I believe it was Jon Steele who said to me ahead of my J-Talk: Extra Time debut, “the thing about opening the floor to questions is that people might ask some,” and I must admit I’ve been taken aback by the volume and quality of inquiries that have come my way over the past few days. I’ve tried my hardest to answer them all to the best of my ability, hopefully you enjoy my thoughts and opinions. I’m interested to hear your feedback on some of the points raised, not only about Gamba, but also other J1 sides.
Before we get to that though, have a quick trawl through some stats I’ve dug up below. Alternatively, if statistics aren’t really your thing, scroll down to the mailbag section to see my answers to your questions.
League Stats Correct to 3 September 2021
I’m not really going to analyse these tables as Ryo Nakagawara (@R_by_Ryo on Twitter) did an amazing job with some similar information during the summer break, check out his work, if you haven’t already. I have used J Stats for most of this data and what you see in my matchday previews. Please enjoy taking a look to see how your team stacks up.
Projected Gamba Osaka 2022 Depth Chart
I included this as it may be good to refer back to after some of my answers below.
Ok, now finally to your questions. Where possible I’ve answered several together.
First Up, I sent chins wagging with my starting eleven tweet on Saturday where I intimated captain Genta Miura’s time in Osaka was nearing it’s end. As a result I received the following questions,
João Miguel @JoaoMiguel063
Should Gamba bet on playing with 3 centre backs as their usual tactic? Because from what I’ve seen, Shoji, Miura and Gwon are 3 of the best CB’s in Japan.
do you expect miura to leave or why do you think its a taste of 2022?
are there any more starters like miura rumored to be leaving & on which positions will gamba mainly be looking for new additions to the squad?
Pichichi FC @tastytorres
if he stays how do you see the rest of the season going for him minutes wise?
Blog Gamba: Perhaps giving Miura the captaincy made sense back in 2018, but now with him featuring alongside, sometime South Korea national team captain Kim Young-gwon and highly decorated Japan international Gen Shoji in addition to having Gamba legends Masaaki Higashiguchi and Shu Kurata behind, and in front of him, there’s a lot of weight on the 26 year-old’s shoulders. Additionally he’s received criticism from his own supporters for failing to press the referee into a VAR review in the match at Sapporo (see Tatsuki Seko’s sending off in the Kashiwa vs Yokohama FC game last weekend for an example of where a bit of high pitched screaming at the officials can get you), and also his blunder that led to Felipe Vizeu’s crucial second goal in the 3-1 loss at Yokohama FC. Consider too that Miura, Gamba’s captain no less, was an unused substitute in last Saturday’s Osaka Derby, and was also left on the bench for the 3-2 home loss to Yokohama F. Marinos, one of, if not, the strongest attacking units in the league and it doesn’t exactly add up to a ringing endorsement of his abilities from kantoku Masanobu Matsunami.
Of course the Nerazzurri should be under new management next season, whether members of the club’s hierarchy know who that is already is up for debate. At the moment Gamba have Miura, Kim and Shoji who are three of the top-rated centre-backs in the league, but when we look at high performing J1 sides they all have one thing in common, a clearly defined shape. Kawasaki? 4-3-3, Marinos? 4-2-3-1? Kashima? 4-4-2 with the second striker sometimes dropping a bit deeper. Gamba? 3-4-2-1? 4-4-2? 4-3-3? 4-2-3-1? 3-5-2? They’ve all been used this season. Whoever takes over in 2022 will have to make some tough choices, if they are going to play with a back three then some wingers and number tens will have to go, if it’s a back four then one of Miura, Shoji and Kim will have to depart. At the moment, from my eyes, Miura is the most likely of the trio to head for the exit, but I’m very much an outsider with regards to club affairs and this is purely my speculation.
Now to the second part of Georg’s question, again a lot will depend on who next season’s coach is and how quickly Gamba can confirm their J1 status for 2022 (if at all). Looking into my crystal ball, I’d expect more departures than arrivals as the squad is still a bit bloated and there likely won’t be any ACL next year. Hiroto Yamami is officially a new signing, there will probably also be 2-3 promotions from the youth team, potentially Jiro Nakamura, Isa Sakamoto and maybe even Naoki Asano or Jinta Miki (I’m less sure about them than the other two). If, as expected, Leandro Pereira goes, then a new (probably foreign) striker is a must, Felipe Vizeu (Yokohama FC) might fit that bill, Thiago Santana (Shimizu) would be a dream, or what about Keita Yamashita (Tosu) if the club are looking for a viable homegrown option? If Miura leaves, then a veteran backup centre-back or an up-and-comer from J2 could come aboard as a replacement. I quite like the look of Okayama’s Rikito Inoue, while Yuto Misao (Oita), Leo Osaki (Kobe), Han Hogang (Yokohama FC) or Kazunari Ohno (Shonan) are just a few examples off the top of my head of acquirable central defenders with J1 experience.
Leandro Pereira, Tiago Alves, Miura, Ju Se-jong and Haruto Shirai are the most likely departures in my opinion. Backup ‘keeper Jun Ichimori could go too and I’m not the biggest fan of Shinya Yajima, but he must be running rings round his team-mates in training to keep on making the starting eleven, so he’ll probably stay. South Korean left-back / wing-back Shin Won-ho may very well push for more minutes in 2022 so he, plus Kim Young-gwon, Wellington Silva, Patric and a new forward from overseas would take the squad up to the five foreigner limit with Pereira, Alves and Ju Se-jong gone.
Richard Obermajer @RObermajer
And what about Ono, do you think that he will be in starting 11 next season?
(this question followed on from the thread about Miura, hence the question starting with ‘and’)
Blog Gamba: Yuji Ono arrived in Suita at the start of last season to little fanfare after a middling spell with Sagan Tosu. However, he was a ray of sunshine following the league’s re-start in June and was keeping Shu Kurata on the bench. Then, as has happened so often in his career, injury struck and he was ruled out for nine months due to knee surgery. He returned this summer, looked sharp in the ACL, but quickly got re-injured again and seems to have been wrapped in cotton wool in recent weeks. One goal and two assists since making his latest comeback shows you he certainly has the talent to nail down a space in the starting eleven, but I can’t see him staying injury-free long enough to make any confident predictions.
Rob Marshall @RobMarshall_19
How do you see them doing in the ACL? What is the situation with Kosei Tani, will he be first choice next season?
Blog Gamba: The club released a statement last month setting out goals for the remainder of 2021 which included staying in J1 and winning the Levain and Emperor’s Cups. So far, so bold. However, 24 hours later, ahead of their league clash with FC Tokyo, they made 11 changes to the starting lineup from the midweek Emperor’s Cup win over Matsumoto, so I’m not quite sure how serious they really are about lifting trophies this season. Emperor’s Cup success, of course, is Gamba’s only remaining path to ACL qualification next year, and in all honesty, I think they’d be better off out than in, in 2022 (especially if, as seems likely, it’s played in bubbles like this year’s edition). Also worth considering is the fact that second placed Marinos and Kobe (fourth) ended up ninth and fourteenth respectively twelve months ago. Now, I certainly don’t go along with the commonly aired excuse that these poor showings were almost entirely down to ACL involvement, but I will concede it was the biggest single contributing factor. If Gamba can play next season with no outside distractions (ACL, Covid clusters etc) and make a couple of tweaks to the squad and tactics, then there’s no reason that they can’t once again finish in the top six.
Re: Tani, I don’t think he’ll be back at Gamba next season. Although Higashiguchi didn’t exactly cover himself in glory trying to stop Riku Matsuda’s shot last Saturday, his form has generally been excellent and he’s still one of the best in J1. If Shonan stay up, then I’d expect Tani to remain there for at least one more year, his global exposure thanks to playing in the Olympics and now being called up to Japan’s senior team makes a move to Europe seem all the more likely by the day, though.
Nick Taylor @Rolyatkcin_
Now that their fixture schedule calms down, do you think they’ll have a set first 11 heading out each game week?
Blog Gamba: In theory yes, though they now have a large number of players who are used to starting at least once every two to three matches so it’s going to be a tough job keeping everyone happy. At the moment Gamba aren’t in imminent danger of being sucked back into the relegation battle and bagging the three points in their next match at home to Sendai would come close to putting all relegation worries to bed. Should things settle down towards the business end of the season and as decisions start getting made regarding the composition of next year’s squad then it’s possible that some of the players I mentioned above as being likely to depart could slip out of matchday contention.
After watching the Gamba game on the weekend and seeing fujiharu give everything and possibly injured again. Is to much being asked of certain players that aren’t 100% fit? What is the general feeling of that Osaka faithful about current management?
Blog Gamba: It seems that Fujiharu has struggled with cramp towards the end of his previous two outings. It’s worth pointing out how intense the summer heat is here in Japan, and also how humid it’s been, particularly over the past fortnight after a mid-August deluge. Fujiharu has suffered from cramp like many of his fellow professionals in the league, however, you are right to point the finger at Gamba’s management for the recurrent injury problems. Physical coach Takeshi Ikoma has been employed since the beginning of the 2020 season and has overseen a near constant cycle of injuries. This has been picked up on by the Gamba faithful and it’s quite likely that Ikoma will be heading for fresh pastures next year.
Sam Robson @FRsoccerSam
What are your views on the criticism levelled at Takashi Usami and his lack of goals. Does he do enough in other areas or should Gamba be expecting more from a player of his pedigree?
Blog Gamba: Yappari, a tough one from Sam. Since re-returning to Gamba in mid-2019, Usami, who of course first made a name for himself during the ultra attack-minded Nishino era, has been tasked with creating and scoring the majority of the team’s goals in defence first set-ups. In the formation graphic I included near the beginning of this post, I have Usami in the number ten role just behind a tall, physical Brazilian forward and that’s the kind of environment where I think he thrives. This year, he’s been on the left-wing, on the right, playing off Pereira, playing off Patric, playing off Alves, his head’s dipped at times and we definitely haven’t seen the best of him, but would we see the best of anyone under such circumstances? It’s interesting that (and this is relying on my rudimentary Japanese), opposing coaches often single out Usami as a danger in pre-match interviews and for praise afterwards, the DAZN commentators also regularly mention his attacking contributions, so he is still very well respected by those in the game. As you know from our chats on J-Talk, I’d like to see Akira Nishino return as Gamba coach, I believe the man who first brought Usami into the top team is also the man to revive his career. Nishino would build the team around Usami and together I believe they’d move Gamba away from, frankly pathetic, statistics like 19 goals for in 27 games.
Stuart Smith @sushi_football
What does a “successful” 2021 season for Gamba look like?
Blog Gamba: Wow, I just read that Kyogo Furuhashi article in the Times yesterday (Sunday), now the pressure’s really on…Gamba sit thirteenth, seven points out of the drop zone, so a conservative answer might say, climb a couple of places in the standings, get the goals for numbers up and don’t embarrass ourselves in the cups. It’d also be nice if we could uncover another young talent to pin our hopes on. Hiroto Yamami has already sent hearts fluttering, but maybe Shin Won-ho could come in and do some of his Cristiano Ronaldo stepovers in the last few games of the season or Yuya Fukuda returns from his hamstring injury like a man possessed and we’ve at least got something to make us believe that brighter days lie ahead.
Why does gamba always seem to have a bad start into the season but are getting better during the second part of the season after summer?
Blog Gamba: I was maybe slightly over-critical of our good friends Urawa in my mid-season predicted lineups post, so let me try to build some bridges here. Gamba’s front office work hasn’t been good enough in recent years, especially when it comes to working in tandem with first-team management and youth academy staff. By way of comparison, look at Reds, they brought in Ricardo Rodriguez this season, a coach with a clear plan and way of playing football. Rodriguez’s project is running ahead of schedule, making the decision to sign five new players this summer seem a little surprising on the surface, as this would normally be quite rare for a team sitting comfortably in the top half of the standings. However, there is little pressure from the fanbase this year and though qualifying for the ACL would be a welcome bonus, it’s not expected, or demanded. Therefore, bringing the likes of Scholz, Sakai, Hirano, Esaka and Kinoshita in early allows them to get fully up to speed before next season when they will really be expected to challenge Kawasaki, Marinos and Kashima. Rodriguez will only need a couple of new additions in the off-season and will then have the team’s winter training camps to get the side ready to hit the ground running from the opening day.
Compare the situation above to what’s been going on at the three ‘big’ clubs currently languishing in the bottom half of the table, Gamba, Kashiwa and Cerezo. I’ve laid out a number of issues at Gamba in my answers above, additionally signings like Daisuke Takagi, David Concha and Markel Susaeta, where the left hand clearly didn’t know what the right hand was doing are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to internal mis-management in recent seasons. Kashiwa are also having a miserable year, hindered by incomprehensible front-office work and Cerezo are just done replacing Levir Culpi with Akio Kogiku. It appears that Kogiku has been handed the dual remits of stopping the recent poor run of results and drastically reducing the average age of one of J1’s oldest starting elevens. He was successful on both accounts against Gamba last Saturday and how did his front office repay him? A 33 year-old winger, presumably on a bumper salary.
Bottom line, in my opinion front office decisions matter a lot, be it Urawa’s use of Wyscout, Kashima utilising Zico and Marinos partnering with City Football Group to successfully recruit quality Brazilians or Kawasaki’s faith in youth team players and university graduates with a commitment to the team ethos. Those clubs have raised the bar, now it’s time for Gamba to rise to the challenge.
What are the things that changed for the better and the worse since Miyamoto is gone? Are the failed foreign signings (specially Leandro/Tiago) to blame for the bad season? Who should take over for next season?
Blog Gamba: Honestly, there haven’t been too many tactical changes since Miyamoto left. I think Matsunami would prefer a more attacking set-up, but after it went horribly wrong in his first two games in charge vs Urawa and FC Tokyo, he basically reverted to Miyamoto’s game plan. It’s kind of hard to judge him because Gamba have had loads of injuries, in addition to playing games every 3-4 days with no time to really work on things on the training ground (we played 17 times in all competitions during July and August!)
Regarding Pereira and Alves (I’d also add in Ju Se-jong as another example of a foreign signing that hasn’t worked out), I think it’s a little unfair to compare those two. Pereira was brought in on big money to be the main striker and he really hasn’t adapted to Gamba, while Gamba, in turn, haven’t adapted to him. Granted there have been some mitigating factors, he missed most of the team’s pre-season camp, the five week shutdown due to Covid made everything much more difficult and he then picked up a shoulder injury a few weeks after Gamba returned to action. He’s looked very isolated and frustrated on the field recently, but I think if he found another J1 club that played to his strengths then he would perform better. Alves, by contrast, was only really signed because we couldn’t get Wellington Silva into the country for the start of the season, and he’s re-surfaced recently because Wellington is injured. Nothing much was expected of him to begin with, Matsunami is picking him out of necessity, not because he thinks he’s one of the best eleven players at the club, and I’m sure he’ll be on his bike at the end of the year.
There’s never just one single factor that can define why a team’s season went well or poorly. Clearly a number of things have gone wrong at Gamba in 2021, the biggest of which was the Covid cluster after round 1. As you can see at teams like Kawasaki and Marinos recently, being without multiple players in the same position and also having to rotate regular starters at the same time leaves a team in a very vulnerable position. That’s basically been the story of Gamba’s season, Yota Sato was sent off against Yokohama FC, but he’s backup to the backup, Alves has started the past 2 league games because Patric and Wellington were injured and Pereira and Usami had to be rested as they’d had a punishing schedule covering for their team-mates. I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses, but, fatigue, injuries and rotation have all led to Gamba playing a large number of matches this season with second and third choice players going against opposition first picks. Next year, that should be less of a factor, so if they can bring in a good, strong outside appointment such as Akira Nishino or Yahiro Kazama then I believe we can make a swift return to the top six/seven.
I was more disappointed with the player’s attitude than I lost in the derby. They were laughing when greeting the audience after the Derby match. Is it possible for other overseas league players who lost after the derby match to laugh at each other?
Blog Gamba: This is a really good question, and I’d be interested to hear other people’s opinions on this subject too. Personally, as someone raised on European football, one of the most charming points about the J League is the absence of a number of things I’d grown sick of in the European game, greed and the same teams winning all the time, entitled, over-demanding supporters, play-acting, fan violence etc. I also enjoy the atmosphere in and around the stadiums, where you’ll find men, women, families and couples all mingling in a pleasant and safe environment. Added to that you have more camaraderie between players, as evidenced by Emil Salomonsson and Yoichiro Kakitani helping each other back to their feet after a coming together a couple of weeks ago or Shinzo Koroki sharing a joke with former team-mate Shinya Yajima following Gamba’s come-from-behind 2-1 win in Saitama last year. The players are human and if I’m satisfied they’ve given their best on the field, then I’m not too concerned if they chat with opposition players before or after games and even share a joke after a defeat to try and take their mind off things for a while. Like I said in my Gamba vs FC Tokyo preview, there’s a time for a bit of controlled aggression on a football pitch, and that’s between the first and final whistles, before and after, however, if players want to show a more human side to their character, I’m ok with that.
And that’s a wrap…hope you found what I had to say interesting, I’m sure you agreed with some points and disagreed on others, and that’s all fine. I’d love to hear from you, please let me know what you think about some of the issues raised in this post.
Thanks again for your support and maybe I’ll do one of these Q&A’s again at the end of the year.