Monday, 18 January 2010

The 2010 Squad, pt 3 - Stuck In The Middle

Furtho: Aha, great - so I get to start on the midfield. But where to start? Are we going to try and guess what coach Jang Wae Ryong is going to do when it comes to selecting the heart of his team? Because let's be clear now: this really will be his team. If we compare Yasuhiro Higuchi's Squirrels side that started the 2008 campaign with a 2-0 win over Albirex Niigata, at an absolute maximum there will be three players from that line-up which will begin 2010. Of those three, Chikara Fujimoto is I guess probable, Koji Ezumi possible and Daigo Kobayashi very unlikely indeed. So let's call it one, possibly two.

The difficult part of predicting Jang is that - as you noted in your comments on the defence, AO - players tend to get used in roles that can charitably be described as surprising. Yes, Kohei Tokita and Park Won Jae, I'm thinking of you. Park's gone now, of course, but let's say that there are seven or so players competing for the wide midfield positions. We've expressed enough exasperation in the past at the likes of Fujimoto and Tomoya Uchida, who produce occasional flashes of quality but whose continued presence in the squad is difficult to understand. Are either of them good enough to play regular J1 football?

Fujimoto in particular seems an immovable part of Jang's thinking, impossible to dislodge from the team no matter how many times he mishits a pass or shoots over the bar. I would love Chikara to be as good as he imagines himself to be, but he just isn't. At least Tokita, for all his limitations, doesn't kid himself. So anyway, instead of continuing moaning in a similar vein, I'll just say that I'm really excited about the new youngsters. I have no knowledge whatsoever of Masakazu Kihara, or of Taisuke Miyazaki from the youth team, although there have been whispers that Jun Kanakubo from Ryutsu Keizai University is a good player. Let's see some speed, vision and creativity from them.

Whatever happens this year, everyone seems to agree that as far as 2009-vintage Omiya is concerned the midfield was the weakest part of the team. Everyone also agrees that Shin Kanazawa was the best part of the midfield - and indeed that his performances throughout the season put him right up there as one of the Players of the Year. Well, okay, everyone except me. In his regular 2009 line-up, Jang had fans' favourite Kanazawa in the middle of midfield, alongside surprise selection Hayato Hashimoto. Is that going to change in 2010?

Well, Ardija have obviously in no way embarrassed themselves over the winter in chasing international Junichi Inamoto, but extraordinarily have failed to land the Rennes midfielder in exactly the same way that Jang, Haruo Yuuki and Seigo Watanabe failed to land Yuji Nakazawa and Shusaku Nishikawa before him. A less attack-minded player than Inamoto, Ahn Young Hak of Suwon Samsung Bluewings became Ardija's subsequent transfer target and having been signed, Ahn will presumably be challenging Kanazawa and Hashimoto for a place in the team.

However, this ignores the popular challenge of Omiya's new young star performer. Takuya Aoki seemed to be dashing off to play for the U20 national side every five minutes throughout 2009, but towards the end of the year he somehow found time in his busy schedule to make a few appearances for the Squirrels. 2010 started with Aoki on the verge of making a debut for the full Japan team and Hashimoto in particular must be feeling under pressure. Is Ryohei Arai going to get a look-in? Well, probably not. But then that's what we would have said a year ago.

Agent Orange:
I think that Jang went with the idea that the midfield was porous not because they were lacking talent and heart (they were), but because the defense behind them was extremely weak. Therefore we saw a ton of transfers involving players who were defensively important leaving (Yasuhiro Hato, Daisuke Tomita, Yosuke Kataoka) and coming (Yuki Fukaya, Shusuke Tsubouchi, Arata Sugiyama, Kazuhiro Murakami). The one midfield addition who looks to have an immediate impact - Ahn - has a background as a central defender.

To be honest, the defense has never been great for Omiya. We have consistently ranked near the bottom in every season we have graced J1, so improvement of that part of the squad is not really the dumbest idea I've ever heard (playing Kohei Tokita at wingback after he showed consistently that he wasn't up to it was the third dumbest, Yusuke Murayama getting a contract for 2009 the second dumbest and the pairing of Enilton and Mauricio Salles was actually the dumbest idea I've ever heard).

Where the train comes off the rails is the fact that not only was the 2009 midfield a bit inept defensively, they were putrid on the offense as well. It all starts and ends with our own mini-Miura (and if you haven't seen the video clips of his one-man Guam camp, you are missing true sporting genius - it's glorious!). Chikara Fujimoto is the only consistent contributor remaining from the five years of world-class mediocrity that has been YOUR OMIYA ARDIJA (Kanazawa left for two years and Hashimoto only played consisteently in 2007 and 2009, so they don't count)!

Our own blubbing, sobbing, crying little captain has been the centerpiece of every Omiya J1 squad. And like Kazu Miura when he joined Kobe, he has sacrificed the good of the squad for his own personal agenda. The display he put on last year - be it his bouts of faux-fantasista in which the other team easily stole the ball and started a break towards our goal, the lackadaisical play on defense where he'd leave the wings open so that there would be number advantages, the pitiful attempts at crosses and free-kicks, the inordinate number of dumb fouls and yellow cards, the ridiculously off-target shots in front of wide open goals, or the alltogether selfish play - was downright disgusting. The one big, giant failing of this offseason was not the failure to get Junichi Inamoto, it was the failure to get rid of Chikara Fujimoto.

The rest of last year's midfield was disappointing to say the least. In my opinion it was a great performance by Shin Kanazawa (the J1 leader in tackles), alongside three letdowns almost every game. We had a playmaker in Hayato Hashimoto who had trouble passing, shooting, defending and dribbling; the aforementioned Captain Pissypants; and a collection of wings who form a murderer's row of malaise. To wit:

  • Tomoya Uchida - the undersized side midfielder who was consistently outrun to balls by bigger and stronger players. Displayed a free kick that wasn't bad when he could kick straight.
  • Park Won Jae - flashes of brilliance combined with diving, fumbling, and utter garbage play. Singlehandedly cost us our chance to advance in the Emperor's Cup with 45 minutes of the worst soccer seen at Omiya Park.
  • Kohei Tokita - the best part about Tokita playing in midfield was that he was not playing defense. He is a hustle player, but not a skill player to say the least.
  • Daisuke Watabe - the 19-year-old attacking midfielder who was deemed a failure by Jang after 65 bad minutes against Kawasaki.
  • Seo Yong Duk - the 20-year-old Korean midfielder who played even worse, but was deemed by Jang to be a better player. Inexplicably brought back for another campaign.

The good news is that there is some promising young talent on the horizon, led by National Team benchwarmer Takuya Aoki, who looked good in the few appearances he got in 2009. Two newcomers come from the college ranks in Masakazu Kihara and Jun Kanakubo, who honestly I know nothing about, and one from the Omiya Youth squad in Taisuke Miyazaki, who probably will get one appearance before Jang decides he's useless as well (as is the precedent with Omiya youth players after 2004 and Jang).

The front office promised to have a younger, more athletic team and they've kept their promise... in regards to training matches versus Tochigi SC. What I worry about is that the signing of Ahn means another roadblock in the development of Aoki and the eventual loss of him to a bigger club (like Yokohama FC... bidding for Masashi Oguro? Really?). What I think we'll see in 2010 is a midfield of Fujimoto, Ahn, Kanazawa and Hashimoto. Not very inspiring.



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