With the end of the J1 mid-season break in sight, it's high time that Go! Go! Omiya Ardija took a brief stroll down Memory-odori and re-capped on the 2007 campaign to date. The hopes of Ardija fans for the year ahead were hardly sky high when Robert Verbeek's team took to the field for the first time at Gamba Osaka in early March, but as the post-Toshiya Miura era has got underway, how have the club overall and the players individually performed over the last few months?
This two-part post will later provide an assessment of each of the key members of the first team squad. To begin with, however, GGOA will examine how club management have coped with their responsibility to take things forward after a time when, under Miura, everything seemed to be somewhat stuck in a rut. And in a nutshell, it would appear to be situation largely as normal, i.e. not very good. Not very good at all. Yes, it would be easy enough to moan at chief sponsors NTT and say that they have not dug deep enough into their expansive pockets in order to enable the Omiya squad to be populated with better players; but nevertheless, the transfer budget which has been provided has mostly been quite simply frittered away.
The Squirrel Nation may be absolutely crying out for a charismatic goalscorer, but it could be argued that Enilton was just about our worst-ever foreign signing. With decent speed but no composure when it mattered, the 29-year-old from Palmeiras was too easily distracted by the attentions of J1's cannier defenders - and his tally of no league goals underlined the view of many supporters that Enilton was simply nowhere near good enough.
After the departure at the end of March of Alison, clearly not regarded as good enough by coach Verbeek, it was to the bafflement of all that the club then unveiled as his replacement Salles from the second-tier US team Atlanta Silverbacks. This confusion was compounded when it emerged that the Brazilian had come to Omiya for a trial during 2006, but had not been good enough to be offered a contract.
His performances on the field during 2007 showed that, like his compatriot Enilton, neither was Salles up to the standards required of a J1 player. Painfully slow and unable to hold the ball up when used as a target man, his only contribution was a headed winner against Nagoya. He was released after only three months and while Salles cannot be faulted for effort, it was obvious to all that he had been brought to the club merely as a panic buy - and a cheap one at that - on the part of ill-prepared management.
As far as tactics go, this is a topic that has been discussed on these pages at great length during the course of the season, but after a disastrous start to the year in terms of results and performances, Verbeek changed away from a 4-4-2 formation to a more defence-minded 4-5-1 that incorporated three defensive midfield players. This new style took a short time to gel, but with the exception of the match at home to league leaders Gamba Osaka, it provides a wall in front of the keeper that has since proved exceptionally hard for opponents to break down.
The Squirrels are as a consequence not a team that attracts admirers from neutral spectators wanting to see devil-may-care attacking football, but six desperately-needed points from a tough set of fixtures in June demonstrates that the modifications made by the Dutchman have reaped a reward. After all, if the club can only provide him with the likes of Enilton, Salles and the almost equally goal-shy Kota Yoshihara as strikers, the coach needs to ensure that the defence give away as little as possible - and as a glance at the results on the left-hand side of this page will confirm, he has been broadly successful in executing that plan.
The second part of GGOA's look back at the first half of 2007, giving a brief overview of the other key squad members, will follow shortly.