Urawa Reds have been operating at a loss – on the pitch, at least – for far too long now. Could this be the year they get back to winning ways…?
It’s impossible to make any reliable calls ahead of the season – particularly when clubs hold their “new season” festivities (new kits, sponsors, player announcements etc.) more than six weeks before the first J.League matches kick-off – although I have a feeling that Urawa Reds could become a real force to be reckoned with again this year.
On first impressions their recruitment may not look to have been anything spectacular, but closer inspection reveals a consistent theme in head coach Mihailo “Mischa” Petrovic’s thinking.
Aside from youngster Toyofumi Sakano, who has returned to the club after a spell with Meiji University, the players arriving in Saitama all have one thing in common: plenty of J1 experience.
Daisuke Nasu, Ryota Moriwaki, Kunimitsu Sekiguchi and Shinzo Koroki are all seasoned campaigners in the Japanese top flight and will each bring something extra to the club which is desperate to build on its third place finish in 2012 by claiming a title for the first time in six years.
While it is hard to see Nasu or Sekiguchi forcing their way into the starting eleven early on, they are undoubtedly upgrades on Mizuki Hamada and Tatsuya Tanaka – the players they are replacing – with Nasu a former J.League champion while with Yokohama F.Marinos and able to play anywhere across the back three, and Sekiguchi a talented player who not so long ago was involved with the full national team.
He has admittedly been in stuttering form over the past eighteen months, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Alberto Zaccheroni was impressed enough to call him into his maiden Japan squad and someone with that ability doesn’t become a bad player overnight.
Moriwaki, like Nasu, now also has experience of winning J1 thanks to his success with Sanfrecce Hiroshima last year and will certainly inject some life into Reds. Rather like fellow former Sanfrecce defender Tomoaki Makino he is often lauded as much for his impact off the pitch as he is on it, and this was evident in his introductory remarks at the conference unveiling the new signings at Saitama Stadium last week.
While such comments are usually kept to clichéd and trite platitudes about ‘challenges’ and ‘great fans’ the 26-year-old instead drifted way off tangent to deliver a five minute description of his difficulties finding an apartment upon arrival in Urawa due to the snowstorm which had enveloped kanto. “Sorry, that’s actually quite a boring story isn’t it?” he concluded, having lightened the mood in a room on the verge of sleep after much sponsor-spiel.
Shinzo Koroki isn’t anywhere near as comfortable with a microphone in hand, as he himself admitted as he sheepishly took centre stage after Moriwaki, but he could also prove to be a shrewd signing.
Not many make the leap across the treacherous divide between Kashima Antlers and Reds and it is a mark of his character that Koroki didn’t baulk at the opportunity when there must have been other, safer, alternatives available.
The 26-year-old is yet to totally fulfil the potential he showed earlier in his career – I’m thinking in particular about the lethal combination he formed with Marquinhos as Antlers were crowned champions in 2009, when Koroki actually scored the goal that sealed the title against Reds in Saitama on the last day of the season – but he is a natural finisher, which Reds have long been crying out for.
He also has more experience of the Asian Champions League than many of his new teammates, with four campaigns and 10 goals under his belt from his time in Kashima. Quite whether he is a traditional striker capable of leading the line alone at home and abroad, however, is still up for debate.
Indeed, while Reds’ new acquisitions each impress in their own way perhaps the most notable aspect of the new squad sheet was the continued absence of a number nine.
Does that indicate that Petrovic is keeping his eyes and ears open and waiting for the right player to become available (perhaps Tadanari Lee, another former charge, if his time at Southampton continues to be as torrid?), maybe as a fillip in mid-season, or, alternatively, is it because Mischa doesn’t intend to play a centre forward at all?