wasn’t so successful in his last season there, which I guess contributed to him moving to Gamba on loan. Last season at Gamba his time was split fairly evenly between starting and being on the bench. He only managed one goal for them in his fourteen appearances, but to be honest, the whole Gamba team didn’t score that many goals last year. I would imagine his rival for pitch time is Chinen. Hopefully they can inspire each other to some good performances.

22 Shimoda Hokuto

Arrives with us from Shonan as a free agent having appeared only ten times for them last year. Naturally, he’s a midfielder, (left footed) preferring to play in the middle but sometimes playing on the right. Seems to average a bit over ten games and one goal a season, but to be honest, I’m kind of struggling to find out much about him, so this is your lot. Sorry!

25 Morita Hidemasa

Came to us from Ryutsu Keizai University late last season, but didn’t really become a proper squad member till now. Defensive midfielder who can also play at right back and centre back. That’s about all I know.

27 Suzuki Yuto

Stepping up into J1 for the first time, Suzuki joined us from Montedio Yamagata who he played for 31 times last season (scoring six goals). A fairly tall (for our team) central midfielder with a focus on attacking.

28 Wakizaka Yasuto

Another university signing, this time from Hannan. Attacking midfielder who wants to be a Kengo type player. Product of the Frontale academy, leaving to go to uni and then coming back to us after graduating.

37 Saito Manabu

Aside from the return of Okubo, which was a big hit with at least some of the fans, this has to be the big name signing this year. It was a real coup to tempt him from our local rivals Yokohama F Marinos, who seem to be having a torrid time recently of keeping hold of their captain talisman players. Last year there was talk of us being interested in him, but him being set on moving abroad and I guess if he wasn’t injured that might also have been the case again this time round. It was a big shock when people started talking about his transfer on twitter and an even bigger shock when it was announced. But it makes sense as he’s from Kawasaki and his exciting attacking style is a good fit with us. He’s almost the perfect Frontale player, given that he’s good on the ball, can pass well, attacks a lot and is not very tall. Perhaps he’s the long term replacement for Kengo, but he will certainly be getting some pitch time when he’s fully recovered from injury. Certainly, at the moment we have too many pieces for our puzzle, but our two starting elevens plan will come into play here again I guess. I’m pretty excited to see him play and if he gets off to a good start I think he could be a really important player for us this year and in the future.

Friday 12 January 2018

2017 season survey results

I'm back in Japan so I thought it was about time I posted the results of the survey. Thank you very much to all who contributed. It's really appreciated! As I didn't get a huge amount of responses and some of the questions were a little vague it seems stupid to work out percentages of answers, but I'll do my best to give you an idea of how prevalent various opinions were and put in some choice comments where appropriate.

1. Game of season

Two games came out as clear winners, game 34, the final home game against Omiya when we won the title ('I think it's the best game of my life') and game 18, Sagan Tosu away where we made a great comeback from 2-0 down at half time. The others mentioned were the big win against Kashima at home (game 22), Urawa at home (game 13) and Sendai at home (game 29).

2. Player of the season

A clear winner on this one and it's our captain, J League MVP and top scorer Kobayashi ('Goals win games'). Sung-Ryong was a few votes behind, ('the league win wouldn't have happened without our goalie making some outrageous stops in more than a few games'), and the only other player mentioned was Oshima.

3. Goal of the season

A nice selection of goals here but only Moriya's cracker against Cerezo at home and Kobayashi's second against Vegalta Sendai were mentioned more than once. Here are all the goals with the videos, hopefully starting at the right place.

Moriya - game 28 vs Cerezo Osaka (home)

Kobayashi's 2nd goal - game 29 vs Vegalta Sendai (home)

Abe - game 34 vs Omiya Ardija (home)

Abe - game 17 vs Vissel Kobe (home)

Elsinho - game 29 vs Vegalta Sendai (home)

Hasegawa - Levain Cup Quarter Final second leg vs Vegalta Sendai (home)

4. Disappointment of the season

Only two things mentioned here and the clear winner, or perhaps I should say loser, was the Levain Cup Final defeat ('So many crackers left in my kitchen as a reminder of it too'). The only other thing mentioned was the Urawa ACL second leg. Guess this shows that not turning up and losing a final hurts more than getting walloped after a red card.

5. Villain of the season (anyone, from any team or an official or...)

There were quite a few different answers here, so here is a list and some comments.

- 'Those people who had the flag at the ACL game in Korea.'
- 'Petrovic for getting sacked. We would have won that ACL game if he was still in charge.'
- 'Ikeuchi referee. I hope he improves his refereeing skills.'
- 'Everyone involved in the Kashiwa away game going forward. Absolutely dire conditions. If we'd lost that or had serious injuries as a result, I think we'd be complaining a lot more about it.'
- 'The Vissel Kobe pitch and most of the refs'
- 'Ikeuchi Akihiko'
- 'Kashima Antlers'
- 'Eduardo v Cerezo at the Levain Cup final'

Congratulations Ikeuchi! You were mentioned directly by name a few times so take the prize.

6. Best away trip (if you've done one)

The answers for this question are a bit of a mess as some people didn't go to any away games and I mentioned four instead of one. Also, I probably should have specified whether it was referring to this season or generally speaking. The only ones to get mentioned more than once were Sagan Tosu (one of my four choices...) and the Levain Quarter Final second leg at FC Tokyo. Other people's choices were Kashiwa, Kashima, Sendai and Thespakusatsu Gunma. I'm guessing that some of these refer to the general trip and some are more focused on this year's result or game. I have linked to the ones that I think refer to this year's match.

7. Opposition J1 team you like the most

Quite a variety of answers in this category. The narrow winners were Vegalta Sendai and Kashiwa Reysol, but Consadole Sapporo, Jubilo Iwata, Gamba Osaka and Cerezo Osaka were also mentioned.

8. Opposition J1 team you like the least

Only two teams mentioned and they are probably pretty easy to guess. Coming out on top were Urawa and not far behind them Kashima. Guess this shows that to upset Frontale fans, you probably need to be a good team who usually beat us. Perhaps surprising but quite nice that none of our local rivals were mentioned.

9. Team you're disappointed to see go down

All the relegated teams were mentioned but the clear favourites were Albirex Niigata. In second place were Omiya Ardija and bringing up the rear but still to be missed were Ventforet Kofu.

10. Team you're pleased to see come up

A fairly even split on this question with all three promoted teams getting roughly the same amount of votes but with newcomers V Varen Nagasaki on top and local rivals Shonan Bellmare ('6 points in the bag') and Nagoya Grampus Eight in joint second.

11. Best thing about the J League

For this and the next question, a list of answers from respondents. There were a variety of answers but the quite a few focus on the good atmosphere.

- 'The atmosphere'
- 'DAZN'
- 'It ain’t over till it’s over!'
- 'Warm atmosphere (applauding opposition fans and not booing players, but maybe this is a Frontale thing and not the whole J League)'
- 'Atmosphere, lack of aggression between fans'
- 'Passion without mania. Perhaps because it's not the country's number one sport, I feel as though the fans really do care about the game and their teams, but (with very few exceptions) not as tribally or hostilely as can be the case in other countries.'
- 'One season system's back (end of the Championship play offs)'
- 'Atmosphere, drinking beer while watching the game, and the mascots'
- 'Being welcomed at away games (by local people)'

12. Worst thing about the J League

A clear winner here and unsurprisingly it is the awful standard of refereeing. Next year we have video refs, so things could get even worse, judging by what I've heard happened in the K League last year.

- 'The November-December game times when you live on the other side of the planet and need to wake up at 5 or 6 on weekends to watch the games'
- 'Soft free kicks'
- 'Low level of Japanese referees'
- 'Referees' level (not good)'
- 'Referees'
- 'Is it just me, or is there a lot of pussyfooting around the edge of the box instead of just having a crack or getting stuck in?'
- 'Vs Reysol @ Hitachidai. Conditions were so bad that players couldn't play soccer. But the J League couldn't decide to call off the game.'
- 'Running tracks' 
- 'System of having to queue for hours to get a decent seat'

13. Trophy you would like to win the most next year

No-one wanted us to win the Emperor's Cup for some reason! The clear favourite was us retaining our league title ('dominance!'), with the ACL in second place and Levain in third. I guess we have some unfinished business in both of those competitions.

14. What's Kengo's role next season? (first team regular, semi-regular starter, sub etc.)

It was very close on this question with opinion being split between first team regular and semi-regular starter with semi-regular starter just about taking it. I feel like I should include all of the comments on this question as Kengo is such an important part of Frontale for both footballing and emotional reasons.
- 'Won’t play every game but still an important player. Use wisely.' 
- 'I think he's got another season in him as a starter, but if I'm wrong I hope he or Oniki recognizes it and they don't try to force it if it isn't working. I thought passing the torch to Kobayashi while remaining a key player this season was a great move. '
- 'I hope he will play as first team regular. I want to watch his play as long as possible.'
- 'Still a main player but needs to be playing once a week max - maybe less.'