Haven’t done a blog post in a while. I think it is partly to do with my Bronchitis (seriously…the discrepancy in temperatures these days are horrible) but I think it is mostly to do wit the fact the Gifu don’t really have anything tangible to play for.
Gifu are in the rare situation of not being in a relegation fight and I think that has affected the mood / atmosphere around the club. It has been clear for a long time now that we weren’t in relegation danger, and we weren’t getting near the play-offs and so this is what the middle-ground feels like.
In recent weeks, since the slaying by Nagoya Grampus, Gifu have had a really difficult slate of games against top sides in the division:
- Oita Trinita (A) – 3-3
- Tokushima (H) – 0-2
- Tokyo Verdy (H) – 1-2
- Matsumoto (A) – 1-2
Out of these games, the Tokushima game was the only one in which we were properly turned over. Vortis are a good side, and it is surprising to me that they aren’t comfortably in the top six. They are fast, strong & direct when needed, but also have the guile & skill of Taro Sugimoto & Daiki Watari to call upon.
Against Oita, we conceded an injury time equalizer (after coming back from 0-2 down), against Verdy it was in the balance, and in my opinion Gifu were much better than Matsumoto last week. However, looking at the big picture, we have lost five of the last six games which isn’t a good look. As usual, the lack of decisiveness in the front third has been what has cost Gifu games – something that needs to be sorted in the winter, a fact that wasn’t lost on one of our favourite ex-players, Stipe Plazibat:
I’m not really sure what else to say about the current state of FC Gifu. People might disagree with me here, but to be safe with a relatively long time to go in the season is pretty good. We went into this season not really knowing what to expect from this coach & this group of players – but the most important thing was to stay in the division. Mission accomplished. Could we have achieved more? Sure. And we probably should be in mid-table. But I think that this season is a starting point, and I think it is clear where the squad improvements need to be, so in that aspect I think manager Takeshi Oki will – despite being pissed off at being in 17th – be happy that there is some clarity regarding what he needs to do.
My take on that will come post season, but for now I’ll take a brief look at some of the more pressing issues facing the club at this point.
1. Yoshinari Takagi’s retirement
Our back up goalkeeper this year has announced his retirement from the game. He has had a fine career with spells at Tokyo Verdy, Nagoya Grampus & Gifu, but it is no surprise that he is calling it a day. It wouldn’t surprise me if he is selected for Gifu’s final home game of the year against Shonan Bellmare on November 11, just to give him a proper send off. The word is (from Nagoya people) that he will probably take up a position at Grampus upon retirement, but I woudn’t put the possibility of becoming a coach out of the question. More & more this year he has been acting like a coach on the sidelines, and someone with his experience should be able to give back to the game.
2. Player movement
This will come up after the season as well, but it is fair to wonder which players might not be here next year. I think inevitably three names will crop up: Sisinio, Yuki Omoto and Kyogo Furuhashi.
It’s not really a secret that some J1 clubs are interested in what the rookie duo of Omoto & Furuhashi have been producing this year. Representatives from FC Tokyo, Kashiwa Reysol and others have been present in the second half of the season to check on Gifu, and it is highly likely that they are the ones under the microscope. It is my understanding that the two of them actually signed two year contracts coming out of university, meaning they both have a year remaining (although my understanding could be wrong). It is interesting, perhaps, that JSP, Yuki Omoto’s agency, has released a highlights video of their client. If I was being suspicious I’d say it is an attempt to drum up interest (both home & abroad) for their client. If I was being naive I’d say it was an attempt to make people aware of Yuki so that they come to watch him next season. Whatever….it is a situation to keep an eye on.
Sisinio’s situation is a little harder to predict. He’s older, at 31, and so probably doesn’t have a lot of time left in order to make the jump to J1 – which he is undoubtedly good enough to do. The question is is whether he is willing to be patient with Gifu, and with a coach whom he admits he loves working for, and try and reach J1 with Gifu. If he decides not to, then few would blame him. He’s been outstanding this season.
Victor & Yoshihiro Shoji’s names should come up – they’ve both had excellent seasons. But I think (and I hope!!) they stay. Victor still has time remaining on his contract and I don’t think he is in a rush to leave. I know he likes Gifu, and only just recently got married. Shoji is integral to manager Oki’s vision of football, so I don’t think he’ll be going anywhere (Still, this is the J.League so you’re never really sure about transfers or contract status’ and things like that).
I’d really like all of the on-loan players to stay. Takayuki Fukumura has been very good and I think next year Hideyuki Nozawa & Yushi Nagashima would turn into excellent players in Gifu’s system. Hopefully Oki can persuade them.
3. The run-in
But let’s not forget there still three games for Gifu to navigate before the end of the year, starting with a trip north to face Zweigen Kanazawa. Kanazawa are safe themselves after flirting with relegation for the bulk of the season, aided by a highly impressive 3-1 home win against Nagoya Grampus in September. The so called “Hakusan derby” (derby of the white mountains) is the latest attempt to drum up a rivalry for Zweigen. Kanazawa finds it difficult to have genuine rivals due to their geography – up in the Hokuriku area of Japan, their nearest team is actually Kataller Toyama but seeing as they are in J3, that isn’t going to be a viable derby in the near future.
Kanazawa are a humdrum side, but one that has done well to maintain its J2 status. Striker Koichi Sato – scorer of 14 this season and very well known to Gifu supporters after his spell here in the early 2010’s – will look to extend Zweigen’s excellent recent form of just one defeat in the last six (and that defeat was against champions Shonan Bellmare). Interestingly, Kanazawa don’t rely on foreign players – they only have one currently on their books – Korean defender Byeon Jun Byum – and the vast majority of their minutes have been played by Japanese players. I do like their attacking midfielder Keiya Nakami, he’s been excellent in forward positions and around the box leading to an excellent tally of 11 goals this year. The two teams have scored 95 goals between them this year while conceding 112 – so it probably won’t end up a scoreless draw.
Ah….it feels good to get some thoughts down on (virtual) paper again. Hopefully Gifu can sign off the season with a good run of form.