Now or Never

Can you live through good seasons and still come up short? Yes, if you’re living through a playoffs-less J2. Being third in 2020 and fourth in 2021 wasn’t enough for V-Varen Nagasaki, who didn’t enjoy the classical appendix of every year, since J. League erased the opportunity of a third promotion. No playoffs in both seasons, no chance of taking the last train to heaven.

At the same time, though, 2022 might provide the best chance around for Nagasaki. In fact, none of the four relegated teams seems in the right conditions to sweep the opponents and clinch a Top 2 finish (maybe Yokohama FC? Maybe, but we wouldn’t put our hearts to it). In this strange situation, V-Varen have just to pick up the job from where they started in the last two years.

Therefore, what’s needed to take it up a notch and win an awaited return to J1 after five years? V-Varen Nagasaki are surely the “readiest” team among the ones who remained in J2 after 2021. They lost almost no piece – although the departures of Maikuma and Nagura might be missed –, they kept their head coach (who turned it around last season) and they added an excellent plus upfront.

Will it be enough? We’ll know the final result in November, but surely the odds look good at the Transcosmos Stadium, with a real chance to book their ticket to the 2023 J1.

Happy Times

It wasn’t always like this, though. When V-Varen got promoted from JFL to J2 in 2012, their trajectory wasn’t meant to forecast a promotion. Sure, the steady hand of Takuya Takagi granted them certain stability in the changing scenario of the second tier. Furthermore, Nagasaki booked immediately a spot in the playoffs in their maiden season, repeating the feat in 2015.

None of those two playoff runs brought a promotion, but most of all V-Varen needed more continuity in the results. Sixth in 2013 and 2015, the club tumbled twice after those runs: fourteenth in 2014, fifteenth in 2016. It seemed impossible to find the right rhythm until… 2017 happened. Nagasaki overcame clubs with more budget and experience, like Nagoya Grampus, Avispa Fukuoka, and others, clinching direct promotion.

The first J1 experience ended with a clear relegation, but that adventure wasn’t about results. The environment finally tasted what a top-tier season meant, the club got some exposure and the famous “Game of Peace” happened against Hiroshima. It was a year to learn, but also to say goodbye to Takagi, ready to leave after an excellent run and six years under his belt.

The Three Years-Wall

The replacement of Takagi was another solid name from the 2010s, the former Vegalta Sendai and Japan U-23 head coach, Makoto Teguramori. His tenure ran for two years, but the first one was difficult, with the club lying mid-table for most of the season, losing most of the mojo gained in the first part. Hiroto Goya scored 22 goals, but something different grew up that year.

For example, Caio César and Hiroki Akino were acquired. Nagasaki created a small Brazilian colony, adding Luan, Freire and even Edigar Junio in 2020. It almost worked: V-Varen topped the table for a few months, losing the Top 2 spots, but staying always on the tail of Tokushima and Avispa. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough and – with one game still to play – direct promotion was lost after a 1-1 home draw against Ventforet Kofu.

Once Teguramori left to return in Sendai, V-Varen lost their next shot at promotion by choosing the wrong manager: Takayuki Yoshida lived through mixed times at Vissel Kobe but didn’t prove his value once he was picked as the head coach in Nagasaki. He lasted just two months, before the appointment of Hiroshi Matsuda – who hadn’t coached in eight years and was the academy’s director at the club – changed it all.

Matsuda fixed every possible problem and, since his hiring, Nagasaki racked up 64 points in 30 games, shy of just five points from Júbilo Iwata, but doing more than Ventforet Kofu and Kyoto Sanga. They had the best attack, the second-best defense, won both matches against Sanga: the potential is clearly there to be improved and brought to a better level in this upcoming season.

The final piece

What was missing? Probably a marquee player, someone who could integrate with Edigar Junio and even fill in in case of injuries. Nagasaki have found that someone in Cristiano da Silva (35 goals in 79 J2 games), 35 years old and ready to move on after seven years with Reysol. Although the Brazilian footballer made history in Kashiwa, his leadership and skills could fill the void left by the departures of Luan and Wellington Rato.

But that’s not all: losing Maikuma (to Cerezo Osaka) and Nagura (to Vegalta Sendai) could be harmless, given how V-Varen signed also Okui, Muramatsu, but most of all Koya Okuda, who has been the undisputed MVP of Mito HollyHock in 2021. And if you add the confirmation of Caio César and the awaited sophomore seasons of Yuya Kuwasaki and mostly Asahi Uenaka, V-Varen are upfront among favorites.

If you connect all the dots, V-Varen are really at crossroads: missing this chance might mean it could be tougher to come back to J1, but if they take it, it’d bring so much to the club. And surely Nagasaki would properly prepare better for a second attempt to the topflight. We can’t wait to see if all these premises will be confirmed or not.

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