I know, I know. “Why are you talking about FC Gifu? You should be remaining impartial!” I get it, and that is why I’ve enlisted the help of someone who knows a lot more than me about FC Gifu, my old mate @GifuRichy.
It has been a very interesting time in Gifu this year. A new manager, a new style, a new foreign goalkeeper, a new captain – to paraphrase a popular pop song, it has been a whole new world.
It is very different this year, isn’t it? What’s going on in Gifu?
After years in J2 surviving by the skin of their teeth, FC Gifu have finally found some direction on the field. During the Ruy Ramos era the club did a lot of work off the field. Amongst other things, they constructed a club house and upgraded the home stadium at Nagaragawa to be J1-worthy. However on the field, things were a mess, and even after Megumu Yoshida, who took over from Ramos during the 2016 season, rescued the club from the brink of relegation to J3, the future of the club still looked very uncertain.
Late last year though, FC Gifu made perhaps one of the most important acquisitions of their relatively short history when they hired Takeshi Oki as the Manager for the 2017 season.
Oki has implemented a style of play which is pleasing to the eye, and has focused media attention on Gifu’s on-field performances for a change and not the problems that have plagued the club throughout its existence. Added to that is the fact that a good mix of young players have joined the existing squad, creating a great atmosphere of excitement and expectation amongst fans and supporters of the club.
Who of the new midfield trio of Yoshihiro Shoji, Sisinio and Yushi Nagashima has impressed you the most? Do they all bring something different to the table?
They have all been very impressive. Shoji has played superbly. His vision and ability to control the ball from the back has been top class. He also provides valuable leadership and constantly leads the team in the passing rankings meaning that he is highly involved. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Renofa Yamaguchi have struggled this year without him.
Sisinio may be one of the smallest players on the field but he is also one of the most physical. He very rarely gets the ball taken from him, is an aggressive tackler and like Shoji, is an artist when it comes to passing.
Nagashima has brought a lot of energy into the midfield and he is constantly testing the opposition. One of Gifu’s biggest problems this season so far is failing to capitalize on all their possession. Nagashima though, isn’t afraid to shoot and his goals have been invaluable for the team.
Gifu’s squad doesn’t have that much depth. In which positions could problems arise if injuries & suspensions hit?
Gifu has enough players that could do the job up front and attacking midfield. By no means do they look like they would blow the opposition away but would provide enough energy to keep the opposition on their toes. Defensive midfield and the back four defenders could be a problem though. The team isn’t exactly super solid at the back now and while Masanori Abe, Aoki Tsubasa and Jun Suzuki etc could do a decent patch up job, I’m not sure they could live up to the likes of Shoji and Henik for example who are used to working under a lot of pressure at the back. Another problem in general is the lack of real game time for half the squad as Oki has virtually stuck with the same 15 or so players for the last 17 rounds. So questions remain on whether all of the players will be physically and mentally ready if thrown into the cauldron.
What do you think would represent a good season for Gifu? Given previous seasons, would you be happy with mid-table mediocrity?
At the start of the season I would have given anything for a season where Gifu don’t have to worry about being relegated. Now though, with the team playing like they are, definitely a single-digit final standing would be ideal (and also a first). In saying that, with Oki at helm, and this group of young hungry players, it would be great to see the team make the play-offs. I fear that some of the players that are thriving this year may be taken back to their old clubs or poached by new clubs, and this year could be the best chance to reach the play-offs. It would also give existing supporters, and also fans who have drifted away from the club because of years of the teams mediocrity, something to cheer about and would ensure good crowds come back again next year.