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Gamba News Update: Sugiyama in, Shoji out…and more

Hello again everyone,

I hope you’ve all been enjoying watching the World Cup, where a number of the traditional big names have flexed their muscles while several of the supporting cast, including Japan, have demonstrated ample potential to become heavyweights in future competitions. However, I’m not here to discuss the ins and outs of Qatar 2022, instead I want to give a bit of a rundown on some of the most recent goings at Panasonic Stadium, home of Gamba Osaka.

Please enjoy the fruits of my labour and I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas / End of Year / Holiday Season (whichever applies to you).

Nerazzurri News

OUT – Physical coach Ryo Yano has left Gamba after spending just a solitary season with the club. Brought in from FC Ryukyu as part of the Katanosaka revolution at the end of 2021, Yano out-lasted his kantoku by 3 months and he should be fondly remembered for his excellent work in reducing the casualty list at Panasonic Stadium to nearly zero in the final weeks of the year. Spaniard Carlos Soriano, who worked under Ricardo Rodríguez and Dani Poyatos at Tokushima, following a spell with Júbilo Iwata, has recently vacated his post at Vortis and is expected to rock up in Suita shortly to take over Yano’s position .

IN – On 7 December, impressive Roasso Kumamoto winger Naohiro Sugiyama became the Nerazzurri’s 3rd winter signing, following on from Harumi Minamino’s promotion from the youth setup and Ryuta Takahashi’s switch from Shizuoka Gakuen High School. Able to play on either wing as well as in the number 10 role, Fukuoka-born Sugiyama carried himself with a certain verve and swagger at times during Roasso’s miraculous run to 4th in J2 and a place in the playoff final, In Scotland we may refer to him as being ‘gallus,’ and Nerazzurri supporters will be hoping to see him deliver on a regular basis once he gets up to speed with life in Kansai. The former Ozu High School and Juntendo University star bagged 9 goals and 4 assists during his solitary campaign at J2 level and finished 2022 with 162 dribbles (2nd best in the division), 99 shots (also 2nd), 138 crosses (4th), 35 shots on target (6th), 66 chances created (7th) and 81 through balls (11th). That’s quite the repertoire and hopefully he can live up to the hype in Dani Poyatos’ new system.

OUT – Former Japan international Gen Shoji has returned to his old side Kashima following a 3 year spell with Gamba during which time he made 71 J1 appearances. A big character on and off the field, Shoji was a popular figure among supporters despite issues with injuries, form and managerial changes meaning that they never really got to see the best of him in a blue and black jersey. He’ll certainly be missed for the respect he commanded from referees, and Gamba, a side that have been far too easy for officials to give soft decisions against in recent years, will certainly need to find a Gary Neville-esque figure or two to fill that particular void. However, watching Japan vs Spain at an ungodly hour, I was struck by the Spanish centre-backs’ (Torres and Rodri) performances, where they were essentially auxiliary holding midfielders who combined with the midfield anchor, Busquets, to build La Roja’s many attacks. This is the essence of what Poyatos will seek to do in Suita, and Shoji, never the greatest passer in the world, doesn’t really fit into that kind of system (Kwon Kyung-won, on the other hand, looked pretty handy when he got game time against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, CR7 might not be the force he once was, but don’t tell me he wouldn’t have topped the J1 scoring charts this year). Therefore, with Shoji being such a big part of the squad, as well as one of the highest earners (rumoured to be on around ¥100 million per year), when a decent sized offer came in (somewhere in the region of ¥230 million, I’m led to believe – just under £1.4 million), I’m not quite going to say accepting it was a no-brainer, but I think it was the right move to make. A bit like in the book Moneyball where Billy Beane trades certain players so his head coach Art Howe must use the new guys he’s brought in, removing Patric and Shoji from the Gamba dressing room, no matter how painful in the short term, may be a necessary growing pain.



NEW CLUB – Patric has found fresh employment in the suburban Kyoto town of Kameoka where he’ll join up with Cho Kwi-jae’s Kyoto Sanga. It’s probably a good move for all concerned, even if the 35 year old’s 5 league goals in 2022 is just over half what the man he’s replacing, Peter Utaka, managed. Prior to last season kicking off, I stated on the J-Talk Podcast that Sanga would be ‘up the creak without a paddle’ if Utaka stopped scoring, and lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened in the second half of the year. Another Gamba OB, Kazunari Ichimi, has been brought in from Tokushima to try and assist Patric in steering the Royals to safety (the impressive Taiki Hirato too), and while I’m on the topic of Ichimi, it’s worth digressing to mention that he was a grade above Naohiro Sugiyama at Ozu High School in Kumamoto (Ao to Kuro full-back Ko Yanagisawa was 2 years ahead of Sugiyama at Juntendo University too, so he already has a ready-made senpai waiting for him in Suita).

GAMBA YOUTH RELEGATION – Long known for producing excellent young talent year after year, Gamba Youth’s relegation from the Prince Takamado Premier League West Division has come as quite the shock to all concerned. A draw away to Nagoya on the final day left them rock bottom of the standings and they must now compete in the Kansai League in 2023. Many fans have since questioned the almost exclusive hiring of club old boys in the coaching department (I’m reminded of Jennifer Taylor-Clarke berating David Brent in the UK office, ‘this is just one big boys club, isn’t it?’), which also seems to have extended to recruiting a rather high number of sons of former players too. Former top-team kantoku Hiroshi Matsuda was apparently offered a role in the youth setup, but opted to move to Tegevajaro Miyazaki instead. Personally, I’m hoping to see big changes in the way Gamba Youth is run, and I look forward to seeing them quickly bounce back into the top flight at the first time of asking.

Well, that’s all for now, thanks again for reading and hopefully I’ll be able to bring you some more in-depth Gamba news before the new season gets underway in February.

4 replies on “Gamba News Update: Sugiyama in, Shoji out…and more”

Gamba don’t usually release contract information, so it’s unclear how long Kwon is contracted for. My experience tells me he probably signed a 2 or 3 year contract when he joined last season. With Shoji leaving, hopefully Kwon will become a more important player for Poyatos’ Gamba in 2023.

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Thank you for your question. Actually it is really, really tough to answer as Gamba have a new coach for next season and also we don’t know if Tani will return to Gamba or move overseas. I think he will probably return to Gamba, but it’s possible he may be the main starter for half a season then move to Europe next summer with Higashiguchi returning to being first choice. It is definitely a fluid situation at the moment, and it’s impossible to really predict what will happen at the moment.

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