Happy New Year everyone, all the best for 2023!
This is intended to be the penultimate entry in this pre-season series, with the final article being published after Gamba’s 2023 kick-off event which will take place on Monday 9 January at 18:00 (JST) and will be streamed live on the club’s official YouTube channel.
Once again I’d hoped to bring news of Riku Handa’s move from Montedio Yamagata, however, despite confirmation in the normally reliable Sports Hochi, there has still not been any official word from Gamba. Elsewhere, it seems that the Nerazzurri and Maccabi Haifa have yet to agree on a fee for Neta Lavi who scored quite the Golazo for his Israeli side in midweek. I’m sure we’ll get decisive answers to those pursuits and more in the coming days and hours. Below are the deals that have gone through in recent days, you can read my take on them and then I’ll be in touch next week. Thanks again for your support.
Out: Mitsuki Saito – The first piece of transfer news announced by Gamba in 2023 was the disappointing, though not particularly surprising departure of midfielder Mitsuki Saito. The diminutive ball-winning maestro spent last year on loan at the Nerazzurri from Shonan Bellmare and now moves a little further west to Hyogo where he’ll link up with Vissel Kobe. Saito proved to be a popular figure on and off the pitch in Suita thanks to his wholehearted performances and no-nonsense style of play. In total he scored twice and also bagged 2 assists in 26 J1 outings and he’ll likely be best remembered for providing a wonderful finish to a great team move as the Ao to Kuro opened the scoring in breathtaking fashion at home to Urawa last July. His next destination certainly isn’t one that many among the Gamba support would have chosen, however, after giving his all, and then some, to help keep the Nerazzurri in J1, it’s only right to say, thanks a lot Mitsuki and all the best for the future, you’re welcome back at Gamba anytime!
Saito on debut for Gamba at home to Kawasaki Frontale.
In: Issam Jebali – Thursday 5 January marked the first day back at work for many Japanese people following on from the New Year holiday and Gamba supporters were given a welcome treat at 17:00 (JST) with the official announcement that Tunisian forward Issam Jebali had signed. The powerful attacker played in all 3 of his country’s matches at the recent FIFA World Cup in Qatar and possesses an international record of 13 caps and 2 goals, with both strikes coming on Japanese soil, against Chile at Noevir Stadium, Kobe and versus the Samurai Blue at Panasonic Stadium Suita no less. Having turned 31 on Christmas Day, it’s fair to say Jebali is no spring chicken, though that clearly didn’t deter Gamba and several outlets in Europe and Tunisia have reported that he’s inked a 3-year deal with the Nerazzurri believed to have paid Danish side OB somewhere in the region of €1 million to take him off their hands. Since leaving his homeland in 2015, Jebali, who is known to be a strong presser as well as someone who links up well with his fellow attackers, has played in Sweden, Norway, Saudi Arabia and Denmark. While his form during his time in Sweden and Denmark was generally excellent, he did have questionable short spells in Norway and Saudi Arabia in 2018 and 2019. The fact that Matthew Benham’s original Moneyball masters, FC Midtjylland, were credited with an interest in Jebali certainly fills me with confidence that the 186cm tall hitman who had 4 goals and 3 assists to his name from 13 Danish Superliga appearances in the 2022-23 season, will prove to be a worthy addition to the Ao to Kuro’s ranks. Seeing Gamba targeting players from countries such as Israel and Tunisia rather than going down the usual route of Brazilians and South Koreans is refreshing to say the least and Jebali will become the first African born player to pull on the blue and black shirt since Patrick Mboma in 1998. If he can become half as popular as his Cameroonian predecessor then kantoku Dani Poyatos and his charges will definitely be on to a winner.
Permanent Deal: Dawhan – A few hours prior to the big Jebali announcement, those of a blue and black persuasion received more welcome news in the shape of influential midfielder Dawhan converting his loan deal into a permanent move. I’m no expert on Brazilian football and would appreciate if someone could fill me in as to why Dawhan was contracted to SC Santa Rita, a team that my English language research suggests have been inactive since 2019, yet he has subsequently been loaned out to Brazilian Serie A outfit Juventude and then Gamba. Though, then again, an outsider looking at Japanese football would struggle to comprehend a number of the transfers that take place in the J. League during each window. Anyway, Dawhan quickly established himself as a fans’ favourite at Panasonic Stadium, as evidenced by the number of supporters who bought summer Expo jerseys with his name and number set on the back. Overall, he netted 3 times from 27 J1 appearances in his debut campaign for the Nerazzurri with his first effort, the equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Kyoto Sanga, winning J1 goal of the month for April. I’m happy to have him back on board for 2023 and I’m sure many of my fellow Gamba brethren are too.
Dawhan preparing for home bouts with Sapporo (left) and Kobe (right)
Dawhan (centre) ready to do battle with Shimizu S-Pulse in the 2022 Expo fixture. His number 23 uniform was a big hit with the fans.
And finally…former Gamba forward Akihiro Sato has hung up his boots after finishing his career where it started, at Tokushima Vortis. Sato turned out for the Nerazzurri between 2012 and 2014, bagging 11 goals in his debut campaign, though it wasn’t enough to stop the Ao to Kuro dropping down to J2 for the first time in their history. Owing to a serious knee injury picked up in the fall of 2012, Sato only returned at the end of the 2013 season where a late goal in the home rout of Roasso Kumamoto showed he still had his predatory instincts. He’ll perhaps be most fondly remembered by the Gamba faithful for his decisive opener in the round 32 victory away at Urawa Reds in 2014 that paved the way for the Nerazzurri to go on and win the J1 title that year. Enjoy your retirement Akihiro, and I wish you the best success with whatever the future holds for you.
Thanks again for reading and I’ll see you all again soon!