Normally this is a lengthy in-depth blog post but honestly, I can’t really be bothered to go onto much detail when talking about 2022. Since Oniki started our lovely run of titles in 2017, this was the first year in which we won absolutely nothing. I kind of knew it would happen when at the start of the season we slightly irritatingly added the sixth star on our shirt as the first of a second line, suggesting that it would be only a matter of time till we’d be getting more. But that wasn’t to be, and it wasn’t really a case of ‘close but no cigar’, but more of a bit of a disaster on all fronts. Of course it’s ridiculous to call us finishing two points behind YFM in the league a disaster. (But that’s the kind of thing you come here for, right?). However, there were so many awful results on the way to that second place finish that looking back, 2022 just feels like a massive run of missed opportunities. Of course we lost important players before the start of the season, but we still had enough in the squad to get the job done. At least as far as I’m concerned anyway. I had something of a mid-season meltdown when I got totally fed up with Oniki’s inflexibility and constant poor choices (as far as I’m concerned). After that came to a head, the second half of the season was quite a relaxed one for me. I knew we weren’t going to win the title. We did come annoyingly close in the end though and YFM being as inconsistent as we were meant that they left it very late to completely extinguish our hope. I’m going to write a bit about each competition below, but before that let’s think about some positives we can take from the 2022 season. Erm…. errr… There aren’t any, I think. Let’s hope 2023 is a bit better.
The season kicked off with a game against Urawa for the Super Cup. We lost and were absolutely clueless and awful. So pretty much a good introduction to 2022. If you win this game you’re pleased. If you lose it, you just say it’s a meaningless competition and basically a glorified pre-season friendly. We were so bad though that I could only feel more worried about what might be coming rather than happy to write it off as meaningless. This game saw Chanathip being played out of position and being ineffective, something which was utterly obvious to many, but apparently not Oniki as he persevered with it for quite a few more games afterwards. Terrible game, terrible start to a terrible season. So utterly fitting, I guess.
As we were in the ACL we were parachuted into the competition at the quarter final stage. Even so, we didn’t make it any further and bowed out at the first time of asking. We took the lead in both legs, and gave it away very late on in both legs too. Particularly shocking was the second leg where we were winning 2-0 as the board went up for injury time in the second half and then conceded twice to go out on away goals. You’ve probably got to say too that we had what Oniki considered to be our best team (or at least best available team) out in the second leg. Looking back at my blog post, it seems that we didn’t take our chances which is something of a theme for 2022.
Compared to other competitions in 2022 we had a great run in the Emperor’s Cup this year. Well, we didn’t go out at the first opportunity. We smashed a team of university students 5-0 at home but when it came to playing a team with professionals in it we lost. Tokyo Verdy didn’t have a great 2022 but they were good enough to beat us and our dull football. This game came at the height of my Oniki despair. I’ve managed to blank out most of the experience but my blog post said that even though some might blame the result on us playing some reserves, my take on it was that whoever we selected we would have struggled with our awful tactics. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?
We were targeting the ACL in 2022 apparently. But we did still start with one of our usual total failures to play in a game against Ulsan, only managing to scrape a draw with a goal from Kurumaya which was gifted to us in the 94th minute. A bad game about which I said ‘total lack of ideas’, ‘a dull, dull game’. We followed it up with a walloping of Guangzhou’s U18 team from which we could take a bit of positivity. And then were brought crashing back to earth by a 0-0 against Johor. We didn’t even have a shot on target. Quite how we went from that 0-0 to beating Johor 5-0 in the same stadium three days later, I don’t know. But then we messed it up again in the following game against our Kryptonite team Ulsan which we dominated but failed to take our chances in. This put us in a bad position going into the final game but we should have been ok as other results had gone our way somewhat. But then Ulsan scored an own goal in the 94th minute handing Johor a surprise win, allowing them to top the group and leaving us in second. Which in any normal year would have been fine but due to the different format of the competition in 2022 meant that we went out as we weren’t one of the better second place finishers. But we got what we deserved anyway, as we were rubbish. Something which was exemplified by our final game where we totally dominated against the Chinese kids team and only managed to score once even though we had 81% possession and 23 shots (nine on target). We didn’t take our chances. Again.
It’s a miracle that we finished second, only two points behind YFM. 2022 was a season of some truly horrible results but many more truly horrible performances where we squeaked something. Looking back, the league season kicked off in perfectly typical style for 2022. We didn’t deserve to beat FC Tokyo and we squeaked a truly unfair but utterly delightful win late on. This was the case in many games in 2022. But not the case in the following game where we were rubbish against YFM and lost. My post said ‘Somehow now we can’t pass, tackle or keep the ball. And all of our players have forgotten how to play.’ I could go through the whole year just quoting myself moaning about every game but that would be pretty tough I think. So instead let’s just look at some lowlights. Shonan home and away. Jubilo home and away. Kyoto away. Urawa away where we had to put three goalkeepers on the bench. But of course all teams have bad games over the course of a season. My problem is more that we were so lifeless, dull and blunt pretty much all year. As I said, even when we won, on many occasions we had played very badly and got lucky. It wasn’t much fun to watch and I’m glad it’s over. But I’m a bit worried we might just carry on in the same way in 2023.
So in brief, we had possession, we had shots, we couldn’t score and we couldn’t defend. You can’t really blame Oniki for our strikers not being able to score. You probably can blame him for a complete inability to come up with any kind of plan B when things weren’t working. We overplayed it often, apparently wanting to walk the ball into the net. Confidence was low on many occasions. Our play and our manager drove me nuts but eventually I got over it and just didn’t care much. Which isn’t great, but was a lot less stressful. I guess plenty of people will disagree with me on my interpretation of 2022, but however you feel about it, we can all agree that we came out of it with nothing. Well apart from a lot of disappointment. I think we’re not particularly going to do any better next year but at least we can look forward to Albirex Niigata away. Yokohama FC away is not as exciting from an away travel point of view. We haven’t had to follow up a complete failure season for a while, (2019 was the last one and we managed at least the Levain Cup), so it’s an interesting way to be going in to a new season. Hopefully we can bounce back like we did in 2020, rather than 2022 being the second step is a long decline. I guess it has to happen sooner or later, but if we could avoid it next year, that would be nice.