A rookie in 2005 having joined the club from Kokushikan University, Kataoka put in a series of increasingly impressive performances when given an opportunity in the latter part of his inaugural season, capped with a stunning free-kick in the Emperor's Cup against Urawa. Toshiya Miura played him in central midfield ahead of Jun Marques Davidson throughout 2006, but indications are that a defensive role may be required this year.
One of the few bright spots in Kobe's dismal 2005 relegation season, Saeki is a thoughtful, creative defensive midfield player... probably. Omiya fans saw almost nothing of him following his move from Vissel and unsurprisingly he took a loan move to Fukuoka to gain some playing time. After another good pre-season, is Saeki going to be luckier in 2007 and actually get a regular first team spot?
Broke the hearts of Verdy fans when he opted to join Ardija following the Greens' relegation at the end of 2005 and was without doubt the star of the Squirrels' show last year. Attacking midfielder always seeking to make the pinpoint killer pass, was the team's main attacking option as the strikers themselves failed to take responsibility and Fujimoto had an injury-hit season. The club's first-ever full Japanese international and thus guaranteed legendary status.
A key signing two years ago, Fujimoto moved from Kobe to bring flair and experience to Omiya's novice J1 team. Chikara seized the opportunity offered by Miura to have his most successful campaign to date as a left-sided playmaker. But he made less of an impact in 2006, even before a lengthy spell out with injury. Made captain by incoming coach Verbeek, he has more responsibility and more to prove.
Hard to imagine an Omiya squad without Saito, with the club as an amateur since the JFL days of 1998 and still technically an NTT employee. Calm, reliable and a notably intelligent footballer, he may not have the profile of other squad members but can be counted on to do a composed job in the centre of midfield or the back four. Will doubtless make a good number of appearances as a starting member or from the subs' bench throughout the season.
A fringe player at the start of 2006, Hashimoto was finally given a run in the side thanks mainly to Chikara Fujimoto's injury. Left-sided midfield player with a good cross and a fine line in free kicks, he actually emerged as one of the stars of the season and more or less forced Miura into keeping him in the side after the recovery of Fujimoto. Likely now to be a starting member.
24. Takaya Kawanabe - 川辺 隆弥 - 22 Dec 1988 - 174cm / 62kg - NEW
This year's rookie, promoted from Omiya Youth. His hair is already a lot, lot shorter than this photo would suggest.
Creative midfielder who picked up more than fifty appearances for the Squirrels in J2, but lost out when the squad was strengthened following promotion. Barely featured in 2005, but was virtually an ever-present in a successful season-long loan last year to minnows Thespa Kusatsu, where he became a local star. Now back with the big boys, opportunities may be limited again thanks to competition with the likes of Fujimoto, Hashimoto and Daigo.
On signing for Ardija, Hirano had played 349 J-League matches and at 33 there's no doubting his experience. Originally a left-sided midfield player, but indications in training and practice matches are that he will slot into defence, with Yasuhiro Hato moving to the right in place of Takuro Nishimura. The hope is that Hirano, who has played for six other Japanese clubs, will support Chikara Fujimoto in attack and provide more of a threat on the overlap.
On his arrival from very a year ago, hopes were high that Yoshiyuki would offer a genuine boost to the quality of the central midfield. He's versatile enough and chipped in with the odd much-needed goal, but in reality has added little; it could even be argued that Omiya have in effect traded Yoshiyuki for Jun Marques Davidson, now departed for Niigata. Whether Robert Verbeek will make tactical alterations and enable him to shine is an unknown factor, but he's likely to compete with Naoya Saeki and Masato Saito for the defensive midfield roles.