The 2007 J1 season has undoubtedly got off to a very disappointing start for supporters of Omiya Ardija. With two matches gone, the dreamed-of golden dawn following the departure of Toshiya Miura has turned out to look more like a wet Monday morning at Urawa station instead: for after defeats against Gamba Osaka and, more worryingly, FC Tokyo, Robert Verbeek's team have no points on the board and have failed to score a single goal in 180 minutes of football.
Kataoka marshalls Fukunishi
Orange supporters have questioned the wisdom and invention of the tactical approach adopted by Verbeek and his assistant Jun Nakamura: essentially a 4-4-1-1 formation, with two defensive midfield players as the hub of the team, while key man Daigo Kobayashi attempts to support main striker Enilton. It forces Ardija onto the back foot, those fans suggest, as none of Naoya Saeki, Yoshiyuki Kobayashi and Masato Saito - the trio of players most likely to fill the central berth - are able to bring to the team an attacking or creative approach.
Couple this with a Daigo / Enilton front partnership that appears out of tune and is evidently breeding frustration for the twice-booked Brazilian newcomer, and in the two matches so far Omiya have failed to cause enough problems for the opposition back line. The paucity of the Squirrels' displays so far is especially galling in the light of the fact that the club were able to attract an impressive 17,000 people to Saitama Stadium on Saturday; the more casual supporters amongst whom might be difficult to tempt back in view of the calibre of football on offer. So as well as securing points and moving up the table, the pressure is on for Verbeek and his players if the club are genuine in their stated ambition to expand the fanbase and become truly competitive at J1 level.
Hopin’ for a goal, that’s Enilton
But with the season only two games old, is the picture really so bleak? While the performance and result against Tokyo were undeniably poor, just a trifle more discipline at Gamba on the opening day would have enabled Omiya to get away from one of the hardest fixtures of the season with a valuable, hard-earned point - and a shot in the arm as far as early season confidence goes. Chikara Fujimoto has the potential to be an effective, communicative captain and although Leandro as a defensive lynchpin may need time to bed in, indications are that he is capable of performing well at J1 level.
The Verbeek / Nakamura coaching partnership has had only a short time to work with the squad and Ardija fans with longer memories may well at this point find themselves thinking back to the arrival almost a decade ago of the legendary Pim Verbeek. The Dutchman turned the team around and essentially made Omiya Ardija into a pro club, but nevertheless it took some time for the players to get to grips with what he required of them.
Leandro and colleagues getting in amongst the Tokyo defence
Clearly the overall level of professionalism is much higher now than it was then and no-one in 2007 would expect such a profound change, so the comparison is not entirely a fair one. But Verbeek Jr has come to Saitama after three years of Toshiya Miura being in charge - and all the reports are that his training methods, for one thing, are completely different from that of the Sapporo-bound Miura. It is natural for the existing squad members to require some time to get used to all this.
What is not obvious to supporters is the extent to which the defeats sustained so far have come as a consequence of poor tactics, or poor execution of an essentially good tactical plan, or poor preparation (for example, physical fitness or awareness of the other team's strengths and weaknesses), or simply having a squad of players who are not good enough for the task at hand. There is room for debate about all of these issues and more. But with only two games gone, it is surely too early for panic.