After a break of a approximately a month, Omiya Ardija's first team squad reconvened at the NTT Shiki City training ground on Thursday for their first pre-season training session of 2006. 27 players, including new striker Saul "Speedy" Martinez, took part in two hours of running, passing and turning under the jurisdiction of coach Toshiya Miura and the club's new physical training coach, Elcio. Absent were new young defender Haruki Nishimura and keeper Nobuhisa Kobayashi.
The 2006 season approaches...
The aim of the whole period of pre-season practices will be to incorporate successfully the new players into the Ardija style and to ensure that the whole squad has a proper understanding from an organisational point of view - an approach which, when all is said and done, probably enabled the club to stay in J1 for this season. From that starting point, Omiya seek to become better established in the top division and to achieve a higher finish than 2005's thirteenth.
Miura, looking forward to his third successive season in charge of the Squirrels, said afterwards, "Everyone was very fresh and enthusiastic, it was a good session. We've brought in lots of new players and our feeling is that this will help the club to develop by improving the team across the board. But we also need to have a more mature approach to our organisation and I'm keen that we do this in order to play more attacking football. It's a realistic goal for us to try and get at least fifty points and a top seven finish."
Dreaming of fifty points, Toshiya Miura
One of the old hands from 2005, Chikara Fujimoto, typically had a lot to say as the players re-grouped for a new campaign. "I must admit, it was hard to sleep last night - I was looking forward to meeting everyone again. We've got a lot of new players this season and a lot of experienced players, so I expect the competition for places will be more intense than it was in 2005.
"Competition is the most important factor in helping the team to get better," he said, "So having that pressure all the time - in practice as well as in matches - is going to make a big difference. But today there's been a good atmosphere and I think everyone's enjoyed it. Naoya Saeki and Yukio Tsuchiya were actually at Kobe together and there are a few of these little connections and acquaintanceships that will help to create a family for 2006."
Not surprisingly, many eyes were on Saul Martinez, bought by the club to address the most serious problem of 2005 - the lack of a good goal scorer in the squad. Following on from his first training session with his new team-mates, the Honduran international commented, "I came to Japan because of the good, clean image that the game has here. It's a good environment to play football and the support is developing all the time - these were also decisive factors. As for myself, I've got a lot of self-confidence, I'm quick and have an eye for goal."
Speedy - the centre of attention
The two newcomers from Tokyo Verdy 1969 have both moved to Omiya as a means of supporting the development of attacking play, young star Daigo Kobayashi appearing a little nervous in the new environment. When asked about his hopes for the season, he nevertheless responded by saying that he was keen to make goals - "I receive the ball and keep the play flowing, I'm always looking to pass the ball forwards and create opportunities for the strikers."
A pair of new signings have also been made from another relegated club, Kashiwa Reysol. As well as former international defender Yasuhiro Hato, the controversial figure of Yukio Tsuchiya smiled enthusiastically - and somewhat un-nervingly - throughout the press conference, saying that, "It's been great today, a really nice atmosphere. My play is such that I can fit in anywhere in the back four - I've come to Omiya because I know that the club has big ambitions and I'm looking to help achieve them."
Teeny tiny Yoshihara - look out for Tsuchiya
Most of the other new players were also introduced after the training had finished. Naoya Saeki is a defensive midfielder from Vissel Kobe, who said, "It's going to be my job to keep the ball in midfield - keeping us secure at the back, but looking to get the ball forward quickly and accurately." From Gamba Osaka comes Kota Yoshihara, a consistent scorer throughout his career with Consadole Sapporo and Gamba up until the 2005 season, when he managed just two goals in nineteen appearances. "I'm looking to get back to my goalscoring ways with Omiya, and to do that in pre-season I need to get used to the team and how things are done here."