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Scouting J2

No Gamba game this week due to the international break (probably just as well for my sanity), so I thought rather than take a rest I’d do something a bit different. First, when you look below you’ll find updated versions of the J1 stats tables I put out just after the closure of the summer transfer window, once again credit must go to J Stats for the raw data. After that comes the main course. As many of you may know, I dip my toes into J2 coverage now and again with my appearances on J-Talk Extra Time, and with that in mind I’ve selected eleven J2 players I think will be playing J1 football next year and suggested possible future destinations.

Thanks again for all your support and as this blog post is slightly off the beaten path for me, I’m extremely interested to hear constructive feedback on it. Please get in touch either on Twitter or WordPress.

J1 Stats tables

Again I won’t do much analysis on this as I encourage you to check out @R_by_Ryo on Twitter if you like this kind of thing and want to see it discussed in greater detail. Briefly though, three things that jumped out at me when comparing these tables to the ones I published about 4 weeks ago.

1. Gamba’s attacking numbers have risen steadily without too much adverse effect at the other end of the field (granted the defensive stats were terrible last time too).
2. Frontale have outperformed xG For by an even greater rate than they did previously, conversely Marinos attack has gone in the opposite direction, is Ado Onaiwu being missed more than we might have thought?
3. Kashiwa, like Gamba, continue to be a bit of a basket case in terms of numbers, especially xG For. They really need a new goalscorer for Christmas.

Just one more thing…as Columbo used to say. Not included below, but discovered in the process of putting these tables together, when Tokushima complete less passes per game they win more, please someone get that memo over to Dani Poyatos if the 3-0 win over Tosu with a season low 166 completed passes didn’t do the trick already.





On the road to J1 2022

Below you’ll find the eleven ‘hot prospects’ I’ve selected based on my 2021 J2 viewing, but before that here are some ground rules I set myself.

* No Kyoto or Iwata players as those two seem destined to be in J1 next year anyway meaning promising youngsters like Sota Kawasaki, Shogo Asada and Riku Morioka will get a crack at the top flight just by remaining with their current clubs.

* No J2 players currently on loan from J1 sides. Anyone who has proven themselves during a loan spell this season will likely be playing at a higher level in 2022. This rules out the likes of Kota Yamada, Kaina Yoshio, Hidetoshi Takeda and Takumu Kawamura among others.

* No prior J1 experience. Like all the rules above this makes it far easier to limit the selection to just eleven players. Leo Takae, Yoshiaki Takagi and Jin Izumisawa are examples of the kind of player eliminated by this clause.

Right, here we go…

Kosuke Inose
Goalkeeper (20 years old)
FC Ryukyu


Notes: Initially I was going to select Blaublitz Akita’s Yudai Tanaka here, but his form has been a little patchy of late, so instead I’ve opted for someone whose star is definitely on the rise, Kosuke Inose. After starting the season as third choice behind Junto Taguchi and Dany Carvajal, Inose bided his time until injuries struck. Taguchi himself had shown fine form before damaging his hand and there would have been some trepidation from Ryukyu supporters as to what would happen when Inose took over between the sticks. They needn’t have worried as what they have seen is a string of assured performances, none more so than in the 2-0 loss at Júbilo Iwata last week where he was faultless at both goals and dealt well with the numerous crosses sent his way.

Potential Suitors: Sapporo may be looking for a new custodian with Takanori Sugeno ageing and Kojiro Nakano not yet living up to expectations,. Alternatively, Kawasaki could be in the market for a long-term replacement for Jung Sung-ryong and Inose might be the man for them.

Seiya Maikuma
Right-back / Wide midfielder (23)
V-Varen Nagasaki


Notes: To quote Harry from Home Alone, “Ever since I laid eyes on that house, I wanted it.” Replace ‘that house’ and ‘it’ with ‘Seiya Maikuma’ and ‘him’ and I think that sums up my thoughts on him coming to Gamba. Alas, the signing of Ko Yanagisawa likely means that Yuya Fukuda and Leo Takae’s former senpai at Higashi Fukuoka High School (Ryotaro Araki is another alumni from that hotbed of talent) is unlikely to be moving to Gamba in the near future. He joined Nagasaki at the start of last season as a forward, but was quickly converted to right-back where he’s excelled, notching 3 goals and 4 assists from 36 outings in his debut campaign and far exceeding those numbers in his sophomore year. His header against Kyoto on Saturday means he’s equalled last season’s total of 3 goals, but more impressively has 9 assists from 28 appearances and seems to be a shoe in for J2 team of the year. Despite mostly playing as a right-back, he can be deployed on either side of a midfield four and presumably could be re-converted to an inside-forward.

Potential Suitors: Having attended Momoyama Gakuin University in Osaka, a return to Kansai could be on the cards with Cerezo needing to reduce the average age of their squad sharpish and potentially being in the market for a long-term replacement for Riku Matsuda. Should Miki Yamane, J1’s own right-back assist machine head to Europe this winter then Maikuma might become a target for Toru Oniki’s Frontale juggernaut.

Riku Handa
Right-back (19)
Montedio Yamagata


Notes: One of several impressive right-backs in the league, the tireless Handa has really burst onto the scene this year, thriving under the tutelage of Peter Cklamovski. Perhaps more dynamic, but also more raw than Maikuma, the Japan Under-20 international, and Paris 2024 candidate will require a bit of polishing from an experienced coach, but he definitely has the potential to become a regular J1 player in the coming years.

Potential Suitors: I might be looking at things a bit too simplistically here, but with the Cklamovski – Marinos connection there’s a good chance Handa could end up plying his trade at the Nissan Stadium in the coming years. Whether he goes there directly or is signed then loaned back to Yamagata to develop more under Cklamovski remains to be seen. Ken Matsubara and Ryuta Koike are the two current incumbents of the right-back slot in Yokohama, and it’ll be interesting to see what route Kevin Muscat, a former right-back himself, opts to take with that position.

Tetsuya Chinen
Centre-back (23)
FC Ryukyu


Notes: Will the fact that he’s out for the rest of the season with a fractured leg help Ryukyu fend off potential suitors? If I use Arata Watanabe’s move from Niigata to Oita last winter as a cherry picked example, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see the impressive Chinen turning out for a J1 club in 2022. After a slow debut season following his graduation from Kindai University, Okinawa native Chinen shone for J2 surprise packages Ryukyu in the early part of this campaign. His partnership with Ryohei Okazaki solidified a previously porous rearguard and allowed the Bengara Reds to challenge at the top of the standings.

Potential Suitors: Kashiwa will probably be extremely active in the transfer market this off-season and with Taiyo Koga the only centre-back to really impress for the Sunkings this year, a move for Chinen could well work for both club and player.

Rikito Inoue
Centre-back (24)
Fagiano Okayama


Notes: Inoue has made the step-up from J3 to J2 this year in seemingly effortless fashion, quickly becoming a defensive leader for Fagiano, who despite sitting 13th on the log, have conceded a paltry 27 goals in 32 matches to date (2nd in the league, trailing Kyoto by just a single goal). Joining Gainare Tottori straight out of high school in 2015, Inoue played 6 solid seasons in J3 and earned his stripes before heading south to Okayama last winter. Having just 32 J2 appearances under his belt is the only thing I could see stopping J1 teams approaching him, some may opt to sit tight and see how he does next year in what could be a more attack minded Pheasants outfit.

Potential Suitors: Gamba and Kashiwa have both underwhelmed defensively and as a collective this season and Inoue could be a relatively cheap way to help them plug some gaps at the back. Kobe, buoyed by the outcome of their move for Ryuho Kikuchi, another centre-back from an unfashionable J2 club, might be tempted to look to Inoue as they seek to ease out the impressive, but ageing Thomas Vermaelen.

Sho Araki
Full-back / Wing-back (26)
Ventforet Kofu


Notes: He provided 2 assists in Kofu’s impressive 2-0 win over Yamagata at the weekend (if you haven’t already, check out ex-Toin Yokohama forward Yoshiki Torikai’s brilliant strike from the half-way line), but rest assured Araki was already in my thinking for this line-up long before Saturday. In fact his closest competition came in the shape of team-mate Masahiro Sekiguchi, but he only just returned against Montedio having missed the previous 6 fixtures. Araki joined Kofu from Kokushikan University in 2018, but endured a frustrating first couple of seasons in Yamanashi before finally cracking the starting line-up last year. Able to play on either flank as a wing-back in Ventforet’s 3-4-2-1 system, as well as having the ability to operate as a full-back in a 4-4-2, Araki has 12 assists in 60 games across 2020-2021 and his excellent set-piece deliveries could make him an important weapon for many a J1 side.

Potential Suitors: I know they haven’t been promoted just yet, but Júbilo Iwata use the same 3-4-2-1 set-up as Kofu making the transition from Yamanashi to Shizuoka an easy one. Urawa are currently playing with a back 4 and left-back is an area of concern, kantoku Ricardo Rodriguez has used a 3 back system in the past and having both Araki and Hiroki Sakai available to him might prompt a switch in Reds’ style of play.

Kaishu Sano
Central-midfielder (20)
Machida Zelvia


Notes: After initially breaking into the Machida top-team as a makeshift full-back in his debut campaign in 2019, Sano has gone on to become one of J2’s most dependable central midfielders, forming an excellent partnership alongside Leo Takae in the Zelvia engine room. His stamina is not in question having started 41 of 42 games during last year’s epic Covid compacted season, though he has had a couple of minor injury problems this term. He’s the steady hand in the Machida midfield who provides a protective shield for his centre-backs and picks out more skillful team-mates in attack with simple passes.

Potential Suitors: I’ve mentioned before that I thought FC Tokyo missed a trick by choosing Takuya Aoki over Daiki Matsuoka last winter, however, signing Sano, who wouldn’t even need to move house should the deal go through, would be shrewd business in my book. Hiroshima are another side in need of a central midfielder due to the departure of star turn Hayao Kawabe and the ongoing injury issues plaguing up-and-comer Kodai Dohi. Nagoya, who also fell into the FC Tokyo trap of signing ‘safe options’ when they brought in Kazuki Nagasawa could possibly be attracted to Sano, though he doesn’t really fit the MO of other recent additions to their squad.

Hikaru Nakahara
Right / Left Wing (25)
Montedio Yamagata


Notes: Like Rikito Inoue above, Nakahara has shone in his debut season at J2 level. Initially making a name for himself with hometown club Roasso Kumamoto following his graduation from Komazawa University, Nakahara was part of an impressive attacking unit that also included Kaito Taniguchi (now Niigata). However, Roasso’s backline repeatedly let them down meaning they slipped out of the automatic promotion places last year and with Nakahara being too good for another season of J3 football, forward thinking Yamagata swooped in for him. A slow start to the season received a shot in the arm upon the arrival of Peter Cklamovski, and under the Australian, Nakahara has notched an impressive 4 goals and 7 assists to date.

Potential Suitors: I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but Kashiwa have a history of dipping into J2 for transfers and Nakahara could be a good fit there as they search for a younger replacement for Cristiano. However, Nakahara’s age might put off Kashima who tend to buy younger players they can develop, while Marinos may be dissuaded by their horrible J2 recruitment campaign before the start of the 2020 campaign. Should Sapporo lose Takuro Kaneko in the winter (his display against Gamba last Saturday may have helped speed up that process), Nakahara could be the ideal man to join the Rossoneri and partner Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa in the inside-forward positions.

Tomoya Miki
Inside Forward / Winger (23)
JEF United Chiba


Notes: 8 goals and 5 assists from 32 appearances for a team that have found the back of the net just 30 times during that period aptly illustrates how Tomoya Miki has taken the JEF attack by the scruff of neck this season. This means, in my book anyway, he’s more than earned a shot at the top flight in 2022. Miki played 9 times as a designated special player on loan from Kanto Gakuin University, not really one of Japan’s varsity powerhouses, in 2019 and largely had to be content with a spot on the bench during his first season has a pro last year. However, 2021 will undoubtedly be seen as his breakthrough campaign, with it’s peak being reached between rounds 13-16 where he contributed 4 goals and 2 assists in the space of 4 matches to help his side to a valuable 8 points. Of everyone I’ve selected here, Miki is probably the one I’m most confident will definitely become a J1 player next season.

Potential Suitors: I think Sean Carroll hit the nail squarely on the head on a recent episode of JTET when he said Tosu would be the ideal destination for Miki. J1’s surprise packages this year have made a habit of picking up undervalued talent in J2 in recent years, think Nanasei Iino, Tomoya Koyamatsu, Noriyoshi Sakai and Keita Yamashita, and Miki appears to have the skill-set to adapt to Tosu’s style of play very quickly.

Shion Homma
Winger / Number 10 (21)
Albirex Niigata


Notes: Such an obvious pick for this kind of article that I was almost tempted to leave him out for a more left field choice such as Shusuke Ota or Shunsuke Mito. In truth, such has been the hype around young Homma that we can almost view 2021 as being slightly underwhelming with 5 goals and 6 assists from 31 outings and 8 of his last 14 appearances coming from the substitutes bench. I had a good discussion with Jon Steele on last week’s JTET about Niigata’s attacking strategy, or lack thereof, and how it might be hindering a fledgling talent such as Homma who perhaps needs a bit more guidance on ways to develop his natural talents. However, taking all of the above into consideration, I’m still pretty confident he’ll be playing at a higher level in 2022.

Potential Suitors: By-passing J1 and moving directly to Europe isn’t out of the question, though I’m not sure it’s the best career path for him to take at the moment. All the J1 big boys, Kawasaki, Marinos, Kashima etc. will surely be interested, especially if the likes of Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda and Ryotaro Araki are snapped up by European clubs this winter. It was also reported that Gamba watched him towards the end of 2020, though with Hiroto Yamami on his way in, I struggle to see Homma arriving at the same time.

Yoshiki Fujimoto
Centre-Forward (27)
Ehime FC


Notes: With 10 goals and 4 assists in 29 appearances for relegation haunted Ehime, Fujimoto is the oldest player on the list, but he’s contributed so much to his side’s cause this season that it will prove impossible for higher ranked sides to ignore. The Meiji University graduate’s career to date has featured several ups and downs, he endured a frustrating 2 ½ years at Okayama, never really establishing himself before being loaned to Ehime midway through 2018. The deal was made permanent over the following winter and he went on to bag a career high 9 goals in 39 games in 2019. 2020 was wrecked by injury and there were real concerns about where Ehime’s goals would come from this campaign, however, despite a leaky rearguard holding them back, Fujimoto in tandem with Hiroshima loanee Takumu Kawamura have fought bravely to maintain the Matsuyama side’s J2 status.

Potential Suitors: His age and the holes in his CV will likely deter the traditional powerhouses, but Kyushu outfits, Fukuoka and Tosu have made this kind of move before and Fujimoto would likely achieve success with either of those two sides.

That’s all for now, is there anyone you think I’ve over-rated or missed out altogether? Please let me know. Thanks again for reading and I’ll be back next week to preview a match between two teams coming off 5-1 thrashings, Urawa Reds vs Gamba Osaka.

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Gamba News 13/08/20

I had already written most of my match preview for Gamba’s trip to Tosu this Saturday when the news broke that there had been a cluster of COVID-19 infections within the Sagan squad that caused them to shut down operations until August 25th. I didn’t want to put my hard work to waste so I’ve decided to publish the parts of my preview that are still relevant and have added in some new features, please let me know what you think. Finally I’d like to wish a speedy recovery to all those Sagan Tosu players and staff currently infected with coronavirus. お大事に!

Last Time Out

Gamba returned to winning ways at home to Yokohama FC last weekend with a smash-and-grab victory over an extremely game away side. There were two changes to the Nerrazzuri’s starting XI with Gen Shoji fully fit and ready to make his Gamba J1 debut between Miura and Kim at the back, while Brazilian forward Ademilson also returned from a short layoff to take Watanabe’s place alongside Usami in attack. Yuji Ono was once again selected ahead of Shu Kurata and Yajima and Ideguchi swapped places again with Yajima as the base of the midfield and 15-times capped by Japan, Ideguchi on the right.

The home team made a strong start against Yokohama, who had switched to a 4-4-2 formation and brought veterans Masahiko Inoha and Calvin Jong-a-Pin into their defence in preparation for a backs to the wall effort. Yajima and Ideguchi both shot off target in the opening 10 minutes as Gamba enjoyed near total control. FC rallied a little towards the midway point of the half, but on 34 minutes the men in blue and black went ahead. Good work down the left resulted in Ono feeding the ball to Onose on the edge of the box, the ex-Yokohama FC star unleashed a right-foot shot which deflected off team-mate Ademilson, wrong-footed goalkeeper Yuta Minami and flew into his bottom left corner. 1-0 half-time.

Gamba sought to kill off their opponents at the start of the second half, but were unable to create any clear cut chances and soon energy levels dropped off, possibly a touch of complacency crept in and Yokohama FC began to take a grip on proceedings. Possibly sparked by an incident where Yusuke Matsuo had his shirt pulled by Gen Shoji in the box but didn’t go down and thus didn’t get a penalty, the Kanagawa side started to overrun a tiring Gamba midfield and created presentable chances for attackers Koki Saito and Yusuke Minagawa as well as right-winger Takuya Matsuura. They got their reward on the hour mark when Hiroki Fujiharu made a sloppy back pass that didn’t reach Higashiguchi, Minagawa was able to bundle the ball past Gamba’s number 1 towards strike partner Saito and the impressive 18-year old swept the ball by Shoji on the line. 1-1, game on.

In the final half hour, Yokohama FC looked the more likely winners. It took Gamba a full 31 minutes to register their first chance of the half with Patric shooting across Minami but his effort went well wide. At the other end, Higashiguchi pulled off a great right-footed stop from Minagawa and veteran substitute Leandro Domingues fired over which prompted Gamba’s ‘keeper to kick the post in frustration at what he was seeing in front of him. Head-coach Miyamoto clearly agreed and freshened things up by bringing on Takao and Fukuda to replace Onose and Fujiharu as well as having Watanabe come on for the tiring Usami. These changes breathed new life into the Gamba attack and additional time brought a spell of sustained pressure. Another second-half substitute, Patric, was the hero, after having an earlier attempt correctly ruled out for offside, the 189cm behemoth met Yosuke Ideguchi’s corner and bulleted his header low to Minami’s right from about 5 yards out to win the game with essentially the last play. A hugely relieved Gamba claim their 6th victory of the year, Yokohama FC will be left kicking themselves for missing the chances they did.

On Wednesday night 17 year-old striker Shoji Toyama announced himself on the big stage with a first-half double that helped a Gamba side, whose starting XI average age was just 22.4, see off Shonan Bellmare 2-1. The three points gained from this game were not enough for the Nerrazzurri to qualify for the knock-out stages, though because of this year’s chaotic league schedule I’m not sure anyone in Suita is particularly upset.

Aside from Toyama’s debut and brace, there were also first top team appearances for, Jefferson Tabinas at centre-back, Kohei Okuno and U23 assist wizard Shuhei Kawasaki (4 goals, 12 assists in 34 J3 games) in midfield as well as wide-men Haruto Shirai, Dai Tsukamoto and Tatsuya Yamaguchi from the bench. Also Shunya Suganuma returned from injury to captain the side, and must have felt like a very old man indeed.

Tactical Notes

Not a whole lot to cover regarding Gamba this week, all the first choice starters are fit so Saturday’s lineup is what Miyamoto believes to be his best formation. With that said, I have a couple of concerns, the first of which is fatigue. Yokohama FC were able to dominate for large chunks of the second half and pick passes, including several through balls which took out both Gamba’s midfield and defence in one stroke. I largely put this down to Yajima, Ideguchi and Ono running out of energy following a tough run of games. Hopefully more rotation will take place in that crucial area as the effects of fresh legs could be easily seen following the introduction of Takao, Fukuda, Kurata and Patric. Secondly, last weekend was the first time in a while we’ve come up against an opponent really determined to ‘park the bus.’ We were able to create some chances, but not many, in the first half and for the opening half hour of the second stanza, build up play generally ended around Yokohama FC’s 18-yard line. This should serve as a wake up call ahead of future encounters with the likes of Shonan, Sendai and Tosu at home.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

It’s generally a clean bill of health to report for Gamba with last week’s starting XI being the first time this year that all first choice members have been available. Gen Shoji came through the game unscathed, though his workload may need to be managed moving forward, and Jun Ichimori had an excellent game between the sticks for Gamba U23 in their 2-1 win over Azul Claro Numazu on Sunday. Brazilian forward Ademilson notched his third goal of the campaign against Yokohama FC, but did seem to lack sharpness on his return to the first team. Outside of that, centre-back Shunya Suganuma returned against Shonan in the Levain Cup in midweek, but Ryo Shinzato’s, continued absence from all competitions suggests that he is on the treatment table.

From the Scout’s Office

I decided to add this section in for this match preview. Similar to Patric it won’t feature every week, but like the big man I hope it’ll have a big impact when it is used.

In the Yokohama FC preview, I identified central midfield as an area in need of an upgrade. This week staying home due to a minor infection gave me time to trawl through the leagues in search of talent. The rough parameters I set were, primary position is central midfield, aged between 23-30, at least 30 J1 appearances, willing to initially accept a role as backup in the rotation system. This is what I found, please note that not all players meet every category.

Secondly, I’d like to take a look at a player who troubled Gamba last week, Yokohama FC’s left-sided dynamo Yusuke Matsuo. Hiroki Fujiharu will turn 33 next season, so it’s possible Gamba will be in the market for a younger upgrade. At first glance Sendai University graduate Matsuo doesn’t fit the profile of recent Gamba signings, if we sign university players we tend to do it directly rather than wait until they’ve gained experience with another pro-team. However, due to COVID-19 this year, crowds have plummeted and this will surely hit teams with historically high average attendances, like Gamba, hard financially. With this in mind, we are likely to see the traditional ‘big boys’ battle it out over young Japanese talent with J1 experience in the coming transfer windows.

Yokohama FC have used Matsuo at left wing-back when they’ve operated the exact same 3-5-2 system as Gamba. Also, as shown on Saturday he can play as an orthodox left midfielder in a 4-4-2 and he mostly turned out as a left winger in YFC’s 4-2-3-1 formation last year. Theoretically he should have the skill set to play in the advanced left-side central midfield position currently being rotated between Ono and Kurata. Shu, like Fujiharu, will be 33 next season and Matsuo seems to tick a lot of boxes for Miyamoto. The kantoku is known for his fondness for players who can adapt to different systems and competently play in a number of positions.

I’m pretty sure there’s a dossier on Yusuke Matsuo sitting in Gamba’s scouting office right now, as well as quite a few other teams, Urawa? Kobe? Cerezo? Let me know what you think, how would he do with Gamba? Are there any other players you’d like Gamba to bring in within the next 6-12 months?

Know Your Future Opponent – J2 players likely to move to J1 clubs

With no opponent this weekend, I thought it was a good chance to give a rundown of some J2 talent that I believe will soon be playing in the top tier. Before I do, a couple of selection criteria I laid out were, young Japanese talents who are not currently on loan from J1 teams (no Daigo Takahashi or Kazuma Yamaguchi) and have never been contracted to a J1 team (sorry Hiroki Ito and Shuto Machino). Most of these players are forwards, but if the DAZN team of the week can do it, why can’t I?

Shogo Asada (22 years old, Kyoto Sanga) – As it’s alphabetical, my most surprising choice is first up. Centre-back Asada caught my eye in last night’s Kyoto vs Mito thriller. Although defending was not of the highest standard in general, both midfields left their backlines rather exposed, giving Asada, who spent 2019 on loan at Kamatamare Sanuki in J3, the chance to shine with some excellent blocks and interceptions.

Akira Silvano Disaro’ (24, Giravanz Kitakyushu) – Getting a lot of attention on J-Talk Extra Time, the ‘bald eagle’ has taken to life in J2 like a duck to water (that doesn’t really work does it?). He was in the stands as Giravanz rested a host of players against Kanazawa last night, but had scored in each of his previous four appearances. Possesses a very crisp shot and has built up a great understanding with his equally talented attacking team-mates.

Shion Homma (20, Albirex Niigata) I’m not really pushing the boat out with this one as anyone who watches J2 knows about this kid’s potential. The nimble left-winger blotted his copybook somewhat by getting foolishly sent off for two yellows against Yamaguchi, but not before he’d assisted Mauro for the game’s opening goal. It’s a matter of when, not if he makes it to a higher level.

Shion Inoue (23. Tokyo Verdy) Already identified by the FC Tokyo Kai-Guys as a potential answer to their midfield issues, Verdy youngster Inoue looks set to be the latest talent off their impressive production line. He’s played all but one J2 game so far in 2020 and has been a key cog in the pretty football Verdy tend to play. Really stood out with two goals and an assist in the 4-2 dismantling of Ventforet Kofu a few weeks back.

Mutsuki Kato (23, Zweigen Kanazawa) Got his third goal in as many games after coming on to replace the injured Lucao away at Kitakyushu on Wednesday. In fact the duo generally play as a partnership and have already contributed a combined 10 goals in 11 games this year. Former Sanfrecce Youth product Kato is currently in his rookie season as a pro having joined from Chuo University last off-season.

Kota Kawano (17, Renofa Yamaguchi) A bit of an internet sensation following his well taken finish against league leaders Nagasaki last month where he became J2’s youngest ever goalscorer. That strike prompted Yamaguchi to offer the High School 2nd grader his first professional contract. Given the good relationship between Gamba and Yamaguchi, could Kawano and Shoji Toyama be the Nerrazzuri’s strike pairing of the future?

Seiya Maikuma (22, V-Varen Nagasaki) Daniel from the Nagasaki Blue & Orange Blog assures me Maikuma will be in J1 as a V-Varen player next year and given their start to the campaign, I’m not going to argue. Previously senpai to Leo Takae and Yuya Fukuda at Higashi Fukuoka High School, Maikuma chose to attend Momoyama Gakuin University in Osaka before turning pro this season. Originally listed as a striker, he’s found a home playing either as an orthodox right-back or as a right-wing back depending on the formation employed by his coach. Scored his side’s third after coming on as a substitute against Thespakusatsu Gunma last night.

Kai Matsuzaki (22, Mito HollyHock) A big favourite of J-Talk Extra Time host Jon Steele, I was really excited to see Matsuzaki in action live for the first time against Kyoto. Given that I kind of expected him to be a J2 Messi, of course I was left slightly disappointed. That said, his stats for an attack-minded Mito side in his first year as a pro are impressive with a goal and four assists in his opening ten games (five starts and five sub appearances).

Solomon Sakuragawa (19, JEF United Chiba) The towering 190cm forward will hopefully learn from the excellent strike partners he has in Chiba (Hisato Sato, Kengo Kawamata, Kleber, Keita Yamashita) rather than be sucked down by his team’s wild inconsistency. Has generally been used as a sub after being promoted from the youth team last winter, but already has two goals to his name in J2 this year.

Masaki Watai (21, Tokushima Vortis) The diminutive attacking midfielder has seemingly been wrapped in cotton wool by manager Ricardo Rodriguez at the start of 2020. He’s now fully established in the starting XI and had an impressive outing with a goal and an assist against table-topping Nagasaki last weekend before setting up Kazuki Nishiya’s winner at Machida on Wednesday night.

Arata Watanabe (25, Albirex Niigata) The oldest of this group and someone I was really impressed with following his two-goal show in the 3-3 draw at home to Kofu in round 2. He’s found goalscoring a little tougher since strike partner Fabio was ruled out due to injury, but remains a threat. The Ryutsu Keizai University graduate is now in his third season as a pro and can play either as a central striker or on the right-wing as he did last year to accommodate Leonardo.

Other Notable Mentions – I don’t want to incur the wrath of @OkinawaOzzy so I better give a shout out to FC Ryukyu attacking midfielder Yoshio Koizumi who got a fine assist for Takuma Abe’s volley against Tokushima. Elsewhere, Ehime youth product Shuma Mihara has looked dangerous in the left wing-back role and Takahiro Akimoto of Tochigi SC has gone some of the way to filling the creative void left by Kazuki Nishuya. Kanji Okunuki has been in and out of the Omiya lineup this year, but owing to his form in 2019 he deserves a mention while Keita Yamashita who joined JEF from Yamaguchi last winter is a clean striker of the ball who looks like he could play at a higher level.

That’s all for this week, I hope you enjoyed the changes, feedback is always welcomed. I’ll be back next week to preview the Urawa and Kashima games. See you soon!

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Gamba meets FC Ryukyu

Hi Everyone,

I hope you are all keeping well, it is with great excitement that I write this article. Geoff Osborne (@OkinawaOzzy) has put together a tremendous series of get-to-know-you chats with some of the biggest names in the JLeague English scene…Michael Master, Frontale Rabbit Blog, Nagasaki Blue and Orange Blog, FC Tokyo Kai Guys and Tokyo Verdy Unofficial. I was the first interviewee of the series and I thought I’d repay the compliment by sitting down and interviewing Geoff in what will be the final installment before thankfully JLeague returns to action next week.

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The new logo for fcryukyublog.com


In this Interview, my words will be in bold and Geoff’s will appear in normal font.

Hi Geoff,

Q. It’s been a few months since we last talked, obviously the COVID-19 situation has evolved rapidly since then. I’d like to start by asking how things are over in Okinawa? How are you and your family dealing with the crisis?
Hey brother! Great to chat with you again. Well, the family and I are adjusting to what we perceive as the “new normal.” We try to follow a meticulous routine when we leave or enter the house, always using hand sanitizer when touching anything outside of our house, wiping down all products we buy in a store and always wearing a mask in public areas. We are by no means perfect and there are definitely times when you become complacent, flat out forget, or the kids get you rattled, but we firmly believe in doing as much as we can to limit our exposure to COVID-19 as well as the rest of society.

As far as Okinawa is concerned, there have been zero reported cases here in over 40 days, but there has also been very limited testing (less than 10 a day it seems) and we are expecting an uptick in tourism soon. They were expecting around 13 million visitors to Okinawa this year and it remains to be seen if they will allow travelers from those countries that frequently come to Okinawa to resume travel. No one should be under the impression that we’ve turned the corner on CV-19 and we should all expect several waves of the virus over the next few years.

That will impact Okinawa particularly hard as the economy is built on tourism, and to a lesser degree the employment offered on the military installations around Okinawa. It has already begun to affect those industries as well as the restaurants (izakaya) and shops that thrive on tourism dollars which may in turn have a direct impact on FC Ryukyu.

How about you? Osaka was one of the last areas to be released from a State of Emergency correct?

Yes, I believe we were the last ones outside of the prefectures in Kanto to exit the lockdown. I’m actually still working from home and as I live by myself, social distancing is not such a big problem for me. Like you, and I’m sure all of the readers, I’m looking forward to getting back to a bit of normality, the return of JLeague from 27 June will definitely help with that.

Q. Thanks again for putting this series of interviews together, the feedback on Twitter seems to have been overwhelmingly positive. What inspired you to do it?
I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to speak to so many great people that I follow on twitter with this series. It was a great getting to know them and their teams on a much deeper level. The inspiration came from a couple of different areas. First, I wanted others to become aware of the rich English content that covers the J-League that so many people pour their hearts and soul into for little more than recognition. I think we can all agree that English language coverage for the J-League is not that great which makes the herculean efforts by the lads over at the J-Talk Pod, J-Talk Extra Time Pod and J-Soccer magazine so special.

Second, after I wrote an article for the J-Soccer Magazine I wanted to know the story behind the authors of the J-League English blogs and Twitter accounts. I enjoyed writing my story and think that all should have a chance to tell their story.

Finally, I cannot recall where I heard or read this point but I think English bloggers/writers for the K-League came together under one entity and that idea really excited me. I thought that was awesome and wonder if we could replicate that here in Japan. Well, that would require each team in the J-League having an English blogger or unofficial twitter account and after doing some research, I found that we are a long way off from that goal. Doesn’t mean we can’t hope for that one day. I cannot recall where I heard/read that? Possibly on the J-Talk Pod with Paul Neat (@NeatPaul)?

Indeed, I’ve been following the K League quite a bit in the absence of JLeague football and have been casting envious glances at the work the K League United crew are doing and the fact their efforts are recognised by the K League itself.

Q. As we speak, J2 and J3 are set to kick off on the weekend of 27/28 June with J1 starting the following week. Of course, this means you’ll get to see your beloved FC Ryukyu on TV a week before I can watch Gamba, you must be pretty psyched for the league’s restart, right?
Buzzing! I’ve never experienced such a long break in sports in my lifetime and I am itching to watch some matches that count as well as seeing the boys from Oki back in action. I was traveling for work when the opening fixture kicked off so I didn’t get to see their first match way back on February 23rd (119 days ago!).

While we are excited for the return of sports, I am not sure what to expect this year. No relegation is good for us but at what cost? Stuart and Jon did a great job breaking down the revenue streams for the J2 clubs a few weeks back on their pod and it was evident that ticket sales were not the largest source of income for the clubs so we can see how important it is for the J-League to conduct a season based on sponsorship dollars.

I think we can all agree that the players and staff are professionals and super competitive – how else would they’ve gotten to this level in their career – but what will the product look like on the pitch? Players trying to avoid injury, experimental lineups, mass substitutions, and then there is the reality that a player will pop hot for CV-19 and then what?

What do you think? What will football look like for 2020 and beyond?

It’s really tough to say, I actually sent some questions over to the J-Talk pod guys a few weeks ago and they were kind enough to discuss them on the show. I really agreed with Sean Carroll’s point that games played behind closed doors or with few fans in the stadium should favour the stronger of the 2 teams, more so than if it were played with fans. But, there are so many things we don’t know, nothing would really surprise me at this stage.

Q. I’d like to come back and talk more about your predictions and aspirations for FC Ryukyu later on, but first I want to know about your journey. How did you come to be in Japan? And specifically, why Okinawa?
I accepted an offer for a job that initially was supposed to be in California but the company asked if I wished to take a similar position in Okinawa, Japan. I didn’t even hesitate as I was living with my brother in Jacksonville, FL after we had both finished our service in the U.S. Marine Corps which also happened to coincide with the US economy falling apart in 2008 and that meant finding a job proved to be difficult.

I landed in Okinawa in July of 2009 and got a rude awakening to the heat and humidity that I thought I was accustomed to while living in Florida. I was wrong. But I do love it here in Okinawa as a place to raise a family and work. I do think I’ll head back to the U.S. one day but I hope that is after my young kids are through High School.

Q. What made you take up blogging in English for FC Ryukyu? What’s the response to your blog been like?
The response has been absolutely phenomenal. The blog has allowed me to develop a much deeper relationship with FC Ryukyu as well as meet so many great people involved in the world of football and for that I am so grateful. The inspiration for the blog came after the Omiya match when the head of the FC Ryukyu Supporters club suggested I do one in English. It was a win-win as I finally had a venue to voice my displeasures or spout my opinions on the club.

It is funny, shortly after I started the blog I was asked to appear on the J-Talk Pod with Ben. I was excited but also a bit nervous as I am by no means someone who has played or studied football extensively so I have no idea on the technical or tactical part of football. As I said, I really started the blog to voice both my displeasures and pleasure with the club based on what I was seeing on the pitch every week as well as during transfer windows year in and year out.

But, while you may not be able to pick out the tactics, if you’ve watched enough football like we all have, then you can pick up on certain things and get to see parts of the game you may have otherwise missed while just sitting there ball watching.

Since that first entry, I’ve tried to continue to evolve the match day previews, reports and content as well as find something to talk about surrounding the club. As you know, there are some pretty dry times in blogging and if this season turns into match days every 3 or 4 days well there won’t be too many op-ed pieces with all of the aforementioned previews and recaps.

I know exactly what you mean, with many weeks containing 3 games, my match previews are going to contain more graphics and less writing. I’m looking forward to seeing what you have lined up.

Q. I know a lot of us are very active on Twitter, but we live busy lives in different corners of Japan, have you met any of the Twitter Japanese soccer community in person?
Actually yes. I linked up with @frontalerabbit for the “Tamagawa Derby” (is that right?) when FC Tokyo and Kawasaki Frontale locked horns last summer. That was awesome and I’ve written about that day many times.

I have met Stuart @stuartcw at an FC Ryukyu match last year as he is a fan of FC Ryukyu, as well as Yokohoma F Marinos.

I also met a member of English J-League royalty when I had a coffee and chat with no other than Jon Steele @J2KantoBites when he visited Okinawa this past spring with his family. I even tried bribing his young son with some FC Ryukyu schwag in a rather thinly veiled attempt at swaying this young man’s allegiances over to FC Ryukyu. To no avail though.

Finally, @frontalerabbit, @sushi_football, @tpen18, @BenitoWill and I are getting together periodically on Zoom for some rather nice, and rather expensive, craft beer parties.

I was thinking it would be great to do some live commentary on the matches over Zoom, to which I can record, and then upload them to YouTube. Would love to do it with supporters of the opponents. What do you think?

Yeah that sounds awesome, I know V-Varen Nagasaki, Tochigi SC and Zweigen Kanazawa (sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone) have pretty passionate online bloggers, would be great to hear you guys duelling it out! I also liked Stuart’s idea for a J-Talk Live once COVID-19 finally disappears.

Q. I’ve been living in Japan for over 7 years now, but have yet to visit Okinawa. If someone like myself was to visit for an FC Ryukyu game, what other attractions does the place have to offer?
For sake of this question, let’s assume that all the attractions are open and running. First, it will depend largely on what time of the year you’re visiting. The beaches, both paid and free access, are great. Second, the aquarium is spectacular but slightly far removed depending on your accommodation location.

Third, I would recommend taking the ferry to either Ie Island or the Kerama Islands. Each has something unique to offer and is a nice way to spend a few days or evening at a resort or hotel on the many smaller islands. A word of advice, if you intend on climbing Mt Gusuku with young children, I hope you’re in excellent shape when you need to carry them up and down after the novelty of walking up steep stairs wears off. This is based on first hand knowledge. When I reached “base camp” after the descent I went to the shaded area dripping in sweat and drank a gallon of water/Pocari sweat and then went to the car to cry out of sight of the family.

Finally, if you are football fan than you must visit the head of the FC Ryukyu supporters club, Hiro, at his bar/izakaya, Café Camp Nou just off the famous Kokusai-dori (street) in Naha. He has quite a collection of football paraphernalia and loves meeting fans of football teams from all over the world. (https://tabelog.com/okinawa/A4701/A470101/47000704/)

As a huge tourist destination, you really cannot go wrong with whatever you decide to do here in Okinawa. The food is great and if you want some eclectic stuff, try the area they call “American Village.”

It’s always great to get a local’s perspective on things. Thanks a lot, I really hope to make it down there some day!

Q. I know you’ve mentioned before your father is from England and you support Arsenal in the Premier League, also you’re a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL. Do you have an interest in any other sports? Or any other teams in particular?
Other than following the local Pittsburgh teams of the Penguins and Pirates not really. According to my wife, I spend way too much time focusing on Fantasy Football for the NFL but I am involved in dozens of Fantasy Football leagues every year and that is one of my true passions. That leaves little time outside of FC Ryukyu, Arsenal and the Steelers for much else.

And despite playing baseball in college, I cannot watch baseball these days. If I were forced to choose an NPB team it would be the Chunichi Dragons as that was the team that Tom Selleck played for the in the iconic movie, “Mr. Baseball.” Which also so happened to be the main source for how I should conduct myself in Japan prior to meeting my wife.

Q. Osaka is a huge city and when I go to Gamba games, although Osaka people are known for their friendliness, the sheer scale of Panasonic Stadium makes it difficult for me to get chatting with other fans. How do you find things when you attend FC Ryukyu matches? Do you have a group of supporters you always go to games with? How do local people react when they see you at the stadium?
I envy you my friend. It is well known that FC Ryukyu don’t pack the Tapista in large numbers outside of very special occasions. Therefore, it is easy to interact with many fans as well as meet people in and around the grounds.

I used to have a nice group that would attend matches semi-regularly when FC Ryukyu were back in J3 but they have since moved on. I usually end up going solo but I do go early enough to hang my flags with the FC Ryukyu supporters’ group. We always chat pre-match when meeting up several hours before kickoff but then usually go our separate ways. To be honest, Hiro’s English is getting much better since I’ve been speaking only English at him the past 5 years.

I am a bit conflicted when it comes to sitting in the supporter section, and still to this day, I never understood the chants that they sing. I made a concerted effort this year to translate them into English and put them into a supporter’s guide in English for anyone who wanted to join in. I also enjoy being near, but not in that section, as I have met many more fans and can experience the matches in my own special way away from the supporter’s section. But make no mistake, I stand should to shoulder with them when I attend away games.

As far as how the locals react, its been great! I’ve been pulled into many little tailgating parties outside the stadium, photo bombed some twitter and IG accounts and met some awesome people. I mean, who wouldn’t want to hang out with a dude dressed in a templar tunic with chainmail?

Honestly I’m not sure how to answer that, but yeah, FC Ryukyu are almost everyone’s second club, so it’s great to hear they’ve got a good bunch of supporters.

Q. I know you’ve spoken very passionately before about ideas that FC Ryukyu should consider to broaden their fanbase and appeal, have you ever spoken to anyone at the club about implementing some of your suggestions?
I met the former President of the club, Subaru Mikami, last year and we had a lengthy conversation on several issues pertaining to the marketing of the club. I listed out near, mid and long-term goals that I though the club could achieve, some of which would come at little to no cost for the club in the hopes that the atmosphere in and around the stadium would improve.

It was an eye-opening experience, and one that I am grateful for, as I never truly understood the constraints that a club can face when they do not own their own stadium. I can say that at least two of the ideas were enacted as we finally got hand soap inside the bathrooms at the stadium and there was definitely more signage in the form of flags around and inside the grounds.

I have also met Kei Hirosaki, who is now the acting President of FC Ryukyu, at Haneda Airport after the final game against Kofu last season as well as at the fan event at the end of last season. I didn’t push any ideas on him and simply passed him a business card I made up that listed my blog and contact info and I hope to have some more conversations with him this year.

Awesome, it’s good to hear the club is at least willing to listen to suggestions.

Q. It’s quite common in J1 for clubs to have ageing marquee foreign or Japanese talents in their ranks such as Iniesta at Kobe of Shunsuke Nakamura at Yokohama FC. FC Ryukyu have the legendary Shinji Ono in their midfield now, what kind of impact has he had on and off the field?
The quick answer is he has made a massive impact at the club and community. I should also note that he joined the team late in the summer transfer window last season and we’ve seen a huge disruption in the schedule for this year so we will need more time to make an honest and accurate assessment.

His first ever match in the Bengara red drew the largest crowd in the history of the club when 12,019 people packed a stadium that was supposed to only hold 10,189 (though it could supposedly surge to 25,000). Unfortunately, Shinji didn’t score that game, or all year for the club, and eventually succumbed to an injury that ended his season.

I don’t think getting on the score sheet would have made the biggest impact for the club. In fact, I believe it was his presence in the locker room and training grounds that halted the slide that FC Ryukyu were in the middle of when he arrived.

He has been a marketing dream for the club as he constantly appears on television programs and I hope that his presence continues to bring people to the stadium but I am cautiously optimistic. History showed us last season, in his second and third games – which were massive for FC Ryukyu as they desperately needed points- less than half (6,000) and then less than one-sixth (2,000) of his first game attendees showed up to see him and the team.

Solving the great mystery of local attendance at matches is a very complex problem here in Okinawa.

Q. I think we both enjoyed the recent J-Talk Extra Time Podcast Stuart and Jon did on the state of finances in J2. FC Ryukyu were one of the great overachievers in J2 last year according to the numbers. Stuart did a great job of fleshing out the raw data for all clubs, but talking with you I’d like to zero in on FC Ryukyu. Basically, in your opinion, why have FC Ryukyu been able to punch well above their weight over the past few years?
That’s a good question and definitely not an easy one to answer as I only have extensive knowledge on FC Ryukyu and not the other 53 or so clubs in the J-League tiers. I will say that the club has pulled in some serious talent – and then shipped it out- over the years. Park Il-gyu, Nakagawa, Yuta Togashi, Satoki Uejo are just a few that jump right off the page. But the players would be nothing without the coaches and the system. Kim Jong Sung came in and gave this team an attacking identity and Keita Tanaka flourished in that system. So much so that he signed for Mito after 2016 and then returned for a loan spell before coming back fully last season. I think that we have got the most out of the players over the years and that speaks volumes on the level of coaching and scouting the team conducts.

I am not sure how they manage to sign talented players, on what I am assuming are relatively affordable contracts, when it is obvious that many of these players are talented and either have a lot left in the tank or are emerging stars. Maybe they convinced these guys that they will be playing versus rotting on the bench somewhere for a larger club.

There is also a bit of an interesting relationship between Mito HollyHock and FC Ryukyu as they initially loaned us Tanaka in 2017, signed DF Shuhei Takizawa away from us in the 2018 offseason, but then we signed Dany Carvajal and Keita on permanent (if that term even applies out here in Japan) deals, while also receiving Ryo Ishii on a year long loan deal last year that proved vital for us at the end of the season. Then FC Ryukyu signed a player that everyone raves about in Shunsuke Motegi this offseason. Maybe it was because Subaru Mikami once worked at Mito HollyHock and we have a good connection with the club, in either case, I am glad we do as we’ve poached several good players from their roster the past few years.

But until there is a monumental shift in the finances of this club, we’ll never be able to get to, or compete at, the level of the larger clubs. We will always feed the more financially stronger clubs talented players and I just hope the owner and management staff can get us to the point of being able to offer a player double his current wages, like Fagiano Okayama did with Uejo. Only then we can build up some serious staying power for a push to the top.

I rambled a bit there but to answer your original question, I think they’ve had some serious luck when it comes to the timing of their signings and then the coaches and staff have leveraged talent to its maximum extent. Not a recipe that will provide long term success, but will provide some exciting football right now.

The expectations must be tougher with a club like Gamba who are expected to compete for titles every year.

For anyone willing to listen to my extensive ramblings on Gamba’s transfer strategy in recent years, let me take this opportunity to point you in the direction of some previous entries on this blog.

Q. You’ve written an excellent piece in the latest JSoccer Magazine (Issue 29) and you talk about some of the away day trips you’ve done (I also thoroughly enjoyed your Twitter updates from the match at Kofu at the tail end of last year). I’ve only really done Gamba away games at Kanto clubs when I lived in Machida, how would you describe the away day experience in Japan?
Thank you for the kind words. Away games are simply great times, and away games are something that every fan should try to do. I understand that sometimes it is not financially feasible or even harder to convince your spouse and family that your headed off on a mini-vacation to go watch football. But the experience is well worth the sacrifices. Not only are you getting to see your club play, you get to experience another part of Japan that you may have otherwise never considered visiting.

I would tell anyone that before you book tickets and lodging, you need to consult Chris’s (@LiFJapan) Lost in Football Japan website. There is plenty of good information and advice there that me simply putting the link here doesn’t do it justice. (https://lostinfootballjapan.com/)

Q. Now to this upcoming campaign, I was wondering if you could tell us, which already established first-team member do you think will be most pivotal to FC Ryukyu’s success this year? And who is a largely unheard-of future star we should look out for?
This one caught me off-guard, which makes it a great question. Damn, this is really hard! I’m looking at the roster on the FC Ryukyu website and I can make an argument for each of the starting 11 as to why they matter the most. Damn you man!

I am going to say that a defender will be the most pivotal player for the squad this year, I am just not sure which one. CB Lee Yong Jick may be the one but I think it may actually be Daisei Suzuki, but that will largely depend on whether or not Higuchi sticks with the man we initially received on loan from Vortis and then just signed to a permanent deal during the CV-19 break. I watched him in a training match and was impressed by his presence and as everyone witnessed last year, we need to put a stop to the massive bleeding at the back for Ryukyu.

FC Ryukyu only have 2 healthy strikers at this point, and both are over 30 years of age, so it seems we’ll rely heavily on our MFs to score goals. That probably isn’t a great idea and that is why we need a solid defense so we can see out 0-0 and 1-0 score lines this season.

The relatively unheard-of star could go in several different directions as well. MF Shuto Kawai came out of nowhere last year and his speed is lethal. There are indications that Urawa is interested in acquiring his services this year which would suck as there is no way we are going to stop that move. Ren Ikeda, a college signee, impressed Higuchi enough during camp to earn the starting CAM slot behind our lone striker but I don’t think he had the greatest of opening matches back in February so we’ll see if he is in there in 2 weeks.

The one I am going with is Yoshio Koizumi. He is a name that not many will know or care to know. He hasn’t registered any stats that would indicate he is someone that people need to be made aware of or even cracked the reserves in a consistent manner. But his time is coming.

This dude jumped off the screen in his limited action against Tokyo Verdy last year and I think he could challenge Ren for the #10 role sooner rather than later.

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New FC Ryukyu signing, #24 Daisei Suzuki, and
up and comer #28 Yoshio Koizumi.


Sorry, I didn’t realize that one would be so tough for you. Maybe the quick fire round later on will also prove harder than I thought. Also I didn’t know Suzuki had signed permanently, let’s hope it’s a good move for all parties.

Q. Obviously last year you guys got off to a flier before eventually settling for 14th. I’m guessing you would have taken that position at the start of the year? How do you see things panning out this time round?
Had you asked me this prior to the CV-19 break I would have said around the same place we finished last year. And you are right, I would have gladly taken 14th at the start of last season as FC Ryukyu were a newly promoted club which always seem to be one of the favorites to go right back down each year.

FC Ryukyu have shifted their approach to squad construction this year by moving on from youthful exuberance to more of a seasoned veteran approach. Not having the data in front of me, I’d like to see where FC Ryukyu rank as far as the average age of the squad compared to the other J2 teams. (maybe @ConDrei can help out with that?)

We already talked about the fact that defense was a major issue that needed addressed in the offseason and I think they did quite well there. With that said, we conceded a goal within the first 40 seconds of the campaign this year. I know that wasn’t the ideal start to the season but they did choke out that attack the rest of the game and that is the only data point we can operate off of for now.

Since there is no concern over relegation, and that games may look more like training sessions than actual competitive matches, I am not expecting much this year other than a break in the boredom of no sports.

I am more concerned for 2021 when there will be an actual season and what the squad will look like then. One last point, I don’t think our squad is large enough to survive a decent amount of injuries or CV-19 cases with the fixtures piling up. Glad there is nothing really at stake this year, outside of promotion, so we can suffer through whatever happens and then get right for 2021.

Q. I know we discussed last time that I support a small team in Scotland called Ayr United. When one of our players moves on to a clearly bigger side, most fans wish them all the best. However, there have been times when a player has moved on to a bigger spending divisional rival and this has soured the relationship with the fans. With that in mind, how do members of the FC Ryukyu support feel about the diaspora forming at Fagiano Okayama? (Satoki Uejo, Kosuke Masutani and Shuhei Tokumoto)
Probably the same as Mito feel about us at FC Ryukyu! The only person that is soured on these moves is me but I understand that the transfer system is broke here in Japan and these guys are looking out for themselves and their families as basically independent contractors.

Guys would be foolish to turn down larger sums of money for the sake of loyalty to a club and fan base when the system doesn’t support that way of thinking. I love seeing former players flourish at other clubs, especially in the J1, and until FC Ryukyu become a serious player in the financial market, this type of reality will continue.

As far as the other FC Ryukyu fans, nothing I’ve seen on Twitter would indicate any hostility to former players. In fact, the opposite is true. I watched many FC Ryukyu fans purchase Uejo and Tokumoto kits this year as well as visit them at the training camps in Okinawa this past winter.

The Japanese supporters are certainly a very different breed to Scottish ones. I’m not sure many Ayr fans bought Lawrence Shankland or Liam Smith jerseys when they moved to Dundee United last summer (I know absolutely no-one reading this has any idea who these players are!)

Q. Finally, before we move onto the quick fire round, I know the big European Leagues have all the stars, glitz and glamour, what would your sales pitch be to fans to try to make them become interested in JLeague?
Oh Boy. The league as a whole? That’s tough. The fact that we are doing these interviews shows that the league needs a massive overhaul in the way they produce and market their content to the outside world, especially when it comes to content in English.

Seeing how it is unlikely that any leagues should try and compete with the larger leagues head on, maybe taking the approach of the league as a way to start your day with football is one way to go. I think games come on around 4am in England and I recall being able to get up early each morning in the U.S. and get my fix of the Bundesliga and then EPL before the NFL kicked off. I loved those days filled with sports from the time I woke up until I went to bed.

Doing tours to Europe for training camps and friendlies, similar to how the larger European clubs come out this way each year, may garner a little more exposure to the league as well.

And you? What would you institute?

The K League United guys offer a template that it’d be good to follow initially, I know from my Gamba blog that there is decent demand out there for English language content, and also a lot of my followers are not native English speakers (I’m making an assumption here based on the location of their views), so there’s got to be other languages which are thirsty for content, German, Indonesian or Spanish for example.

OK, now to the quick fire round…

Best player you’ve ever seen pull on an FC Ryukyu shirt?
Kazaki Nakagawa, with Keita Tanaka a very, very close second thanks in part to his extensive service to the club. But Nakagawa’s 2018 season was insane from a statistical standpoint and his start of 2019 was even more blistering, that is, before he left after Match Day 3 and all the wind was taken out of the Ryukyu sails.

Best opposition player you’ve seen?
Cristiano from Kashiwa Reysol. I watched that dude when Reysol were in the ACL years ago and I am always impressed at his work rate and motor. He never tires and is relentless. Plus, he is a lethal finisher to go along with his ability to set up other players. I’d love him for 1-2 seasons down here but that will not happen when he is still in his J-League prime.

Favorite ever FC Ryukyu player?
Keita Tanaka with Yu Tomidokoro a close second in this race. Tanaka was great to watch in 2015-2016 and that made for a great viewing experience after some pretty harsh opening years for me. Yu is masterful at dead ball kicks and considered to be “Mr. Ryukyu” but Keita was scoring at will in his first season with us.

Ex-player you’d most like to see back at the club?
I hate you for this! Nakagawa. (Sorry!!)

Best FC Ryukyu game you’ve seen?
I think you all may be aware that I walked out early during the historic 3-2 comeback win against Nagasaki last season when we were down 2-1 to attend a Moai event. I deeply regret that as that is something that I never do. With that in mind, the answer is the first away match of the 2019 season at Omiya, which was also the first away match I ever attended. With so many unknowns and the way the game transpired I cannot think of a better game other than maybe the title lifting match in 2018 vs Thespakusatsu Gunma. 4-3 score line with goals galore, great saves and the celebrations were awesome that day in Omiya.

Best individual performance you’ve seen by an FC Ryukyu player?
Yuta Togashi’s 4 goal outburst against SC Sagamihara back in 2018 comes to mind and though I think Dany’s performance against Omiya on the road in 2019 allowed us to walk out of there with all 3 points that day. It has to be Nakagawa’s 3 assist performance against Omiya that same match.

Best (non FC Ryukyu) JLeague uniform this year?
Shonan Bellmare

Dream signing (if FC Ryukyu were the richest club in the world)?
Zinedine Zidane as Manager; Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the antics; Ronaldo for the publicity and Mbappe for the talent.

Dream signing (realistic)?
Cristiano, Olunga or Goya from Reysol would be nice. Though you never know. Maybe we could get Ryo Miyaichi from FC St. Pauli one day.

Away ground you’d most like to visit? Why?
Giravanz Kitakyushu’s Mikuni World Stadium. The view looks spectacular.

Best manager currently in Japan (J1, J2 or J3)?
Most might say Ange Postecoglou but we’ll see how Yokohama F.Marinos gets on without Cklamovski. Toss up between Ricardo Rodriguez at Tokushima or Baptista at Reysol.

And finally….best team in Osaka?
Cerezo of course! They have Koji Suzuki. But I prefer Gamba’s uniforms and I do like watching Usami.

Wrong….the correct answer is…….(drum roll)…….FC Osaka

Lastly Geoff, I know you’ve given myself and the other participants in this series the chance to point people in the direction of those in the know in the English speaking Japanese soccer world…is there anyone we’ve forgotten or anyone you’d like to give a shout out to…the floor is yours.
First off, all of us collectively have done an amazing job when it comes to presenting info about the J-League in English to the world. This pertains to everyone who writes a blog, tweets a tweet or conducts a podcast. I think through all of the interviews we have named just about everyone there is in the small J-League English coverage community. And we strongly encourage more people to get involved so we can have an English-speaking representative for each club in the J-League.

Second, I’d like to thank everyone that has been part of my J-League experience to date. While I cannot name everyone, 2019 was a turning point for me as I became a part of a larger community of fans in the J-League and have made some great friends along the way.

Finally, as recent events have shown us, we all need to be working together for common goals and using whatever platform we have to promote these causes. That includes stamping out racism and CV-19. There is no telling what is in store for the future but I am glad to know so many great people that will make the best of whatever lies ahead.

Well said brother, I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Just a final shout out to @vegalta_blog (https://vegaltasendaienglishblog.wordpress.com/ ) the JLeague’s newest English blog. Please give it a follow on Twitter.

Thanks again Geoff and I look forward to your contributions on all things FC Ryukyu during this crazy 2020 season.