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5 players who could leave Gamba this winter

As a follow up to last week’s article on potential arrivals at Panasonic Stadium Suita this winter, here are 5 players who I believe could be on their way out of the club, either on a temporary or permanent basis this off-season.

#1 Mizuki Hayashi – Goalkeeper – 23 (years old) – After making 13 appearances in all competitions in 2018, due largely to first-choice Masaaki Higashiguchi’s injury problems, this year has been one of frustration for the 182cm, former Japan U17 representative. He’s played just 5 times for Gamba’s top team in the Levain Cup in addition to 5 J3 appearances with Gamba U23 and his career now stands at a crossroads. Higashiguchi, at 33, still has plenty of gas left in the tank and young Kosei Tani (now 19 years old) is hot on his heels, especially since his recent involvement with Japan’s Olympic team. Hayashi looks a decent ‘keeper to me, but realistically Tani is the long-term successor to Higashiguchi, so if he wants to avoid becoming a career backup, he may need to look elsewhere. Initially, that elsewhere is probably J2 where a team like Kyoto, who used 3 goalkeepers in the course of a reasonably successful 2019 campaign (I’ll ignore round 42), could be a potential destination for 2020, perhaps a loan deal at first that may turn into a permanent one.

#2 Naoaki Aoyama – Centre-back – 33 – The former Shimizu, Yokohama F.Marinos and Kofu defender was a bit of a surprise pick-up from Thai side Muangthong United last winter. He was probably off the radar for most JLeague sides and certainly mine, but he did have a good time in Thailand, playing Champions League football in 2 out his 4 seasons there. His signing did, however, make him the back up to Shunya Suganuma, who in turn was back up to Genta Miura and Kim Young-gwon in what was supposed to be a 4-4-2 formation (but later changed into 3-5-2). The emergence of Ryu Takao slid him even further down the pecking order and he’s only played 7 times in the cups and twice in J3 to date. Gamba really need to start developing younger defenders, Suganuma is the only Gamba Youth centre-back in the first-team squad (Sanfrecce Hiroshima centre-half Hayato Araki played for Gamba Osaka Junior Youth – how much would he improve Gamba’s defence?) and even young guys like Riku Matsuda and Hiroki Noda were never given a chance in the JLeague Cup, while many other clubs were blooding their stars of the future there. I believe Aoyama still has something to offer at J2 level and if they stay down, a move back to former side Ventforet Kofu may work out well for both parties.

#3 Kazuma Watanabe – Centre-forward – 33 – I was never a massive fan of his when I saw him playing for Kobe, but since moving east to Osaka, I’ve seen the qualities he brings to a team. He netted 3 times in 12 games in J1 in 2018 after his mid-season switch, but he’s spent most of this campaign on the bench, making only cameo appearances. He managed 3 goals in 4 games in September and October, scoring the winner in the crucial match against Tosu, finishing off the rout of Sapporo with an excellent shot from outside the box and adding a tap-in in the 2-2 draw at home to Kawasaki Frontale when Usami and Ademilson were out injured. With Hiroto Goya and Kazunari Ichimi due back from loan spells in J2 and Usami and Ademilson seemingly cemented as Gamba’s first-choice strike pairing, it looks like the experienced Watanabe will be on his way this winter. He could definitely do a job for a Sendai, Tosu or Shonan and would be an outstanding signing for anyone in J2 where I’m sure he’d score regularly.

#4 Mizuki Ichimaru – Central-midfield – 22 – He was seen as one of the brightest players in Gamba’s youth system a few years back, he even featured on all the promotional materials alongside the big stars like Endo, Konno, Higashiguchi. Since then, his career has been very stop-start, blighted by a number of niggling injuries. He started Levir Culpi’s first game as Gamba boss against Nagoya Grampus last year but ended up only making 4 JLeague and 5 Levain Cup appearances before moving down to the U23 side. He was appointed U23 captain this year and played 7 games in J3 before being loaned to J2 strugglers FC Gifu. Again injuries plagued him in Gifu and he played just 14 league games (including 10 starts) while contributing 2 assists, but he was unable to prevent them from dropping down to J3 after finishing bottom of the J2 standings this year. With Ren Shibamoto and Kohei Okuno rising up through the ranks, Takahiro Ko due back from Renofa Yamaguchi and Endo, Yajima, Ideguchi, Kurata and Takae already on the books, there appears no room for Ichimaru in Gamba’s 3-man midfield. The former-Gamba Youth man probably needs to look for fresh pastures either in the bottom half of J2 or a forward looking J3 side.

#5 David Concha (attacking midfielder/23) / Yuto Suzuki (wide midfielder/25) / Patric (centre-forward/32) – I know I’m cheating with this one, but I decided to combine the 3 current on-loan players in Gamba’s squad into one grouping. I’ve gone into details in previous posts about why Gamba blundered with the signing of Concha, no position for him etc, but even with his Spanish buddy Susaeta at the club, I don’t see anything other than a return to his homeland for him in 2020. Suzuki was brought in to cover injuries to Fujiharu and Fukuda in the summer and played a few games, though in truth from what I’ve see, although he technically ‘can’ play on the left (in much the same way Kim Young-gwon could probably play as a forward), he’s much more of a right-sided player. He’s on loan from Kawasaki and most likely doesn’t have a future there, a top J2 side may be his level, he used to play for Mito and Yamagata, these could be potential destinations for him in 2020. Finally, fans favourite and 2014 treble winner Patric who returned on loan from Hiroshima this summer. He’s scored two and assisted one in 11 J1 games since moving back to Osaka (only 4 starts though) and he did get the vital away goal in the JLeague Cup quarter-final victory over FC Tokyo, however I think he’ll depart Gamba once again this off-season. After scoring 20 J1 goals for Sanfrecce in 2018, I was surprised to see him lose his place to fellow Brazilian Douglas Vieira this campaign, but although he’s looked pretty sharp whenever I’ve watched him this season, his goalscoring touch of previous days has deserted him, case in point, when he missed a simple header in injury time against Iwata, only for them to go up the other end and get a penalty in the 95th minute and walk away with a 1-1 draw. I like him a lot as a player, but as with Watanabe, it may be time for the younger stars like Goya and Ichimi to get their chance.

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