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End of season review

After a pretty mediocre 2019 spent mostly in the bottom half of the table but ultimately ending in a 7th place finish, it’s time to look at the state of Gamba’s squad and make some predictions regarding player movements ahead of the 2020 season. I’ll go through each player one by one based on their number. All ages given are as of 1 January 2020.

#1 Masaaki Higashiguchi – goalkeeper – 33 (years old) – An excellent season between the sticks and at 33, he’s still got plenty of good years ahead of him. Only his age is preventing him from a national team recall at the moment.

#4 Hiroki Fujiharu – left-back – 31 = Plagued by injuries this year, he did however manage to break through the 200 J1 appearances barrier. Better as an orthodox left-back than a wing-back, in my opinion and it’ll be interesting to see the battle between him and Keisuke Kurokawa for a starting berth in 2020.

#5 Genta Miura – centre-back / occasional right-back – 24 – I was never his biggest fan, but he won me over with some solid displays which earned him a recall to the national team. Being dropped for a couple of games and then played at right-back during the early season slump seemed to shake him out of the complacency which had dogged him in 2018. Rumours circling that Jleague Champions Yokohama F.Marinos have bid for him, hopefully, despite them being able to offer Champions League football, he decides that he doesn’t want to battle Hatanaka and Thiago Martins for a starting position and instead stays to fight to bring ACL football back to Suita in 2021.

#7 Yasuhito Endo – centre-midfield / deep-lying playmaker – 39 – He’ll be 40 by the time the 2020 campaign kicks off, so this year will surely be the one where he starts to see his playing time become much more limited similar to Kengo Nakamura at Kawasaki Frontale this year (Gamba’s apparent overtures to FC Seoul midfielder Ju Se-jong appear to confirm this). Still he’ll be a great help to the crop of younger midfielders coming through.

#8 Kosuke Onose – right-winger / wing-back – 26 – Built on a promising end to 2018 by having a breakout season this year (7 J1 goals and 4 assists). He saw off competition from new signings Tanaka, Susaeta, Concha and Suzuki to remain the undisputed first choice in his position and I’d expect him to kick on further in 2020. Hopefully this will be with Gamba as his form has not gone unnoticed, FC Tokyo and Yokohama F.Marinos are credited with bids to lure him away from Osaka next year. Slightly surprising that he didn’t get a call up for the EAFF Cup this month.

#9 Ademilson – centre-forward – 25 – Started and finished the season on fire with 4 goals in the first 5 matches and 3 in the final 3, however in between there was a lot of mediocre play, so he’s clearly very much a confidence player. Still, his end of season stats look good, leading Gamba in both goals and assists, 10 and 8 respectively. His renewed partnership with Usami looks to be blossoming which could bode well for next year. Supposedly Urawa were interested in him, but he is rumoured to have penned a new deal with Gamba and hopefully he can beat his 2019 goal-scoring tally next year.

#10 Shu Kurata – attacking midfielder – 31 – Winner of the Mr.Gamba player of the year award after netting 7 times before a broken jaw against Kawasaki Frontale in October derailed his season somewhat. One of my favourite Gamba players, depending on the formation he can competently play 4 or 5 different positions (note to Gamba front office – please stop signing players in his position) although his main flaw is that he picks up too many bookings.

#11 David Concha – right / left-winger – 23 – No idea why he was signed, must have been due to Spanish players becoming the new Brazilians in Jleague teams’ eyes. Wasn’t even given a decent run with the U23 side to prove himself. Everything was wrong about this signing; the timing – just after the season started, the lack of any Spanish support staff / team-mates and his position – one Gamba were well covered in. I’m sure he’ll be back in Spain next year and will most likely go onto have a journeyman career.

#13 Shunya Suganuma – centre-back – 29 – Got a decent run alongside Miura and Kim in the last 5 games of the year and let nobody down. Still, for a team chasing the top 3, he is much better as a backup than a regular starter. The only Gamba Youth defender in the current squad, I expect him to stay, but I also expect him to return to the bench for 2020.

#14 Markel Susaeta – right-winger – 32 – He most definitely has the experience and pedigree to be a success, however signing him with only 9 league games left didn’t really give him much of a chance to bed in. Couple that with the fact that he plays in the same role as Onose, arguably Gamba’s 2019 player of the year, bringing him in could be seen as a big waste of money. However, given a good pre-season and time to settle into life in Japan I believe he could be a useful player and I’d like to see him stay.

#15 Yosuke Ideguchi – centre-midfield – 23 – Delighted to have him back, he didn’t quite hit the highs of his previous spell with the club, but this was understandable due to his injury problems while in Europe. I’ve no doubt that a fully-fit Ideguchi will go on to be a mainstay in Gamba’s midfield for the next decade. His 2 goals against Matsumoto gave a hint of what may be to come, with Kurata and Onose (if he stays) contributing 14 goals between them from midfield, another 5-6 from Ideguchi would compliment that nicely.

#17 Yuto Suzuki – right / left wing-back / winger – 26 – Brought in on loan mostly as injury cover he largely did what was expected of him. He played on the left a few times which really isn’t his position even though he’s listed as being able to play there. Honestly I don’t think he’s good enough to be anything more than backup for a team aiming to finish in the top half of J1. Had decent spells with Yamagata and Mito in J2, a move back to one of them would be good business for both parties.

#18 Patric – centre-forward – 32 – I’m not totally sure why he was pushed out of Sanfrecce in favour of Douglas Vieira, but I was happy to see him rejoin Gamba on loan mid-season. He started off well, but then fell behind the resurgent Watanabe in the pecking order for a while. It’s being reported that he’ll sign on permanently and he’d definitely be an excellent backup and potential mentor for young Kazunari Ichimi.

#19 Kim Young-gwon – centre-back – 29- A fairly solid season from him, 1 goal and 1 assist from 32 J1 games. This is the kind of signing I like to see Gamba make (along with Usami and Ideguchi), he’s fairly low risk and relatively high reward. My only slight concern is that a 76 times capped South Korean who’s played in 2 World Cups and captained his country on occasion should really be the best centre-back in Jleague, shouldn’t he? Yet although he performed competently throughout the year, I don’t see him anywhere near anyone’s team of the year….maybe I’m being a bit overcritical and I definitely hope he stays, Gamba have a good track record of signing Koreans and his presence makes it much easier to attract more of them.

#20 Daisuke Takagi – left-winger – 24 – Hopefully he was signed with 2020 in mind otherwise he can be filed under the category of pointless signings (he’ll have plenty of company in there). He plays in positions that were already well covered and as twitter video evidence showed in physical training he’s still not quite up to the rigours of J1 yet. Hopefully he can improve and become more of a regular next year, adding to his 2 J1 sub appearances in 4 months at the end of this season.

#21 Shinya Yajima – centre-midfield / deep-lying playmaker – 25 – A pleasant surprise for me this year, he bounced back well after a very disappointing 2018. With Endo likely to feature less next year I’d like to see him continue to form a good partnership in the midfield engine-room alongside Ideguchi. Got 4 assists and 1 goal (the winner at home to Shimizu) in 27 league games, comfortably the most J1 appearances he’s made in 1 year in his career to date, possibly the most improved player this year.

#23 Mizuki Hayashi – goalkeeper – 23 – Barely played last year as Higashiguchi had no injury worries. From what I’ve seen of him he’s a decent ‘keeper but he needs game time and that’s not going to come at Gamba in 2020 with Higashiguchi the established number one and young Tani breathing down his neck. Wouldn’t be surprised at all if he went out on loan to a J2 side to get much needed match practice.

#24 Keisuke Kurokawa (designated special player) – left-back / wing-back – 22 – Featured a couple of times this year but I didn’t see him play. He comes pretty highly rated and Gamba have had some decent success in recent seasons bringing in players from universities so I’ve got high hopes for him.

#26 Kohei Okuno – centre-midfield – 19 – He struggled in the first part of this year with injuries but went on to put in some solid performances in midfield for the U23s in J3. He seems similar in style to Takahiro Ko so I don’t see many opportunities for him in the first team at the moment. He was played as a full-back at times in J3 but that’s definitely not his position (though it seems to be in vogue at the moment for central-midfielders to play right-back). A whole-hearted performer and one of my favourite Gamba U23 players this year.

#27 Ryu Takao – right-sided centre-back / right-back – 23 – Another pleasant surprise this year, I watched him make his senior debut as a marauding full-back against Vanraure Hachinohe back in March and would never have guessed he’d go on to play over 20 games at centre-back in J1. Gamba should sign more players directly from university as they seem to be better at it than getting them from other J1 teams. He was brought in to play right-back, so I’d like to see him get a run in his favoured position at some point.

#28 Yuki Yamamoto (designated special player) – attacking-midfielder – 22 – From Kwansei Gakuin like Takao so hopefully he’ll make a similar impact. He plays in a position that’s well covered at the moment so he may need to be patient in the search for game-time.

#29 Leo Takae – central / attacking midfielder – 21 – I really like him as a player and he improved a good deal over the course of 2019. If he’s going to play in an attacking midfield role, he is going to have to add goals to his game or Yamamoto will quickly overtake him in the pecking order. A loan move to a good J2 side can’t be out of the question now that the U23 team is gone.

#30 Naoaki Aoyama – centre-back – 33 – Signed to be the backup to the backup centre-back, he did all that was expected of him. If he’s content at this stage of his career to play a handful of League Cup and Tennohai games a year then he’ll stay, otherwise I’m sure he could play more regularly in a middling J2 side.

#31 Ken Tajiri – goalkeeper – 26 – Returned this year after an 18-month loan spell at Kanazawa and spent most of the campaign covering for Tani in J3. If Hayashi goes out on loan I’d expect him to hang around but otherwise with no U23 team he faces the choice of being 4th choice ‘keeper or heading for a career with a much smaller club in J3 or JFL.

#32 Ren Shibamoto – deep-lying playmaker / centre-midfield – 20 – Really improved a lot as one of the senior players in the U23 side this year. Very much in the Andrea Pirlo role, he’s well positioned to become more of a regular in 2021 or 2022 whenever Endo eventually retires. I wouldn’t be averse to seeing him go out on loan next year, preferably to a J2 side who like to play attractive football,

#33 Takashi Usami – attacking-midfielder / centre-forward – 27 – Along with Endo, he’s my all-time favourite Gamba player and I’m really happy he came back. It took him a while to get going this year, but he still ended up with 7 goals in 14 games to be joint 2nd in the Gamba goalscoring charts. His partnership with Ademilson next year will be key, 25-30 goals between them would definitely put Gamba in with a shot of cracking the top three.

#34 Yuya Fukuda – left / right wing-back – 20 – I was very impressed with how he improved throughout the year and when he struggled with injuries in the latter part of the season, he was missed. If he improves on his output – goals and assists – then he could be the next young Gamba protege to head to Europe. Onose’s departure, should it happen, would be a blow, but it could also allow Fukuda to nail down a first team slot down his favoured right flank.

#35 Tatsuya Yamaguchi – left-back – 19 – He’s played a lot of league games for someone so young and is always a tireless performer. That said, I didn’t see a whole lot of improvement from him this year (although he had set the bar pretty high in 2018). At the moment he’s behind Fujiharu, Fukuda and Kurokawa in the pecking order (plus he has new Korean import Shin Won-ho for company) so he may well join a J3 side on loan in 2020.

#36 Riku Matsuda – centre-back / right-back – 20 – Made big improvements this year after being given the U23 captaincy and moving to centre-back. His height (175cm) may be an issue when it comes to playing centre-back in J1 but with Gamba U23 he improved his positioning and game-reading skills a lot which allowed him to mostly negate this. He was also able to talk Takahashi and Ono through games when he became the senior figure at the back after Noda’s loan move to Yamagata. I’d like to see him challenge for a starting slot next year and get some serious game time in the cups.

#37 Haruto Shirai – right-winger / centre-forward – 20 – He’s exclusively named as a centre-forward everywhere I’ve seen but the first 5-6 times I saw him play was on the right-wing and he only went up top when there was basically no-one else left to play there for the U23s. He’s very quick and tricky but needs to work on his goalscoring. I’m not sure if there are attitude / fitness issues with him as at times last year he was benched for high-school kids in J3 and was also often subbed with 30-35 minutes to go despite playing well. Sadly, I don’t see him making it at Gamba at the moment and a move to a J3 or JFL side may suit all parties.

#39 Kazuma Watanabe – centre-forward – 33 – I always thought he was slightly overrated when he was at Kobe but I definitely see the qualities he brings since he’s come to Gamba. He was backup for most of the year, but his winner against Tosu was invaluable and his goal against Sapporo a couple of weeks later showed what he’s all about. With Ichimi, Goya (maybe) and Takagi all due to come back after loan spells, I don’t see him playing anywhere near regularly with Gamba, and although I’d be happy for him to stay, he is a veteran with an eye for goal and any J2 side and even a few in J1 would benefit from his signature.

#41 Kosei Tani – goalkeeper – 19 – An injury hit 2019 still saw him earn a call-up to the Japan U22 squad in October. I really rate him and see him as the natural successor to Higashiguchi. If Hayashi goes out on loan next year, expect to see him move up to number 2 in the pecking order and get game-time in both cup competitions.

Kantoku – Tsuneyasu Miyamoto – 42 – A steep learning curve for him this year after everything going right for him in 2018. The horror start to the year (7 defeats in the first 11 games) could have seen the end of other managers, but to his credit he changed the formation and personnel and 39 points were gleamed from the remaining 23 league matches to earn a respectable 7th place finish. If the correct players are brought in and retained and ACL push and potentially +30,000 attendances will be expected.


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