These are not pretty times in the northern prefecture of Yamagata. Relegated from J1 last year, Montedio Yamagata find themselves second bottom of J2 and without a win in their first eight games of the season. It is a path that can turn pretty grim, pretty quickly – just ask supporters of Oita Trinita. @sushi_football looks at what is going on, and how this alarming slump can be arrested.
November 30, 2014. 2:50pm. J2 play-off semi-final. Jubilo Iwata and Montedio Yamagata are locked at 1-1, a result that would see Jubilo through to the play-off final. Yamagata get a corner and everyone is sent up for it. Everyone. Including goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi. In a moment that went straight into Japanese football folklore, Yamagishi amazingly arced a header into the top corner and thrust Montedio into the J2 play-off final, a final in which they would beat JEF United Chiba to ascend to J1.
Those heady days seem a long way off right now. Including last year in J1, Yamagata have won just one of their last THIRTY ONE league games. In any language that is shocking state to find yourself in. Right now, the club based in Tendo City, home to the Shogi (Japanese chess) piece making industry, find themselves in a very tight spot. While not a checkmate situation just yet, they can’t afford to let this situation drag on.
It is a common theme for clubs that come down from J1 with a measly points total to struggle in their time back in J2 – just ask Consadole Sapporo, Tokushima Vortis and our now dearly departed Oita Trinita. In a recent episode of the J.Talk Podcast, my friend Jon Steele called it an “existential question” for Yamagata. They might outwardly say that they are going for promotion, but the scars from losing week in week out are not easily healed, and some might subconsciously feel they don’t want to go through that that kind of experience again.
When that mindset sets in, it isn’t easy to suddenly flip the switch and get back to giving your all. I’m not in any way suggesting that Montedio Yamagata players aren’t giving their best, just putting forward the idea that, subconsciously, their motivation might not be what it was.
Of course, there are practical reasons as well. Relegation usually entails a cull of players for financial reasons, as well as the players that feel they are too good for J2. Arguably their key loss went, somewhat ironically, to another J2 club in Matsumoto Yamaga. Masaki Miyasaka had been the light in Monte’s midfield for so long, but ultimately felt the need to move on. He is joined at Yamaga by Takefumi Toma; veteran strike pair of Yuki Nakashima & Masato Yamazaki have also left, as has popular Peruvian Romero Franck.
Yuki Nakashima is banging in the goals for Machida Zelvia
The ins have been underwhelming, probably headlined by soon-to-be 36 year old striker Masashi Oguro. New Brazilian forward Diego Rosa is, as is usual in J2, an unknown quantity and once again Yamagata are left relying on on the other Brazilian Diego to defy his years & his frame to produce another good season.
We are only 1/6 of the way through the season, so it is difficult to make any pertinent distinctions, but they only have to look at last year, and the fate that befell Oita Trinita, to understand what kind of situation they could be facing. Oita are in a lot of ways a similar club to Montedio. They are both the only football club in their area, but they’ve both failed to garner a consistently big enough support to sustain their clubs in J1. Oita last year found out the hard way that a slump is incredibly difficult to break out of, and they succumbed to relegation after being beaten over two legs by then J3 side Machida Zelvia.
So how do Montedio get back on track? It looks a difficult proposition to get something in their next game, which is away in Okayama, but the following run of games will be crucial for them. After Okayama, their fixtures read:
- Kumamoto (H) – assuming it goes ahead, which is no given at this time
- Tokyo Verdy (A)
- Gunma (H)
- Nagasaki (A)
- Kanazawa (H)
- FC Gifu (A)
This stretch of games will be crucial in determining how their season will pan out. There are games on there that look winnable, but it is relative, and the teams on that list won’t fear Yamagata at all and could well feel they are there for the taking. The longer it spirals, the longer it takes to uncoil.
Yamagata is a prefecture of mountains, but they don’t want to leave themselves a mountain that is too high to overcome.