After the disappointment suffered at the end of season 2013 when we managed to throw away a four point lead at the top of the table with just two games to go, F.Marinos fans are starting to gear up for the new season. New signings, new shirts and the announcement of the first challenges that await us this season are a sure fire way to shake off any hangover lingering from last season. In this post, I’ll summarise the close season and any significant news that occurred in that time.
Standing on the terraces in Todoroki on December 7th as the final whistle blew, I felt a unfamiliar numb feeling take over. Not since 2005 when my beloved Celtic lost the title on the now infamous ‘Helicopter Sunday’ had I felt so strongly over a match. Watching Shunsuke breakdown on the field gave me the impression that he felt that this had been his chance to finally win a title that has so far eluded him throughout his illustrious career. As Brendan, Stuart and I left the stadium to join friends in Noge after the game to drown our sorrows, I couldn’t help but look at some of the faces in the stands around us. Desolate. Gutted. We marched back to the train station lamenting all of the missed opportunities over the course of the season.
Maybe it was the cold beer that greeted us as we arrived back in Yokohama, but within a few hours a sense of perspective kicked in and all of a sudden things didn’t seem as depressing. Sure, we’d blown an incredible opportunity to pick up the title, but what a journey it had been for a side that, quite frankly, weren’t fancied to finish much higher than 4th or 5th. We’d had the pleasure of seeing Shunsuke play some of the best football of his career, witnessed the Manabu Saito transition from a hot-prospect in to a member of the national team and watched one of the most solid defences in the league frustrate opponent after opponent over the course of the season. We’d enjoyed games like the match vs Nagoya away, when the drama of a last-minute penalty save gave us the 3 points and set Tetsuya Enomoto on the course to become a player of the year candidate. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, was it?
As the night went on, attentions turned to the next game on our schedule. After a 2 week gap we would play Oita Trinita in the cup. Immediately, there was a buzz about the conversation again. Fans on twitter and in bars began to discuss the possibility of a cup victory and one a big day out at the national stadium for everyone to enjoy. “Come back for Tennouhai!” was the order given to me by fans after I finished my last beer and made my way back to the station to head to my hotel. I admired their optimism at the time but the events of the day had taken their toll on me and at that point, I had no appetite for the battle that lay ahead.
I missed the game against Oita. I could have watched it, but I was working at 9.00am that morning and had convinced myself that the 4.00am kick-off was ‘too early’ for me. We ground out a victory in extra time, but I took no pleasure from the win and resolved to not miss a game for such a shoddy reason again. As it turns out, our Brazilian forward Marquinhos decided to miss that game… and every other game after that. Bizarrely, Marquinhos was allowed to depart the club almost immediately after the game at Todoroki, and took no part in the Emperor’s cup campaign that followed. Despite hitting 16 goals in the season, Marquinhos hit the dry spell to end all dry spells in mid-August and failed to score a single league goal after that. Endearing himself to fans further, he has since returned to Japan and signed for newly promoted Vissel Kobe.
After missing the game against Oita, I got up bright and early the following week, looking forward to the match against Sagan Tosu at home. A victory here would see us head in to the final on new years day. In what was a tough match against a game Tosu side, I watched with delight as Shingo Hyodo scored just his second goal in four months in the 86th minute to put us ahead. Shunsuke finished the game off in style with a wonderful finish and, just like that, we were back.
Fans, buoyed by the performance against Tosu, sold out their allocation for the final in no time at all and everyone was excited for the final. Sanfrecce Hiroshima, the side that pipped us the the title just 3 weeks earlier, were the opposition. Having defeated Hiroshima twice over the course of the season already, losing the title to them had left a sour taste, and the players set out to gain their revenge against the league champions.
In what was a largely dominant performance, F.Marinos defeated Sanfrecce thanks to two first half goals to seal a win in the last game of the season. Goals from Manabu Saito and Yuji Nakazawa sealed the cup for F.Marinos and sparked scenes of celebration in the stands and in bars all across Kawasaki… although not everyone had a medal.
Within a few days, news began to filter through of players renewing contracts for the season ahead. Kurihara, Nakazawa, Tomisawa, Nakamachi, Saito and Shunsuke all signed on the line for the upcoming season. Yuzo Kobayashi eventually signed up too. Surprisingly, 40-year old Brazilian left-back Dutra (affectionately known as the ‘King of Awful’ by my fellow posters and I!) signed on for one more run at it. The squad that had taken us to the bring of the J1 title would be together again when the league kicks off again in March.
With the departure of Marquinhos, a 16-goal gap was created up-front. Fans immediately began to ask who could fill this void, with second string striker Fujita and youngster Hanato failing to truly convince that either could replace the Brazilian over the course of the season. Reinforcements were required, and the club set out to find a proven goalscorer that could fire us to the title as well as perform in the Asian Champions League. Rumours spread that F.Marinos had once again offered a contract to experienced Jubilo Iwata forward Ryoichi Maeda, but, again, the deal fell through. Instead, the club moved to secure two new forwards in the shape of Takuro Yajima from Kawasaki Frontale and Sho Ito, a promising young striker from Shimizu S-Pulse. As with Fujita and Hanato, neither striker is a proven goalscorer and fans will be keen to see another new face before the season begins.
Reinforcements have arrived in other areas of the field too, with former national team midfielder Jungo Fujimoto making the move from Nagoya Grampus. He’ll be joined by the versatile Yuta Mikado who has joined the club from Alibirex Niigata, and former Gamba Osaka and Omiya Ardija defender, Takumi Shimohira.
In other close season news, the new uniform for season 2014 was announced recently and is pictured below. Shunsuke Nakamura sparked a frenzy amongst fans by reverting back to his original ‘number 10′ jersey, with more than 50% of the 3000 shirts sold on the day of their release featuring his name.
Of course, I can’t discuss the close season without mentioning the J-League division 1 player of the year awards. As mentioned earlier, Shunsuke had an incredible season last year, and this was acknowledged on December 10th when he was voted league MVP for the second time in his career. Let’s hope his form can continue in to season 2014.
Finally, with the new season approaching fast, the J-league were kind enough to announce the first fixture of the new league season. F-Marinos will face-off against Omiya Ardija at the Nissan stadium on 2nd March 2014. Before that though, there’ll be yet another day out at Kokuritsu to play Sanfrecce in the XEROX super cup. There is also the small matter of a trip to Korea to play Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the group stages of the ACL, our first appearance in Asia’s premier tournament for almost a decade and one that we’ll be keen on doing well in.
… let’s go in to 2014 with confidence! Vamos F-Marinos!