The phrase “evolution, not revolution” is particularly apt today, as it was announced (although it wasn’t a surprise) that coach Takeshi Oki will continue in charge of FC Gifu for the 2018 season.
I think everyone is familiar with what has happened in Gifu this year. The implementation of a pass-pass-pass-pass approach has made household names (well, if those households have DAZN) of Yoshihiro Shoji & Sisinio, as well as fostering the exponential improvement of defender Masanori Abe and introducing exciting youngsters Kyogo Furuhashi & Yuki Omoto.
The stats tell you what you need to know about Oki’s football. Gifu pass the ball most in the league with an average (!) of nearly 700 passes per game, and they have possession for longer than any other team in the league at 63% per game. The aforementioned Shoji & Sisinio are widely admired for their strict adherence to Oki’s footballing principles and not hoofing or booting the ball away. That’s not to say they don’t go long, but when they do it isn’t aimless – a long pass is very different to a long ball. Shoji & Sisinio both like to showcase their long passing prowess when possible (even if I would like to see it more often).
The fact that Gifu keep possession for such a long time should make the game conditions more favourable to them, no? Well, the results this don’t bear it out. There’s a lot of passing, but often too much just in the middle of the pitch, where opposition teams don’t really have to do anything other than shuffle around five yards to the left, then five yards to the right just to stay in shape. The reason I mentioned that I’d like to see Sisi & Shoji spray passes longer more often is that they force teams to shift and adjust quickly and that’s when they are at their most vulnerable. Most of Gifu’s good play comes when they get the ball wide to Fukumura or Furuhashi on the left, Omoto or Paulo on the right. This is because the midfield have set this up: deliberately keeping the ball in close quarters before drilling the opposition with a possible two-on-one with their full back. Possession is nine tenths of the law, but that other ten percent is where Gifu need to improve.
I think it is also fair to say that Oki doesn’t really like doing things in front of the TV cameras. His pre and post game interviews are one word/one phrase masterpieces that make me feel a whole lot better about my own limited Japanese.
He doesn’t really feel like answering questions immediately after the game, and when he does, those answers aren’t really that positive. Sisinio tells me that he is really positive in the changing room, going around giving everyone encouragement, but that very really comes across in interviews. I’ll be interested to see/hear what he has to say during the end of season ceremony on Saturday. The one thing that I will say about Oki and his staff, is that they are very respectful of the supporters. I’ve not once seen him hide from the post game walk around the pitch, even after the humiliating losses against JEF United, Kamatamare Sanuki etc. He and his staff are always there, showing that they are with the players. I expect he’ll get a very warm reception from the supporters on Saturday night.
Is 17th (or even 18th) what we expected this year? Yes and No – depending on your positivity levels in pre-season. Personally, I’m happy we stayed in the division although I do feel our playing style warrants a better points total. At the Nagoya game in Toyota, I was talking with a long time Gifu supporting friend of mine who said (while drunk, it has to be said….) “If we keep Oki for three years, we will have a chance to go to J1. His teams play very well, and he’s an excellent coach” We will enter year tow next year, and it will be time to see some progress.
With all that said, Oki will have a list as long as Pink Floyd guitar solo of things to do for next year. But there are a few things I would point him in the direction of.
The retention of Takayuki Fukumura
Fukumura is a difficult player to define. He is classed as a left back, but in reality I think he is a player who, in the venerated Dutch scheme, is a total footballer. He finds himself anywhere on the field, and not in any kind of unplanned Shun Nogaito WHAT ARE YOU DOING THERE?? kind of situation, but in controlled chaos kind of way. He gives Gifu so much going forward, that his defensive lapses are easy to forgive. Him and Furuhashi have struck up a good understanding on the left, and to be quite honest there isn’t another left back capable of filling Fukumura’s role. It is my understanding that he is out of contract at Shimizu S-Pulse at the end of the season, and so I would assume that Gifu would make a big push to sign him.
Keeping the Sisinio/Shoji axis in midfield
Of course, Oki wants to retain the services of his tow best midfielders, but that will be easier said than done. Sisinio no doubt has a lot of offers heading his way, but he likes playing for Oki and if the manager can sell his vision of 2018, he might be able to persuade Sisi to join him. Shoji will almost certainly stay – that is my educated guess. Sisinio loves playing for Oki, and loves the style of play Gifu implement. Whether he’ll stay is still up in the air though.
Yoshihiro Shoji leads the team out for the warm up
Find a sharper cutting edge
Hiroaki Namba is going on 34, Alex is often injured (but does look very good when he plays) and Koya Kazama is still transitioning from attacking midfielder to forward. Gifu really need someone capable of hitting 15-20 goals per year to take advantage of all the creativity this side possesses. Just a random name, but if Gifu had Matsumoto Yamaga forward Hiroyuki Takasaki, we would be a play-off caliber team. Someone who can occupy defenders, make the right runs at the right time, and can get into scoring areas & finish off moves.
If Alex can stay fit, he could be the solution up front
There are a selection of players that might fit the criteria, but some that come to mid for me include:
- Kagoshima United forward Noriaki Fujimoto
- Azul Claro forward Takuya Sonoda
- Nagoya Grampus forward Ryo Nagai
- Current on-loan forward (and injured) Kensei Nakashima
Any of these players could give Gifu a focal point going forward. If the creativity level is as high next year, then we can’t afford to keep wasting chances.
But I trust Oki. He knows exactly what he wants, and I’ve no doubt that he’ll search high & low to bring in the players needed. Hopefully we can put on a good show on Saturday afternoon when we welcome champions Shonan Bellmare to Nagaragawa. A win would be just rewards for Takeshi Oki.