Monday, March 2, 2009

J1 2009 preview: Albirex Niigata

Stadium:Niigata "Big Swan" Stadium (52,600)
Average Attendance 2008: 34,490
Last season's finish: 13th

2009 season's transfers:
DF Gilton (Transferred from Cerezo Osaka)
MF Toshihiro Matsushita (Transferred from Gamba Osaka)
MF Gotoku Sakai (Promoted from youth team)
FW Cho Young-Cheol (Transferred from Yokohama FC)
MF Jun Marques Davidson (Returned from Consadole Sapporo)
MF Yuta Mikado (Drafted from Ryutsu Keizai University F.C.)
FW Pedro Júnior (On loan from Omiya Ardija)
FW Hideo Ōshima (Transferred from Yokohama F. Marinos)
FW Junichi Bruno Castanheira Suzuki (Transferred from Gamba Osaka youth team)
MF Kazuya Myodo (Transferred from Japan Soccer College)
FW Alessandro Nunes (Transferred to Cruzeiro Esporte Clube)
MF Yoshito Terakawa (Teransferred to Shonan Bellmare)
DF Keiji Kaimoto (Retired)FW Kazuhisa Kawahara (On loan to Tochigi S.C.)
GK Yosuke Nozawa (Transferred to Shonan Bellmare)
MF Ayato Hasebe (Transferred to Japan Soccer College)
DF Fitzgerald Michael James (On loan to Japan Soccer College)
GK Yudai Suwa (Transferred to Japan Soccer College)
DF Daisuke Fujii (Transferred to Thespa Kusatsu)

My view on the transfers:
Niigata has lost their topscorer Alessandro as well as GK Nozawa. Apart from those two they've managed to keep all their regulars. Veteran DF Terakawa has left for Shonan,but already turned 34, he's not someone that would have seen too much playing time this year. Niigata has brought in several strikers to replace Alessandro, with Marinos's Oshima being the biggest name. The Korean talent Cho is also new, as well as out-of-favour striker Pedro from Omiya. In defence, left-back Gilton is sure to make an impact on the team, as despite his young age he has shown tremendous skills with Cerezo. MF Matsushita, who were on loan from Gamba, have completed his transfer and is now the property of Niigata.

Preferrable starting line-up:
4-4-2: Kitano - Uchida, Chiyotanda, Nagata, Gilton/Chiba - Honma, Matsushita, Richardes, Tanaka - Yano, Oshima

My view on the team:
Not the best squad, and 2009 might prove to be another tough season for Albirex. They got reasonably quality in all departments, but no profiles that stands out. Albirex looked good on occasions last season, but more often than not they struggled to keep up with the opposing team. Only a nice run near the end of the season saved them from being relegated. Their defence isn't all too bad, but they receive little help from the midfielders, and usually concedes alot of goals. Up front Yano and Oshima are similar types, which might not turn out to be a good thing. Oshima is pretty good at finishing as well though, but his height and physical strength makes him a natural target for the long balls as well. This role Yano has had in the last couple of seasons, so it will be interesting to see how Niigata will play this year.

Player to watch: Gilton

Manager: Jun Suzuki
Suzuki has been in charge since 2006, and haven't really brought anything new to the team. Niigata has the potential to be a big club with their big crowd and healthy economy, but so far they've failed to bring in good enough players to take the next step. So it's not only Suzuki's fault that Niigata have struggled in the last couple of years, but so far he hasn't done anything that suggests he is the right man to take them higher on the table either.

Niigata is one of the most football-crazy places in all of Japan, and despite poor results the fans keep coming in hordes to watch Albirex play. They averaged over 34 000, which is a decrease of almost 4000 since 2007. So clearly the fans are showing signs that they are fed up with the underperforming side. Nevertheless, the fans are among the best in Japan and is of big importance to the club.

Where they will finish:
I think Niigata will have another tough season, and will be involved in the relegation-battle this year as well. Whether or not they are good enough to avoid the drop remains to be seen, but with no real quality players to carry the team forward they might struggle to survive. However, the "Big Swan" is a tough place to travel to, and Albirex usually manages to pick up alot of points at home during a long season.



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