To confirm the news that has already been discussed extensively in the Comments section, following the end of the 2008 season Omiya Ardija have released no fewer than nine players as well as coach Yasuhiro Higuchi. And with Higuchi gone at the end of what was only a twelve-month contract, it will presumably fall to technical director Haruo Yuuki to take charge of building a competitive first team squad for 2009. If the Sponichi sports paper is to be believed, Yuuki has moved quickly to make a formal offer for thirty-year-old international Yuji Nakazawa, currently out of contract at Yokohama F Marinos.
Such a deal may be a long shot for a club the size of the Squirrels, although the fact that Yuuki was on the staff at the Sailors before coming to Omiya means that there is some connection between the two parties; Nakazawa is also a local boy, having attended school in Kasukabe. But given the announcement that Leandro is one of the players to leave, a priority for Ardija 2009 is to have a strong replacement central defender and in that regard Nakazawa would without question fit the bill.
The other main first teamer to leave along with Leandro is terrier-like midfield man Naoya Saeki, who has picked up the majority of his starts in the latter part of the season just finished. Mainly used to break down opposition attacks, the former Vissel Kobe player has never looked entirely at home during his three years at Omiya and although he can perhaps consider himself a little unlucky not to have his deal renewed, at very nearly 31 Saeki's age may also have counted against him.
Leandro and Saeki aside, the most attention will probably be given to the departure of Squirrels' legendarily underperforming front three of Hiroshi Morita, Naoto Sakurai and Kota Yoshihara. Morita originally came to Omiya on loan from Albirex Niigata during the promotion season in 2004 but under Higuchi the 30-year-old managed just one first team start. To be fair, he did contribute one vital goal this year as a substitute - the winner at Gamba Osaka back in April - but most supporters will feel that Morita has had enough chances with Ardija.
The same can be said of the seemingly perpetually injured Sakurai, scorer of just nine goals since coming to Omiya in 2005 - and none at all in the last two seasons. Younger members of the squad like Masahiko Ichikawa and Daisuke Watabe will one imagines be clapping their hands with glee at the news that Sakurai and the speedy but inaccurate Yoshihara have at last been shunted out the door. Ichikawa in particular had his first team opportunities severely restricted despite a very impressive scoring record with the reserves and will surely hope to be higher up the pecking order next year.
Forward Manabu Wakabayashi and defender Akira Ishigame also leave after having spent 2008 loaned out to J2 sides Ehime FC and Thespa Kusatsu respectively. Takuro Nishimura seemed to acknowledge that he was lucky to be asked to stay on for 2008 despite a catalogue of errors at the end of the previous year, while the time of former first-choice keeper Hiroki Aratani has also passed. Aratani, a good servant to the club but one who eventually lost his starting slot to the better man in Koji Ezumi, one especially hopes will be able to find himself a decent club.