Things are not all good in the orange half of Saitama. After a fine 2016 season, hopes were high that Ardija would look to challenge in and around the top half of the table again. Alas, it hasn’t really gone to plan.
In the first in the series looking at the current climate in the J.League, Steve Barme gives us the lowdown (emphasis on the “low”) on Omiya Ardija’s season to date.
1. To put it mildly, this season has been disappointing. What’s the deal?
Omiya has always been a “confidence” team. When things are going well, Omiya seems like they are virtually unbeatable and go on streaks. When things are bad, however the team tends to magnify mistakes and stink up the pitch. Right now the pitch smells like the men’s room at Akabane station during rush hour….not so fresh.
Injuries haven’t helped things with guys shuttling in and out…..there hasn’t been a set rotation all year which hurts. I’m not sure Omiya has started the same 11 twice in a row all year. That makes it difficult to get into a rhythm.
2. On paper, Omiya look like they have some pretty handy attacking talent in Esaka, Segawa, Omae & Dragan Mrdja. So why do they find themselves in relegation trouble?
Mrdja has been awful and looks like he’s done as an effective J1 player. Esaka has yet to adjust to being the focal point of the offense. Last year, all attention focused on Akihiro Ienaga, which allowed Esaka to find his feet in semi-anonymity. Teams gameplan to stop him first now which has hurt. Omae didn’t come in completely fit and the pressure of being the “big name” to replace Ienaga set him back. Shibuya has just figured out that playing him on the wing where he can get more touches is helping him to be more productive. Segawa is just starting his first year in J1 and his second year as a pro….he’s been one of the few positives this season after dealing with an injury early on.
I think the big factor though is the lack of consistent service from the midfield and back lines. The play from the back 6 has been mostly awful. Akimi Barada was brought in to steady the middle of the pitch, but outside of one big goal in the derby, he’s been the biggest disappointment of the offseason pickups.
3. How long will Hiroki Shibuya get to turn things around?
I have no idea. It seems like he should have been fired awhile ago but there is something to be said about letting a guy sit in his own dumpster fire if there’s no candidate capable enough to put it out. I personally like Shibuya and still hope beyond hope that he figures it out in time to save the club from J2, despite Jon Steele’s secret hopes of having another Kanto venue.
4. And what needs to happen in order for Omiya to get their stuff together?
Better central midfielders, and upgrade in giant foreign strikers and a better left sideback would be a good start. Also, jettisoning dead weight like Tsubasa Oya, Shigeru Yokotani, and Aria Jasuru Hasegawa would be good things to do sooner rather than later. To be fair, the team has failed as a whole, but those three have really not contributed anything this season.
5. Who or what are Ardija supporters pinning their hopes on for the season?
Development of the young players. Levain Cup has been a bit of a welcome respite because the young players have got a chance to step up and earn a place in the 18. Mateus and Yusuke Segawa got starts after putting in good cup performances and guys like Akinari Kawazura and Atsushi Kurokawa have had some credible performances. I can’t speak for Omiya fandom as a whole, but if some good cornerstone type players are developed this season, I can stomach the disaster.
6. Will Omiya be a J1 team at this time next year?
Thanks for that Steve. It will certainly be a taxing summer for the Squirrels, but like the man says, when Omiya get on a roll they can be pretty tough. The Nack5 faithful just have to hope that it happens before it is too late.