Thursday, 16 December 2010

TENTH IN '10!!: #2. The Rise And Rise Of Shusuke Tsubouchi

When Ardija announced on 6th January 2010 that Shusuke Tsubouchi was signing for the club on a year's loan, it's fair to say that Omiya supporters weren't exactly filled with excitement at the prospect. At that time 26 years old, the central defender had spent his career with Vissel Kobe, having originally learned his football at Maebashi Ikuei High School in Gunma prefecture - by coincidence also the source of Omiya's defensive midfielder Takuya Aoki. The most striking recent part of Tsubouchi's resume, however, was that he had been relegated in both 2008 and 2009, whilst on loan from Kobe to Consadole Sapporo and Oita Trinita respectively.

Bearing that in mind, together with the re-signing of 2009 hero Mato Neretljak and the fact that highly-rated Yuki Fukaya was also moving to Ardija, and it seemed as if Tsubouchi was destined to be no more than a squad player: Neretljak and Fukaya would be the clear first-choice partnership in the middle of the back four and if they were injured or suspended, Tsubouchi would presumably scrap it out with Shunsuke Fukuda as to who would step in. Basically, here was a player who looked like being a replacement for Yusuke Murayama, a deeply limited defender who had been mercifully let go at the end of the 2009 campaign.

It quickly became clear that Tsubouchi hadn't been brought to Omiya to make up the numbers. Coach Jang Wae Ryong used him as a substitute in both the first couple of games and in the absence of Kazuhiro Murakami for the round 3 game against Kashima Antlers Tsubouchi made it into the starting line-up, even if it was in the rather unorthodox position of left back. He rarely dropped out of the first XI for the rest of the year, even after the replacement of Jang with Jun Suzuki. The tag "utility player" is never going to set anyone's heart racing, but what was it that Tsubouchi contributed that made him such a key member of the squad?

In a word, solidity. He's not particularly quick and he doesn't get forward much, but his positional play as a defender is consistently and reliably good. This has been critical in a season when Fukaya and Neretljak for whatever reason did not form the anticipated strong bond: Tsubouchi, in his unassuming way, wearing his scruffy schoolboy haircut and that half-smile which always makes it look as if he's just about to burst out laughing, expanded to fill the gap. He got himself into the right place in the right time. He even scored a couple of goals - characteristically, both plain and straightforward headers from corners - which saw his career tally skyrocket from one to three.

Handily for my narrative, one of those goals came in the last match of the season at Yokohama F Marinos, when at the end of a first half during which Tsubouchi, Fukaya and goalkeeper Takashi Kitano had done just enough to keep out Koji Yamase, Shunsuke Nakamura and co, our hero bundled one in at the far post to put Ardija a goal ahead. His low-key but cheery goal celebration was a million miles from the choreographed ego trips of so many current players and he well deserved the gleeful congratulations of his team-mates. Putting an end to his own run of relegation luck from Sapporo and Oita, Tsubouchi's done more than most to keep Omiya in J1. He'll be back in 2011 and he won't be under-estimated.



Michael 20 December 2010 at 02:14  

He got my vote as player of the year. Fukaya might have got the goals but he just doesn't have the pace. A few more signings like Tsubouchi and we might actually do something next year.

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