The changes that this August has brought to the club have meant that it has turned out to be a truly dramatic month so far for fans of Omiya Ardija. But the instability facing the team ahead of another vital J1 game - this time at the dreaded Kumagaya on Sunday against in-form Kashima Antlers - has its roots stretching back to the beginning of the year and the arrival of now ex-coach Robert Verbeek. More information about the Verbeek Saga has emerged gradually and some press columnists are now suggesting that several key events in the declining relationship between Verbeek and his players occurred in the first half of the season.
The story runs along the lines of the Dutchman arriving at the club with a set idea as to how he wanted the team to play, but the first few league matches quickly demonstrated that it was not possible to map his required system onto the available squad. Over the course of a number of meetings with the coach, the players themselves suggested some modifications to formation and tactics, which met with limited success - but did not improve the situation as far as goalscoring was concerned.
Nevertheless, it was reportedly the fact that Ardija were so comprehensively outclassed by Gamba Osaka in the 3-0 defeat at the end of June that convinced Verbeek to ignore the suggestions of the players and instead to revert to his original plan. This was put in place during the training camp in Gunma prefecture, to the apparent dissatisfaction of the playing staff - most notably striker Kota Yoshihara, who complained that even the practice games during were throwing up no real scoring chances for the forwards.
Having returned from the camp and played a couple of unsuccessful training ground matches against university teams, Verbeek's team kicked off August with a less-than-satisfactory 2-2 draw in a further friendly with J2 outfit Shonan Bellmare. Matters then came to a head when a strong but clearly unmotivated Omiya XI were humiliated 6-0 by an inexperienced Urawa Reds line-up in a Satellite League match. As everyone now knows, this was enough to bring about the dismissal of Robert Verbeek and the installation in his place of Omiya fans' public enemy #1, former chief scout Satoru Sakuma.
All this may well be enough in itself to encourage a good number of Squirrels supporters to want to lie still in a darkened room for a couple of months, but the two subsequent J1 games have if anything contained more twists and turns than did the previous five months. For Sakuma's Omiya is quite simply a different team from that which turned out wearing the same orange shirts in the first half of the season. It would be an exaggeration to say that Ardija have suddenly shaken off the shackles of defence to become a devil-may-care, goal-crazy attacking side, but the new coach has clearly encouraged the players to adopt a more offensive approach.
In so doing, he has been aided by the rapidly blooming partnership between the aforementioned Yoshihara and recent arrival Denis Marques. While some fans have seen fit to criticise the Brazilian for what they perceive as a failure to go for goal himself, it needs to be acknowledged that he was never thought of as a goalscorer but as someone to play alongside a main striker.
In some senses, the 26-year-old could even be said to have adopted the role played last season by Daigo Kobayashi and two assists in two games would seem to confirm that his strengths lie in being a provider with the ability unlock defences, rather than the man to stick the ball in the net. And so, at last, Ardija fans would appear to have something to get moderately excited about as far as the team's attacking play is concerned.
But just while they are being asked to get over the shock of following a team that now evidently begins matches intent on taking the lead - via the scoring of actual goals - at the other end, Verbeek's previously watertight defence has been springing leaks left, right and centre. Well, left and centre, certainly. In the middle of the back four, Yosuke Kataoka was the villain of the piece in Sakuma's first game in charge at Shimizu S-Pulse; his errors being arguably responsible for both of the home side's goals.
Then in midweek against Vissel Kobe, left back Yasuhiro Hato was needlessly caught in possession with the game at 1-1 and a scarcely brilliant Kobe side cantered away with all three points. And with stand-in keeper Koji Ezumi hardly a picture of reliability, the contrast in the nature of the current Omiya side and that which conceded only twice in seven matches could hardly be greater.
And with returning hero Mitsuo Ogasawara now back in the side as playmaker, Sunday's opponents Kashima Antlers, too, are a very different proposition now from when the two teams played out a goalless draw - the Squirrels' first points of the season - in early April. Coach Oswaldo de Oliveira has clearly bedded in after a difficult start of his own and a good run of results throughout May and June saw the team rise up the division.
Since the re-start, Kashima have had a couple of easier fixtures, but the six points gleaned from a 1-0 defeat of Ventforet Kofu and a comfortable 3-1 midweek win over JEF United have enabled Oliveira's side to nudge ahead of the chasing pack and they now lie third, behind only Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka. Considering that there were genuine rumblings of supporter dissatisfaction at the lacklustre performances and results achieved in the opening weeks of the season, the experienced Brazilian deserves credit for making such significant improvements.
As for Satoru Sakuma, he desperately needs the confidence boost of a win and it is his bad luck that Wednesday night's loss to a lower-mid-table team like Kobe is then quickly followed by a much tougher game against Antlers. And it is a game that Omiya's new coach must face without suspended key defender Leandro, making it more difficult to re-introduce the required stability into the Ardija back line. But while Denis Marques and Kota Yoshihara continue to develop their understanding up front and exciting-looking new signing Pedro Junior waits in the wings for a debut, maybe - just maybe - Sakuma will get the break he needs.