Gamba appoint Daniel Poyatos as new boss…plus general news roundup

Gamba announced on the afternoon of 23 November that Tokushima Vortis kantoku Daniel Poyatos would be taking over as Nerazzurri boss for the 2023 season in tandem with his assistant Marcel Sans. The Spaniard becomes only the third foreigner to hold the reigns in Suita in the past 2 decades and moves north-east from Shikoku following a mixed 2 year spell with Vortis. As this is something of a left-field appointment, I thought the best way to tackle it would be to, first lay out why Gamba have gone for this type of coach, before secondly assessing the pros and cons of Poyatos himself.

Why this type of coach?

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I largely put the failure of the Katanosaka era down to, in no particular order, differences of opinion between players and management regarding game strategy, injuries, Covid (plus the decision to carry out the 2022 pre-season training camp in Okinawa), mediocre recruitment, and rank bad luck with VAR. Although, admittedly, things were far more nuanced than boiling it down to just those factors suggests, they do provide a potted guide to the main issues. Hiroshi Matsuda came on-board as a firefighter in August and led the Nerazzurri to 4 wins and 15 points from his 10 games in charge which was good enough to haul the Ao to Kuro outside the drop-zone by a solitary point in the final shake-up. Seven clean sheets and just one goal conceded from open play in the last 6 fixtures of the year illustrate the no-nonsense, backs to the wall, defensive 442 system operated by the veteran coach. It sure as hell wasn’t pretty, but it was effective, meaning for Matsuda, he accomplished the mission he was tasked with, and thus can now happily ride off into the sunset. Though, search no further than Kenta Hasegawa and his Nagoya side, who earned few plaudits on the way to finishing 8th playing a dull, uninspiring brand of football, to see how this game-plan would be received at Panasonic Stadium over the course of a whole season. By way of contrast, let’s look at Shonan as an example, and in doing so I’m in no way trying to have a dig at them. After finishing 12th in the 2022 standings with their low block, counter attacking system that restricts opportunities for both themselves and opposition, there is absolutely no pressure on Satoshi Yamaguchi to change his modus operandi for next season as the Seasiders will be cock-a-hoop with a best J1 finish this side of the millennium. Gamba, on the other hand, with one of the biggest support bases in Japan and 11 top 4 finishes in the last 20 years, know that on the back of 13th and 15th place showings in the past 2 campaigns, results and performances need to improve, and they need to improve markedly. Promising youngsters such as Hiroto Yamami, Jiro Nakamura and Isa Sakamoto sitting in the stand throughout the Matsuda era was tolerated on the basis that it was a short-term fix designed to keep Gamba in J1 before a full rebuilding job could be undertaken in the winter. A coach comfortable with promoting youngsters into a team that play an attractive brand of winning football is what the Nerazzurri supporters and front-office crave, which leads me to the second part of my analysis.

Why Daniel Poyatos?

A very good question as I’ll be honest even before his appointment by Gamba, I’d long considered how I should evaluate him as a coach. He was apparently hand-picked by Ricardo Rodríguez to be his successor at Tokushima Vortis ahead of only their second ever season in Japan’s top flight in 2021. However, Covid-related visa issues delayed his arrival into Japan. It didn’t really seem to affect his side though as they started the year in decent fashion, picking up 14 points from their opening 10 outings. Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last as a defensive hiccup or three, injuries, and limited resources saw them wind-up in a relegation scrap. A 4-2 home defeat to Sanfrecce Hiroshima on the final day sealed their fate, though if I was to be fair to Poyatos and Vortis, realistically, going into round 38 with a genuine shot at staying up was probably a reasonable achievement on their part. Being the only of the four relegated sides to come anywhere close to surviving in the top flight, Tokushima were raided to a far greater extend than Oita, Sendai and Yokohama FC, and they saw; Naoto Kamifukumoto (Kyoto), Takeru Kishimoto (Shimizu), Shota Fukuoka (Gamba), Joel Chima Fujita (Marinos), Ken Iwao (Urawa), Tokuma Suzuki (Cerezo), Yuki Kakita and Taisei Miyashiro (both Tosu) all leave. Poyatos was left with an epic rebuilding job on his hands, and it was a task which wasn’t helped one iota by their involvement in the Levain Cup group stage. They drew ire from many observers for the record number of draws they accrued en-route to their ultimate 8th place finish in J2, and the inability to kill opponents off is definitely a stick with which to beat Poyatos. In his defence, and like with Shonan, I mean no offence to Tokushima here, despite Gamba finishing a poor 15th in J1 last term, the resources they have on and off the field simply dwarf those on the table in Naruto. For my money, Spanish ‘keeper José Aurelio Suárez and centre-forward Shota Fujio are the only Vortis players a J1 outfit, with top half ambitions, should be targeting. Goalkeeper is literally the last position where the Nerazzurri require an upgrade, while Fujio is on loan from Cerezo, so I don’t see either of them following their coaches to Gamba. A job, like the one on offer at Panasonic Stadium, was clearly a major motivating factor in Poyatos moving to Japan in the first place and while it’s true his Tokushima sides haven’t exactly lit the world on fire in an attacking sense, either in 2021’s 4-2-3-1 system or this year’s possession heavy 4-3-3 set-up, he’s never been able to field a lineup with the likes of Yuki Yamamoto, Takashi Usami and Juan Alano in it, so perhaps we should give him the time he deserves to prove himself with greater resources at his disposal in Suita (look at the uptick in his compatriot Albert Puig’s results after moving from Niigata to FC Tokyo). His 10+ years of youth team work with Espanyol and Real Madrid is not to be scoffed at and if (and it’s a big IF) the Gamba front office arm him with the weapons he needs, ball playing defenders (look at Shoji and Miura’s performances under Katanosaka versus those under Matsuda, are they really who you want in a Poyatos system?), midfielders capable of moving up and down the pitch in unison, plus a forward who’ll knock in double digit goal tallies on a yearly basis, then it could be the start of something special at Panasonic Stadium. Of course, that’s all very rose tinted, and if I’m brutally honest, I see this appointment going one of two ways, a roaring success with Poyatos a candidate for coach of the year next term, or for a 3rd time in the last 3 years, the Nerazzurri will be looking for an Allardyce-esque firefighter to come in and save the day mid-season. Which way will it turn out? We’ll get our answer in due course.

News Roundup

Since the conclusion of the 2022 J1 season, Gamba have announced the departures of 6 first-team players, with some names more surprising than others. They are; Taichi Kato, Kosuke Onose, Ren Shibamoto, Wellington Silva, Patric and Leandro Pereira. Additionally head coach Yoshitaka Yasuda, Tomohiro Katanosaka’s right-hand man who he brought along with him from Oita, has also left the club.

I’ve prepared a few short sentences on each of the players who’ve left below.

GK Taichi Kato – Brought in on loan from Ehime FC in March 2021 to cover an injury crisis and subsequently turned that deal into a permanent one last winter. Played once in J1 in addition to two appearances in both the Levain and Emperor’s Cups this season. Was only ever going to be backup at this level and hopefully he sees more game time wherever he ends up, in J2 or in J3.

MF Kosuke Onose – Possibly the biggest shock out of all the departures. The versatile Onose spent 4 ½ years in Suita and after starting off with a bang in his first eighteen months, his performance levels steadily dropped after that. A bright opening to 2022 was curtailed by concussion, Covid and appendicitis issues, so it’s a real shame for such a loyal servant and, judging by the reactions of his team-mates to this news, a genuine good guy, to have his final outing in a blue and black uniform marred by an appalling miss against Júbilo. Dwelling on his outstanding effort away to Urawa in his debut J1 campaign would make for a much more fitting farewell.

MF Ren Shibamoto – Gamba U-23’s record appearance maker with 105 outings between 2017 and 2020, Shibamoto, more recently, endured two difficult years out on loan, firstly at SC Sagamihara in J2 last season and more latterly at J3 surprise packages Fujieda MYFC. He was relegated in 2021 and promoted this term, but in truth, the deep-lying playmaker who I compared with Andrea Pirlo and Yasuhito Endo in the past (we all get it wrong sometimes), failed to make an impact in either Kanagawa or Shizuoka. His slight frame appears to be the main issue holding him back and like Gamba Youth predecessor Mizuki Ichimaru, despite being highly touted in his teens, unfortunately Shibamoto may spend the majority of his 20s in semi-professional football.

MF Wellington Silva – Things just didn’t click for Wellington Silva at Gamba. By the time he’d managed to get into the country in 2021, the man who wanted him, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, had one foot out the door and whenever he seemed to find some form, he’d get injured or produce some stupid shenanigans such as those seen away to Marinos at the end of last season. He didn’t make a start in the league this term and although he netted his first J1 goal at home to Vissel Kobe in Golden Week, he was never able to build on that, leading to an off-season release being the inevitable conclusion to his time with the Nerazzurri.

FW Patric – The hardest departure to stomach for me on a personal level. The big Brazilian and the Nerazzurri go way back. Although always a tad ungainly and not as prolific as he once was, as a member of the 2014 treble-winning side and the club’s top scorer for the past 3 years, as well as being a shining example of a foreign signing really adapting to Japanese life and embracing the culture, I’m sure Patric will be remembered in North Osaka for decades to come. His age (35), and the club’s desire to move away from long ball football are likely the main factors behind his release.

FW Leandro Pereira – I did a bit of a number on him in my preview of the Kashima Antlers game in round 34 and suffice to say I’m not a huge fan. Like Silva above, Pereira was brought in to play in a Miyamoto system that barely saw the light of day due to the club’s Covid outbreak early in 2021 and when the dust settled he only mustered 9 goals in 47 J1 outings across 2 seasons despite reportedly being the Nerazzurri’s highest earner. I saw an Urawa fan on Twitter mocking Gamba for getting rid of the 3 top scorers from last season, Patric (5), Pereira (4) and Onose (3), and while I’m sure this is all hilarious for supporters of rival teams, one good, well thought-out signing is all it takes to replace those 3 contributions in 2023.

The New Arrivals – As previously reported in this blog, youth team forward Harumi Minamino and Shizuoka Gakuen fantasista Ryuta Takahashi have already signed up for next season, while Hosei University left wing-back Ibuki Konno and versatile left-footed Kwansei Gakuin starlet Rin Mito have also committed and will join once they conclude their studies the following year. Haruta Yamaguchi, son of Gamba legend and current Shonan kantoku Satoshi has been training with the first team recently and could be set to become a rare example of a Gamba Youth defender earning his top team stripes. He’s still a high school second grader, so it’s 2024 at the earliest in terms of him turning pro. The transfer silly season has been in full swing on Twitter and Riku Handa, Montedio Yamagata’s prodigiously talented right-back, Shimizu centre-forward Thiago Santana, J1’s top scorer in 2022, and maybe Naohiro Sugiyama of Kumamoto (who you can read about more in my Scouting J2 2022 article), are the only rumoured targets whose potential moves I give any credence to at the moment (also, if you’re going to bash Gamba on Twitter about trying to steal your players, please don’t rely solely on posts from an account with no profile picture and a user name consisting of random letters and numbers). Needless to say, there will be a ton of competition for Handa, Santana and Sugiyama, and Gamba’s performances over the past couple of years don’t really stand them in good stead to be successful in their pursuit of any of that particular trio (perhaps targeting Takeru Kishimoto and Yuki Kakita, players who did well under Poyatos in 2021 may be a better strategy, but who am I to say.)

Harumi Minamino (front) and Haruta Yamaguchi (behind)

And finally…A largely second-string Gamba ended their season with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over touring German side Eintracht Frankfurt at Panasonic Stadium on 19 November (Miura, Alano and Usami were injured, while Kwon Kyung-won, Rihito Yamamoto and Isa Sakamoto were away on international duty). Tuta gave the visitors the lead at the interval, but a Hiroto Yamami penalty, followed by a Yuki Yamamoto thunderbolt (careful Yuki, don’t go alerting those European scouts now) in the last 10 minutes gave the Nerazzurri the win. The match was perhaps more significant for, first of all, the banner displayed by ultras behind the Curva Nord goal which chastised the club’s front office over the side’s poor performances across the past 2 years (a rough translation (with help from my Japanese friend) ‘Front Office, is it only the players who will take responsibility for the poor performances in recent years?’), and secondly, departed players Kosuke Onose and Taichi Kato taking to the field after the match to say goodbye to the supporters one last time. Onose’s lap of honour and message to the fans was particularly moving. Apparently the release took him by surprise and he’s now aiming to join another team in J1 with Shonan appearing to be in pole position at the moment. Good luck in the future Kosuke and Taichi!

Thanks for reading this little bonus article, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you all again sometime.


Gamba Osaka vs Tokushima Vortis Emperor’s Cup Semi-Final Match Preview

Gamba Osaka vs Tokushima Vortis
Emperor’s Cup Semi-Final
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 27 December 16:00

Last Time Out

Gamba closed out their 2020 J1 campaign with a disappointing 2-0 loss at home to Shimizu S-Pulse. Despite the game being a dead rubber, Nerazzurri kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto fielded a strong looking starting eleven with just 3 changes from the win at Yokohama FC 3 days prior. Kim Young-gwon, the free from suspension Yuya Fukuda and Dai Tsukamoto (1st J1 start) replaced the benched Gen Shoji, Shinya Yajima and Kazuma Watanabe.

The first-half was a dull end-of-season affair and the sides went into the break goalless before two goals in the opening 20 minutes of the second period won the game for the visitors. A first ever J1 strike by 19 year-old Riyo Kawamoto got things rolling after 49 minutes and when Shota Kaneko fired in a second after Yajima’s attempted block fell into his path, it knocked the stuffing out of Gamba. Jiro Nakamura provided some spark when he came on for a late cameo (and J1 debut), but in the end things petered out and the home side never really looked like breaching the leakiest defence in the league. Full time 0-2.

Gamba Osaka vs Tokushima Vortis Match Lowdown

In all honesty, Gamba would probably rather play this tie away or on neutral territory. As J1’s best away team in 2020, they defeated everyone from 8th down in the final standings on their travels, however, they also managed to lose at home to the bottom 3 sides (Shonan, Sendai and Shimizu) by a combined score of 7-0. Indeed, the Nerazzurri have only won by more than a single goal once at Panasonic Stadium this season, 2-0 versus Kashima in early October, and in that match the first goal came via the penalty spot, before Kazuma Watanabe wrapped up the points with a breakaway strike in second half stoppage time. As alluded to in my preview of the S-Pulse game, the next big task facing Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is to get the home form sorted, especially against teams who are content to sit deep and offer the men in blue and black plenty of opportunities to play the ball about in front of them. Granted, the return of Usami, Ideguchi, Ono and Onose will help in that respect, as will finding a suitable replacement for Ademilson if the purse strings can be loosened enough. (Leandro Pereira?)

With the J1 season now finished, we can finally compare the performances of teams on an even basis without wide discrepancies in number of fixtures played due to ACL commitments, COVID outbreaks etc. Gamba finished with the joint 5th best defensive record in J1, tied with FC Tokyo, however, for goals scored, they ranked equal ninth alongside Cerezo and Hiroshima, out of teams in the top-half of the standings, only Nagoya (45) found the back of the net less than Gamba’s 46. With this in mind, it’s easy to see where the work needs to be done in the off-season.

Gamba have won the Emperor’s Cup five times in their history including back-to-back triumphs in 2014 and 2015, however, their recent memories of the competition aren’t great as they’ve been knocked out by universities in each of the past 2 editions. First came the shock 2-1 extra-time defeat at the hands of Kwansei Gakuin University at Panasonic Stadium in 2018 and this was followed by a 2-0 reverse in Tokyo against Hosei University in August 2019. It’s interesting to see what some of those students have gone on to achieve in the game since upsetting Gamba. Ryu Takao captained Kwansei Gakuin in 2018 and Yuki Yamamoto pulled the strings in midfield, neither of them will require any introduction to Nerazzurri supporters. Hiroto Yamami, scorer of the winning goal that fateful evening will become the 3rd member of that squad to play for Gamba after he graduates next year, while midfielder Katsuya Nakano has called Kyoto home since 2019. For Hosei, senior midfielders, Kazuya Konno (FC Tokyo), Toshiki Mori (Tochigi), Hiroya Sueki (Toyama) and Ryotaro Onishi (FC Gifu), as well as forward Akira Matsuzawa (Toyama) have already started making their way in the professional game. Next year’s crop of graduates looks even better with goalkeeper Kojiro Nakano (Sapporo), defenders Taiki Miyabe (Matsumoto), Riku Morioka (Iwata), Masahiro Sekiguchi (Kofu) and Yuya Takagi (Yokohama FC) as well as midfielder Motoki Hasegawa (Kofu) all making the leap into the senior ranks.

Tokushima saw off JFL side Honda FC with surprising ease at Kobe’s Noevir Stadium on Wednesday night. A double from Tokuma Suzuki and Ken Iwao’s penalty helped them avoid a potential banana skin and they’ll now head east to Suita full of confidence. Vortis were crowned J2 champions just last week and will play in J1 next year, the first time they have done so since the 2014 season where they only took 14 points, scored 16 goals and racked up a goal difference of -58. After bouncing back from playoff heartbreak at Shonan last December, Tokushima will be looking to make their next visit to the rarified air of J1 more enjoyable than their previous experience. They will have to do so without Spanish kantoku Ricardo Rodriguez, in charge since 2017, but who has this week been confirmed as Urawa’s new boss for 2021, it’ll be interesting to see the reaction he gets from the Gamba support on Sunday. Ex-Panathinaikos coach and compatriot of Rodriguez, Daniel Poyatos is the new man in charge, he will have his hands full trying to keep hold of young #10 Masaki Watai who has been heavily linked with Reds, but the good news is that 187cm forward Yuki Kakita (Vortis’ top scorer this year with 17) looks set to remain on loan from Kashima despite reported interest from Shimizu. (It has since been announced that Watai will remain with the club in 2021).

Two Tokushima players Gamba fans should remember are forward Akihiro Sato and holding midfielder Yudai Konishi. Sato netted 14 times in 54 appearances for the Nerazzurri between 2012 and 2014 and Konishi is a Gamba Youth product who played twice for the U23s in J3 in 2016 before turning pro with Vortis the following year, to date he’s made 106 appearances and scored 8 goals in J2. Konishi’s partnership with the veteran Ken Iwao in central-midfield is a key component of Rodriguez’s strategy and after a bit of experimentation, the Spaniard seems to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 setup. The team plays a nice passing game and were able to break down J2 opponents on a regular basis leading to a number of players bagging a high total of assists. The right-sided Seiya Fujita helped himself to 9, just one shy of league leading Swede Emil Salomonsson of Fukuoka (10), while both Takeru Kishimoto (right flank) and Kazuya Nishiya (left) have 7 assists to their name, Gamba therefore have been given advanced warning of the dangers Tokushima can pose from either wing.

As expected with a side who finished top of the standings, Vortis’ team stats stack up quite nicely. Their 67 goals in 42 league outings was just one shy of top marksmen Mito (68), while only Fukuoka (29) conceded fewer than Tokushima’s 33 (0.79 per game). Just considering away results, Vortis were once again ranked as J2’s best side, ahead of Avispa on goal difference, exactly the same as the overall standings, with both teams taking home an impressive 10 more road points than 3rd placed V-Varen Nagasaki. Under pressure to secure promotion in their final few matches, Tokushima understandably played rather nervously and lost their last two away games of the season 1-0 (at Mito and Fukuoka), however, their previous road match was a see-saw 4-3 victory at Zweigen Kanazawa, so they clearly know how to find the back of the net away from the Pocari Sweat Stadium and this Sunday’s tie promises to be a real good game.

Head to Head

Gamba fans will have fond memories of the last time these two sides met, though the 0-0 played out in Tokushima on 6th December 2014 was very forgettable, the point gained was enough to see Gamba lift the J1 title in their first year back in the top flight following their shock relegation at the end of 2012. Indeed, both Vortis and the Nerazzurri were promoted together in 2013 (Tokushima via the playoffs) with Gamba winning both head-to-head league fixtures. Takashi Usami helped himself to 4 goals in a 5-1 rout in Shikoku in round 38, so I’m sure Vortis supporters will be hoping he’s still injured for this clash.

Team News

Gamba Osaka

As usual there hasn’t been much injury news from the Gamba camp, though we do know for sure that Yuji Ono (knee) and Ademilson (club suspension/police charges) won’t feature. I’d put Yosuke Ideguchi and Kosuke Onose in the highly doubtful category, while it is possible Takashi Usami could play some part.

Tokushima Vortis

Serbian centre-back Dušan Cvetinović, a winter 2019/20 capture from Yokohama F.Marinos, was last seen in the 2-1 win at Omiya on September 23rd while on-loan Nagoya Grampus midfielder Koki Sugimori hasn’t featured since the 2-0 loss at Kyoto on November 21st. Yatsunori Shimaya (7 J2 apps), Yuki Oshitani (5), Daiki Enomoto (3) and Genta Omotehara (0) haven’t gotten much action in 2020, though I believe this is more down to non-selection than any fitness concerns.
After this blog post was written it was announced that Shimaya and defender Takuya Akiyama would be released ahead of the 2021 season.

Predicted Line Ups

Any major changes to the lineup below will only come about if Ideguchi, Onose and Usami are fit enough to play. Other than that, it’s 2 from Miura, Kim and Shoji at the back, and I guess Okuno could start ahead of Yajima in the middle, but we are looking at another really young bench on Sunday.

Vortis’ recent team selections have been pretty consistent and I’m confident that they’ll line up in the 4-2-3-1 shown below. Alternatives are Ishii in place of Fukuoka at centre-back, Fujita for Kishimoto at right-back and possibly Diego in for Tamukai on the left, though he’s likely to make the bench at best. Further forward, I believe Watai has been out of the eleven recently due to a niggling injury, and I struggle to see him getting in ahead of, Wednesday’s 2 goal hero, Suzuki from the start here.

Match Prediction

Gamba will be champing at the bit to get another shot at Kawasaki after the 5-0 mauling last month, so I think they’ll do just enough to edge this one 2-1.