Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reasons To Be Cheerful

The 2010 season kicks off in just seven days with an ACL qualifier against Korea's Seongnam Ilhwa FC. So if I'm planning to squeeze in an unwieldy pre-season brain-dump summarising the current state of the team, I suppose now would be the time.


Between the sticks Frontale are blessed with Eiji Kawashima - the most likely heir to Seigo Narazaki's Japan No. 1 shirt.

Despite dropping a clanger when it mattered most (in the Nabisco Cup final) Eiji was outstanding in 2009. His importance to the team in 2010 is reflected by his elevation to the role of vice-captain.

Eiji has improved on his positional awareness. And the older he gets, the more commanding he becomes. If he could just be a bit more decisive on crosses, his game would be complete.

Losing a player of Eiji's quality would be a major setback for any team, but young Riki Sugiyama looks an able deputy. He impressed in his handful of appearances last year and looks set to continue as the second-choice keeper.


Defence has been Frontale's achilles heel for as long as most people can remember. There were definite signs of improvement in 2009, but only after several weeks of rearguard experimentation had ensured the traditional faltering start to the season.

Last year a back four of Mori, Kikuchi, Ito and Murakami turned out to be the team's strongest hand. The fact that three of those are converted midfielders speaks volumes about the amount of tinkering that went on before arriving at that conclusion.

Kikuchi was an absolute revelation at centre-back in 2009 (having looked well out of his depth in midfield in 2008). He now needs to maintain that level of performance and with any luck continue to learn and improve.

Replacing Murakami with an established left-back like Komiyama should help tighten things up further. Komiyama has a reputation as a solid defender, but is also said to have a good delivery when overlapping on the wing - an area where Murakami was often found wanting.

Ideally, similar quality could have been brought in on the right to put Mori's position under pressure. Following his Nabisco Cup antics, the right back's future at the club was called into question by some. And while his attacking threat is undeniable, his defending still leaves a little to be desired (although last year was certainly a step in the right direction). Interesting, then, to see Mori named as a vice-captain for 2010 (alongside Eiji and Taniguchi) - presumably an effort to help tame his erratic nature.

With a mixture of youth and experience - Sonoda, Igawa, Terada, Sahara - all pushing hard to win a place in the starting eleven, it's looking more encouraging at the back than it has for a long time. It will be interesting now to see whether the policy of all-out attack, adopted during Takahata's last spell in charge, will be tempered by the fact that the team now actually has the personnel to form a reasonably solid defence.


2009's defensive improvements owed much to the extra cover provided by the midfield. One would expect Inamoto to adopt the holding role in 2010, but the fact that Yokoyama, Terada and indeed Kikuchi can all be deployed either as defensive midfielders or centre backs allows for a healthy degree of flexibility.

Taniguchi was another player given greater defensive responsibility last year. Employed as a box-to-box midfielder, the team enjoyed less of his attacking prowess but time and again reaped the benefit of his presence in Eiji's penalty area. Expect to see more of the same this time round.

While Inamoto's reputation in Europe is predominantly as a holding player, it's surely not just his defensive mettle that coach Takahata will be looking to exploit. Junichi possesses the kind of vision and passing range that will help take some of the creative burden off Kengo's shoulders, and provide more options against opponents who choose to sit back and play Frontale at their own game.

With Vitor unlikely to be available for the start of the season, some of the new generation of attacking talent may get the opportunity to make an impression - at least from the bench. For me, Tasaka was disappointing last year. And, although he seems to be having a good pre-season, I'd much rather see Noborizato, Kimura and Kusukami getting more first-team action under their belts.

Overall, there seems to be a much better depth of talent in midfield now. And with seats on the plane to South Africa still very much up for grabs, Frontale stand to benefit greatly from that extra incentive.


Despite his advanced years, Juninho is still the main man up front and almost single-handedly carried the team through a difficult spell last summer. He's a terrible one for squandering good attacking openings, but you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Nor can you deny his overall-consistent scoring record.

Consistency is the one thing still alluding Chong Tese. 2009 should have been his year, but despite a decent start he seemed to get weighed down by his busy schedule for both club and country. With the added excitement of a World Cup appearance in the summer, could this be the year that Chong finally emerges from Juninho's shadow?

Similar inconsistency haunts Renatinho. The young pretender to Juninho's throne has shown glimpses of greatness, but is still yet to prove himself as an out-an-out goal scorer. He needs to be aiming for double figures this season.

Given the need for squad rotation, I imagine Yajima and Kurotsu will still see their fair share of action in 2010. However, I can't see either of them putting any real pressure on the big three. It will be more interesting to see whether either of the new boys, Kobayashi or Takasu, can raise themselves up the pecking order.


The anticlimactic end to the 2009 season and the ensuing departure of coach Sekizuka could have been a major blow, had the club not acted quickly and decisively to put Takahata back in charge. The core of the squad is still the same, but (unlike in recent times) quality has been brought in where it's most needed. And while Takahata will undoubtedly bring new ideas to the table, the fundamental philosophy of the club remains unchanged.

My biggest hope this year is to see the team hit the ground running. It might be tricky with the likes of Juninho and Vitor missing pre-season and with Inamoto yet to fully acquaint himself with his new surroundings. But when you look at the final standings for the past two seasons and then look back at the patchy results during the opening weeks of both seasons, you can't help but wonder what if...

I'm not going to ruin another year with predictions of silverware. But given the steady improvements that appear to be taking effect in the squad, I can't see any reason why the Frontale faithful shouldn't be erring on the side of optimism in 2010.


Geoff said...

Thanks again for the tips on purchasing tickets. I managed to get tickets for the match at Urawa. I couldn't get away supporters seats, however, I am pretty stoked to be going to this match regardless. It should be great fixture.


manyar said...

Good work, Geoff. Always a great atmosphere at the Urawa games. And the occasion usually brings a good performance out of the players, too. Enjoy!

What ended up being the best method for you (if you don't me asking)?

Geoff said...

The earliest way was to get tickets was through the presale that started on 02/19/10 which is found here:


My wife ordered the tickets on-line and then we had to ask my mother-in-law, who lives in Japan, to go down to the convenience store and pick them up.

It was not convenient, however, at least I have my tickets.

My wife will be in Japan when tickets go on-sale for the games I want to see at Todoroki. I might ask her to pick them up for me, or I may just wait and head down to the stadium on game day.

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