It should have been a season of redemption, the awaited comeback to J2. Instead, Roasso Kumamoto had a decent first part of the year and then tumbled. Their score throughout Autumn was terrible: Roasso were in the Top 2 positions for 20 out of the first 25 games of 2020, but they then had a terrible string of results in the second part of the season (with one game left, they clinched 16 points in 16 games).
Sure, you can say they’re trying to build something, because otherwise they wouldn’t have hired a coach like Takeshi Oki, who brought excitement to FC Gifu (and Kyogo Furuhashi, don’t forget) and managed the rise of young stars at Kyoto Sanga (like Takumi Miyayoshi, Yoshiaki Komai and Yuya Kubo). The same project is in place at Egao Kenko Stadium, but the results haven’t been delivered.
Despite Roasso are already out of contention for promotion, there’s something positive. One move was particularly high-praised from everyone last Winter and it proved to be a game-changer, although it couldn’t turn around the ship by itself: Kaito Taniguchi was signed from Iwate Grulla Morioka and there were concerns about his matching with other center-forwards, but in the end we can say it worked and it probably made Taniguchi a better player than before.
You wonder what’s next in his career, both on short and long-term.
A lonesome star
The move was more than understandable, because Taniguchi probably felt limited playing in Iwate Prefecture. Sure, he had an amazing rookie year, scoring 15 goals in just 23 games and providing some wonders. It was a nice surprise for Grulla, who were transitioning towards a new mascot, a partnership with Borussia Dortmund and the inclusion of the Prefecture’s name in the official denomination of the club.
The sophomore season, though, was bleak. Not only because Taniguchi kept a certain production, but it wasn’t as explosive as the first year, but also because Grulla looked lost. The club had a bleak 2019, coming last in the table (nine points shy of 17th place) and not exactly building anything relevant on a medium term. We know clubs like Morioka are not there to win promotion, but it’s tough overcome a season like 2019.
While Iwate actually did a better job this year (between a change of manager and some key-additions), Taniguchi thought it was enough. Maybe he wasn’t up for a J2 move, but he wanted something else. That’s where Roasso Kumamoto came into the picture, providing a chance to grow and maybe a dream of promotion with a side that came fifth the year before.
Roasso had a tumultuous Winter. Missing promotion in their first J3 season – after two second last-bottom place in J2, of which the latter relegated the club – wasn’t ideal and Hiroki Shibuya was let go. They didn’t just replace the coach, though, because they also lost some key-members of the team, like Kazuki Hara and Yuto Takase. Restarting from scratch wasn’t easy and it proved to be tough.
In Kumamoto, Taniguchi learnt something important. Not something new, because changing role wasn’t exactly a news for him: when he was still attending the Gifu Kyoritsu University, he was captain there and he was suddenly pushed forward up the field. Initially fielded as center-back, Taniguchi became a striker and this transformation paved the way to better things in his young career.
Basically, it happened almost the same in Kumamoto, although the change was slighter than the one he went through in university. Oki had enough strikers in the roster, but he couldn’t squander the potential of an established forward. So he opted to move Taniguchi on the left flank, as a winger. But unlike Hikaru Nakahara (who’s a real winger, playing on the right side), Taniguchi was more of a “shadow striker”.
And it worked because at Grulla, Taniguchi used to score mostly in transition or by an individual effort. Instead, with two center-forwards like rookie Toshiki Takahashi and joker Hayato Asakawa, he could start his action from somewhere else and then use the no. 9 as a pawn to disguise himself (and score) or even to produce some assists or work as a “decoy” for his team-mates.
After three seasons and more than 40 goals in this league, it feels that a 25 years-old star should look to higher heights. The project in Kumamoto is surely interesting and we deeply hope that Roasso will be able to come back to J2, especially due to their amazing fans, who last year broke the record for the highest attendance in J3 history. But it feels like Taniguchi could (and maybe should) move over this experience.
There are trajectories in players’ careers and it seems we’re at crossroads for Roasso’s no. 9. Clubs are going to be all over Taniguchi, because he looks like a solid commodity for any J2 team playing to avoid relegation in 2021. Last but not least, is there something more that the striker can actually learn in this league? It seems the development process at this level might be over.
Expect a busy Winter for him and Kumamoto, because keeping him around won’t be easy and replacing a player like this one will probably even tougher. But that’s why future is exciting: everything has to be set in stone and Taniguchi might even have more options than we could possibly think of.