Japan Soccer magazine have published their Omiya Ardija Best XI, a team of the all-time best Squirrels players dating back to 1999 - the year that the club entered the expanding J-League, as founder members of J2; Many of the team members will be familiar to fans as current or very recent players - Seiichiro Okuno, Daigo Kobayashi, Masato Saito and Chikara Fujimoto all make an appearance, as do wingback Masahiro Ando (who captained the club to promotion in 2004 and then hardly played a single game in J1), the club's top scorer Bare and the recently departed duo of Toninho and Tatsunari Hisanaga.
Meet and greet with Ryugo Okamoto
Some players, however, may be less well-known. Goalkeeper Atsushi Shirai turned out for the club from 1999 until his retirement in 2002 at the age of 36, having previously played for Gamba Osaka, Consadole Sapporo and JEF United. He has since worked as the first team goalkeepers' coach. Ex-defender Ryugo Okamoto also retains a connection with the Squirrels as coach of the U12s, but was a member of the first team from 1999 until 2003.
Panamanian Jorge Dely Valdes has until recently continued to play in his native country for CD Arabe Unido. He was part of the Omiya Ardija team in 2001 and 2002, but had first arrived in Japan in 1993, when the international striker played in the JFL for Toshiba (later Consadole Sapporo). Valdes himself moved on to Cerezo Osaka, Tosu Futures and to Consadole before arriving in Saitama, where he scored 34 goals in fifty games.
It’s former keeper Atsushi Shirai with Bare
There are also a number of current and former Ardija players who crop up on the Best XI line-ups of other teams - Daisuke Tomita at Mito Hollyhock, Yasuhiro Hato at Yokohama F Marinos, loan signing Yoshiteru Yamashita at Avispa Fukuoka and Yukio Tsuchiya at Vissel Kobe. But it is Bare who gets a gold star for making an appearance not only in Omiya's team, but also that of Ventforet Kofu.
The team in full - coached somewhat controversially by Toshiya Miura, rather than the legendary Pim Verbeek - is as follows: