A brief hiatus, our look at the state of J.League teams is back for another salvo, this time looking at the interesting case of Vissel Kobe. The Rakuten backed club from Kansai’s port city looked prime for a title tilt, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

Alan Gibson, more familiarly known to you and I as @JSoccerMagazine gives us an inside view of what is happening in the crimson world of Kobe.

 

1. This is Nelsinho’s third year at the helm. Have you seen a progression this year compared with how the team was last year?

Thankfully Vissel owners finally took the patient route and kept a manager who didn’t win something immediately, and Nelsinho has settled in, brought in some players he knows (CB Watanabe, LB Hashimoto, FW Tanaka, for example), as well as some experienced players to fight for places and create competition (eg. Hideto Takahashi from FC Tokyo, Naoyuki Fujita from Sagan Tosu), and the all-round squad has improved, with cover in every position. This has proved important as there have, again, been so many injuries.

2. Obviously a lot of attention is focused on the imminent arrival of German legend Lukas Podolski (more on him soon), but has the loss of Leandro, given his excellent form last year, been kind of lost in the shuffle?

I think that Leandro was going to be the key player for Vissel this season, scoring goals freely, leading Vissel to a championship – seriously. Losing Leandro so early (was it the first game of the season?!) has almost meant he’s been forgotten, yes. The return of Keijiro Ogawa might well have helped fill the gap, then he dislocated his shoulder six minutes into his long-awaited comeback game! Injuries have mounted, Vissel have dropped in the table. I’ve digressed, but is there something wrong in the training methods at Vissel? As I write, three of the back four and two of the three key defensive midfielders are out injured! Similar things happened last season …

3. Speaking of Podolski, what are Kobe expecting him to bring to the side?

Originally it was thought he’d be the missing – or added – link in a side that would already be challenging for the title. This looks unlikely, although the lowly position is actually not that far out on points and anything is possible. Throw in 194cm Havenaar Mike (note – full name MUST be used whenever he is mentioned!) into the mix and we’ll be seeing a lot of new interest in the club from overseas, locally-based European football fans, national team groupies. More fans can only be good for the game, and perhaps a late surge can see Vissel win something … or be set up nicely for next season!

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4. Vissel have a reputation for bringing through very good young players and giving them chances in the top team. Who are getting the chance this season?

While injuries have mounted, helping the youngsters get a look-in through necessity, it should be noted that even early season, with more players fit, Nelsinho was already giving the kids some time. Yuya Nakasaka (attacking midfield) has made himself indispensable for the matchday squad, So Fujitani has done well at right back (also making the Japan U20 World Cup squad), Yoshiki Matsushita was getting games at left back even when Hashimoto was fit, and Seigo Kobayashi (who came from the same team as Gamba’s Hiroto Goya and my sometime defensive partner in my own footballing adventures – Josiah Trim – Kwansei Gakuin University) are the four kids getting the most attention.

Junya Higashi and Shinji Yamaguchi are also getting some time, and a lad called Takuya Yasui – who has represented Japan at all the age levels since Under 15 – is also expected to “make it”! That’s a lot of kids for one season. The future is bright, although, you don’t win anything with kids, so hopefully all of the lads will get time over the next year or three and all make it when Vissel win the 2019 championship.

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5. What are the aspirations for Vissel? Are they strong enough to make a run at the title?

At the start of the season – as I said above – I’d have said yes, without a doubt and, even now, considering what’s to come (and come back) it might not be too late to still have a tilt at the top! Perhaps an ACL 2017 place is more realistic. But does a team without ACL experience need that campaign when they should be going for the championship in 2018?!

 

Cheers for that Alan. The glass is always half full for Vissel Kobe!! The latest issue of J.Soccer Magazine is out now, with an interview with Yasuhito Endo, and pieces on FC Gifu goalkeeper Victor, Nagasaki forward Juanma, futsal & much more. Get in touch with Alan at alan@jsoccer.com and he’ll sort you a deal.

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