Comings and Goings: The build up to 2023

This blog entry comes to you a day later than I’d hoped with less than 36 hours of 2022 remaining at the time of publication in Japan. I’ve been busy lately and so have Gamba which is why things have been pushed back a touch. According to trustworthy sources, Tunisian forward Issam Jebali and Montedio Yamagata right-back Riku Handa should be unveiled at Panasonic Stadium within the coming days, heck we might even get a New Year’s Day surprise like we did last year with Dawhan and Kwon Kyung-won. Talks with Israeli international Neta Lavi seem to be progressing smoothly (touch wood), while we are still awaiting confirmation on Dawhan signing a permanent contract and whether or not Mitsuki Saito will join Vissel Kobe. I’m sure there will be announcements galore in the coming week or so as the Ao to Kuro finalise their squad for 2023. Below is an in-depth look at the players confirmed to have come and gone from Panasonic Stadium during the past week plus a summary of other important events in the Gamba-verse over the same time period. As always, I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labour.

Latest News

In: Yusei Egawa – V-Varen Nagasaki centre-back / sometime left-back Yusei Egawa has put pen to paper on a contract with the Nerazzurri in a deal that was announced on the afternoon of Wednesday 28 December here in Japan. Officially standing 175 cm, though he did claim to be 179cm in a video on Nagasaki’s official Instagram page (was this the truth or a cunning dating strategy?), the 22 year-old is Nagasaki born-and-bred and a product of V-Varen’s emerging youth system. His build-up play, heading and leadership abilities rank among his strong points and while he initially projects as Kwon Kyung-won’s backup, his versatility is likely to see him crack the starting 11 sooner or later. Boasting 3 goals and 4 assists in 79 J2 appearances for Nagasaki, Egawa would have got a taster of Dani Poyatos’ footballing philosophy when facing off against his Tokushima Vortis side on 2 occasions in 2022 and it’s a real fillip for Gamba to be able to attract a young player of his obvious talents to the club. If you want to read more about him and fellow winter recruit Naohiro Sugiyama, please check out my Scouting J2 2022 article here.

In: Kosei Tani – Just a couple of hours after the Egawa signing was made public, Nerazzurri supporters got more good news in the shape of the announcement that Kosei Tani would be returning from a 3-year loan spell at Shonan Bellmare. While stationed in southern Kanagawa between 2020 to 2022, Tani went from a relatively unknown Gamba youth product who’d impressed for the club’s U-23 side in J3 to an established J1 level starter who also represented his country at the 2020 (2021) Tokyo Olympics. Most Japanese football observers would probably agree that Tani had a stronger campaign in 2021 than 2022 and perhaps this is the right time for a change of scenery, though the million dollar question is, who will start versus Kashiwa on the opening day of J1 2023, Higashiguchi or Tani? Until we see what Dani Poyatos wants to do in pre-season, it’s a question with no definitive answer I’m afraid. On one side you could say Masaaki Higashiguchi was THE form goalkeeper in J1 during the second half of this year, but on the other hand one might argue, what’s the point of Gamba re-patriating Tani if they’re not going to play him. Either way, it’s set to be a fascinating battle for the gloves at Panasonic Stadium in the coming weeks and months.

Out: Isa Sakamoto – The impressive young forward will spend his second year as a pro out on loan at promotion chasing J2 outfit Fagiano Okayama under the tutelage of former Gamba caretaker boss Takashi Kiyama. Sakamoto scored once in 15 appearances in all competitions in 2022, the clincher in a crucial 2-0 home victory over Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and while those numbers might not sound all that impressive, he certainly passed the eye test and I’ll be watching on with interest to see how he fares at Fagiano in among their throng of loanees which is almost akin to Akiba-era Mito. I’m expecting to hear news in the coming days about Jiro Nakamura heading off to a J2 club on loan too. Harumi Minamino and Ryuta Takahashi will fill Sakamoto and Nakamura’s spots in the squad in 2023 then, barring a massive break out year for either Minamino or Takahashi, roles will be reversed the following season, such is the circle of Japanese footballing life.

If you want more information on Isa Sakamoto, you can read my J1 Rookie Review 2022 here.

Kit Supplier Shuffle – At 12:00PM sharp on Christmas Day, Gamba confirmed one of the worst kept secrets in Japanese football, that they’d be playing in Hummel kits from the 2023 season. Following on from a Twitter teaser on Christmas Eve, many fans had speculated we might get to see next year’s uniforms as a special Christmas present, but alas it was not to be and we’ll likely have to wait until the 2023 campaign kick-off event on 8 January before we can feast our eyes on Hummel’s first Gamba offering.

Gamba Osaka / Umbro commemorative t-shirt displaying every home league top from their twenty year partnership.

Fixture Update – The J. League announced each member club’s 2023 opening home fixture live on their official YouTube channel on Friday 23 December. Gamba will get their J1 campaign underway at Kashiwa Reysol on the weekend of 18/19 February before squaring off against Sagan Tosu at Panasonic Stadium on either 25 or 26 February. Two tough assignments to commence the Poyatos era for sure, but you’ve got to play these kind of games sometime, so why not slap bang at the beginning of the year? The full schedules for J1, J2 and J3 will be released on Friday 20 January, I look forward to perusing them and I’ve no doubt many of you do too.

Action from Gamba versus Kashiwa (left) and Tosu (right) from the 2020 season.

Coaching Reshuffle – Koichiro Yoshimichi, physical coach throughout the entirety of Kenta Hasegawa’s spells with Gamba and FC Tokyo (2013-2021) will step up from being the Nerazzurri’s academy’s conditioning coach, the position he worked in this year, to once again holding the reigns as first-team physical trainer in 2023. Elsewhere, Arata Kodama, who has been an Ao to Kuro top team coach since 2016 has essentially switched jobs with Gamba Junior Youth coach Kazumichi Takagi. Takagi has been in coaching for only 3 years, but brings a wealth of experience from a playing career which spanned 2000 to 2018. During that time, he played for Gamba from 2009-2011 and also won 5 caps for Japan between 2008 and 2009. It’s been speculated that Kodama’s apparent demotion is, in fact, an attempt to attract more Osaka talent into Gamba’s youth setup with 2022’s disastrous Prince Takamado Trophy showing highlighting the painful reality that perhaps right now, Cerezo, Vissel and several local high schools are seen as more attractive options for up-and-coming youngsters than the Nerazzurri.

Thanks again to everyone for reading, commenting on, liking and sharing this blog. This will unequivocally be my final blog post of 2022, it’s been a great year for Blog Gamba and I really appreciate all your support. Happy New Year and all the best for 2023!


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