Rather than an overall season summary, here's a quick overview of how each of Frontale's first team players have fared in 2008.
Some get more of the limelight than others in the match reports, so it's only fair that all the contributors get a bit of attention. That said, some of the less frequent participants - Tasaka, Yabu, Kukino, to name a few - have been glossed over. Maybe we'll see more of them in 2009.
- 1. Eiji Kawashima
- 2. Hiroki Ito
- 4. Yusuke Igawa
- 7. Masaru Kurotsu
- 8. Satoru Yamagishi
- 9. Kazuki Ganaha
- 10. Juninho
- 11. Vitor Junior
- 13. Shuhei Terada
- 14. Kengo Nakamura
- 16. Chong Tese
- 17. Kosuke Kikuchi
- 18. Tomonobu Yokoyama
- 19. Yusuke Mori
- 24. Masahiro Ohashi
- 26. Kazuhiro Murakami
- 29. Hiroyuki Taniguchi
- 34. Renatinho
1. Eiji Kawashima - GK - 25 years old
Decent enough season for big Eiji. 42 goals conceded in 34 J.League games isn't a particularly flattering statistic, but it could have been a lot worse without "safe hands" Kawashima tending the net.
He's an excellent shot stopper and rarely spills even the fiercest drives. The one aspect of his game that lets him down at the moment is his lack of communication with his defenders. One would imagine this will improve with experience.
Very important season coming up for Eiji if he wants to be Japan's No.1 at the 2010 World Cup.
2. Hiroki Ito - DF - 30 years old
Very impressed with Ito this year. Assured under pressure and probably the only Frontale defender not to have attempted an audition for the "Keystone Cops", he's even got his name on the scoresheet a couple of times after several barren years.
Playing in a back 3 he was sometimes left exposed by Yamagishi's lack of defensive metal, but he's looked very comfortable on the left of a flat back 4. The only question mark going into next year is whether he still has the pace to play as an out-and-out fullback.
4. Yusuke Igawa - DF - 26 years old
Igawa's had a tough time this year. There's no doubting his natural ability as a defender, but his concentration often appears suspect and he can be prone to panic when put under pressure.
Will be interesting to see how he responds to the defensive re-organisation that absolutely has to happen in 2009.
7. Masaru Kurotsu - FW - 26 years old
Masaru's scored some decent goals in 2008, but with the current competition for attacking places it's very hard to see him as anything other than a squad player.
Should still get his fair share of football given the packed schedule ahead.
8. Satoru Yamagishi - MF - 25 years old
2008 will have been a strange year for Yamagishi. He made the move from JEF, the club he's been with since schoolboy days, only to discover his new team seems incapable of utilising his strengths but has great ease in exposing his weaknesses.
Although the evidence this year was all too fleeting, Yamagishi is clearly a good wing player, and arguably the best crosser of the ball the team possesses. The problem is that he spent a large chunk of the season as wingback where he saw much more of the ball in his defensive role than in attack.
Presumably Sekizuka had a clear idea of how he wanted Yamagishi to fit into the side. It'll be one of his biggest challenges to now realise that plan.
9. Kazuki Ganaha - FW - 28 years old
We've already spoken enough about the shoddy hand that fate has dealt Kazuki in the past few years. Focussing purely on on-field activity this year, it has to be said that his position behind Juninho, Chong Tese and Renatinho in the pecking order was fully justified.
The decision that he should move on at this juncture was surely motivated by the player as much as by the club. Hopefully he can now succeed in getting his career back on track.
10. Juninho - FW - 31 years old
Juninho has been Frontale's best player and their worst player in equal measure this year. For whatever reason, the whole Hulk debacle seemed to affect him very badly and he looked a shadow of his former self for the first few months of the season. The goals eventually started to come, but it was as provider rather than scorer that he really came to the fore.
Juninho will alway score goals because he's not afraid to shoot. However, 2008's ratio was down to only 1 goal every 10 shots. Maybe now it's time for the Brazilian to focus more on creation rather than execution.
11. Vitor Junior - MF - 22 years old
I don't think it's too strong to say that Vitor's arrival was the singlemost important event of 2008. In Vitor, Frontale finally found someone to fill the gaping hole left in the midfield by Magnum's move to Nagoya. And he's only 22 years old (officially!).
Scoring the winning goal away to Urawa Reds in your debut is bound to leave a lasting impression, but Vitor completely revitalised the team, most notably Juninho who was like a new man in the second half of the season.
He did seem to run out of steam a little in the last few weeks, but expect to see great things once he's rested and back to full fitness in 2009.
13. Shuhei Terada - DF - 33 years old
A bit of a mixed bag for Shuhei this year. Like Igawa, he's been terribly error-prone at times and had a long battle with injury in the middle of the season. Then again, he's had some really commanding performances which have been rewarded by the Japan NT selectors.
His biggest challenge for 2009 is trying to keep injury at bay - something which, at his age, is becoming more and more difficult.
14. Kengo Nakamura - MF - 28 years old
In some ways Kengo will surely be glad to see the back of 2008. Not only did he find himself captaining a team in crisis early on in the year, he was also the only player on the pitch creative enough to open up the opposition defence, as well as being the only defensively-minded midfielder looking to protect the men behind him.
It has to be said, he's been short of spectacular this season, which (from him) is a little disappointing. However, when taking into account the huge responsibility he's had to bear it's certainly excusable. Here's hoping Sekizuka will take some of the burden off his shoulders.
Kengo is another player for whom 2009 will be pivotal in deciding his 2010 World Cup fate.
16. Chong Tese - FW - 24 years old
Despite occasionally playing like he's never seen a football before, let alone kicked one, Chong Tese has cemented himself as a core member of the Frontale team in 2008. His strength makes him an ideal target man for long balls and his finishing can, at times, be world class.
There is undoubtedly room for improvement. He has games where he loses possession with alarming ease and regularity, and his accuracy in front of goal can be as dazzling woeful as it is sometimes dazzling brilliant. The important thing, however, is that he is improving season by season. Try not to be too surprised if you see him collecting the golden boot award this time next year.
17. Kosuke Kikuchi - MF - 23 years old
Kikuchi was the defensive option introduced in midfield to free up Kengo. To be blunt, it didn't really work.
He's still only 23 years old, but I think if he wants to develop as a defensive midfielder he needs to be at a club where there's already an experienced expert in that position to help bring his game on.
18. Tomonobu Yokoyama - DF - 23 years old
Yokoyama impressed greatly when he filled in for the injuries at centre back in the middle of the season. As well as being solid defensively, he looks very comfortable in possession, even in advanced areas of the field, which is something of a rarity. Look forward to seeing much more in 2009.
19. Yusuke Mori - MF - 28 years old
Like Yamagishi, Mori isn't ideally suited to the role of wingback because he doesn't have the requisite defensive fortitude. Unlike Yamaigishi, however, Mori does see a lot of the ball in attacking positions and has repeatedly impressed with his ability to go past defenders and get balls in from the bye-line.
A long spell out with injury this season hasn't helped Mori fully establish his worth and one wonders if this will affect Sekizuka's choices in terms of player acquisitions and system re-organisation for 2009.
24. Masahiro Ohashi - MF - 27 years old
It's been said before, but the arrival of Vitor put paid to Ohashi's Frontale career.
He showed great vision and a good passing range in the early stages of the season. But he seems to be very much a confidence player and when only getting the occasional chance to impress from the bench he was never able to turn on the magic. Hopefully he'll get more opportunities to prove his undoubted talent at his new club.
26. Kazuhiro Murakami - MF - 27 years old
Listed as a midfielder, this season has shown that if Murakami is anything, he's a full back.
Given a chance to show what he's made of when Mori got injured early in the year, there was an obvious contrast between the two players' skill sets - what Mori lacks in defence, Murakami lacks in attack.
The wingback role really doesn't suit him, but the move to a back 4 later in the year allowed him to show that he's certainly got what it takes as an out-and-out defender.
29. Hiroyuki Taniguchi - MF - 23 years old
An eventful year for Taniguchi - not least due to his summer spent in Beijing with an underperforming Japanese Olympic team.
He's won a lot of fans in 2008, not just for the number of goals he's notched up, but also for the significant stages at which those goals have come - single-handedly rescuing games on a few occasions. His overall contribution has sometimes been called into question, but even here there has been a definite improvement and plenty of hope for more.
He seems to have taken a lot from his international experience and is clearly learning a lot from playing alongside the likes of Kengo and Vitor. Not sure he's got what it takes to move on to the next level and book a ticket to South Africa, but certainly happy to be proved wrong.
34. Renatinho - FW - 21 years old
Is this the man destined to take over Juninho's mantle as Frontale's star striker? There have certainly been promising signs in 2008, but there have also been question marks - particularly over his attitude.
Renatinho has great ball control, a good finish and looks to have the best striker's instinct of any of Frontale's forwards. He also has the kind of arrogance that can either give an added edge to a striker's game or, if left unchecked, ruin a promising career. Hopefully the experienced Juninho can guide his young fellow countryman along the right path.