The whole Verdy experience has been documented here to death. 2006 was the culmination of quick fixes, poor planning, and style over substance. While there were moments of brilliance, the end result was mediocrity.
With the advent of CyberAgent, a new front office went to work, sparing no expense in bringing in talent and leadership. On paper, this team should cruise to J1. On paper, this team has more talent than at least a third of the first division squads in Japan. On paper, this squad might be the best that J2 has ever seen. On paper. It means nothing on Sunday afternoon.
There will be 8 different starters than the ones that took the field on opening day last year. Instead of Basilio and Anailson, players who were past their prime, Verdy lines up Kashiwa's 2006 MVP Diego and Consadole's 2006 goal machine Hulk. Two former World Cup vets named Nanami and Hattori take the reigns of a team severly lacking in leadership last year. A bald former Verdy man named Tsuchiya returns to take control of a central defense that leaked like a sieve with the dearth of talent that manned the position one year ago. And the bench sees an influx of talent with the addition of plenty of youths and accomplished J league contributors, most notably former Shonan Bellmare leader Yusuke Sato.
Before Verdy books reservations to the big time, some questions will need to be answered.....
1. Will the H&H combo connect?
40 goals were scored last year by the duo of Hulk and Hiramoto, by far the most prolific team of strikers in 2007's J2 campaign. A small problem with the pairing is the similarity of both strikers game.........both are target forwards who can create for themselves and their strike partners but often prefer to be up top scavenging for goals. Both Hulk and Hiramoto are prone to mental lapses, Hulk with his temper and Hiramoto with his frequent disappearances. If these two can keep their head in the game and show unselfishness, Verdy will be the most potent scoring team in J2. If not, it will get ugly.
2. How will the midfield gel?
In my opinion, the team failed last year because the midfiled was erratic and incoherent for most of the year. Injuries, bad performances, constant changes, and suspensions led to a lack of cohesiveness. The onus is on last year's captain, Harutaka Ono, to come on strong and lead the offense. He will be helped by the upgrades in 2007. Having Diego, Hiroshi Nanami, and Ze Luis as midfield partners will allow Ono to play a more relaxed game and attack. However, if the team falters, Nozomi Hiroyama and Yusuke Sato await to take a position in the starting 11. Ono looks to be the first one to get the hook.
3. Will Yoshihara help or hurt Takagi?
Last year saw a renaissance of sorts for Yoshinori Takagi. After sitting behind a less talented keeper for a fair stretch, Takagi fought his way back into the lineup and back to credibility as a keeper. Now, Takagi will be backed up by Shinya Yoshihara. If Takagi responds well to the competition, Verdy will have another weak spot taken care of. If he doesn't,Yoshihara can fill in and take it over, but it would be better if the big man does it himself.
4. Will the team get in shape?
Small dings and a late start have some of the squad looking less than effective at the start. Suspiciously, the two former Kashiwa guys, Ono and Diego, are the big culprits here. The team needs these two and certain others to be in peak condition, otherwise they will be missing fair amounts of time with hamstring problems and other nicks. Where is Flavio when you need him?
5. Will age catch up with Vets?
3 of the newcomers to Verdy are past 30, Three more are pushing to 30. In a 48 game season, it's hard to imagine that all 6 will make it through to the end unscathed. What the vets bring in experience and leadership is balanced by the mileage on their older legs. If they can stay relatively intact, Verdy will succeed.
6. Will any of the young guys step up to the fore?
Right now it appears that Yokohama Marinos youth product and former Meiji University defender Kensuke Fukuda is the early candidate to shine, after getting a coveted spot in the final 16 versus FC Tokyo. It's not necessary for the squad to get a major contribution from the rookies right away, but it would be ncie.
The most pressing question of 2007 is this one. 2006 saw a manager who was borderline brilliant with his in-game instincts and sub patterns and downright incompetent with his first team selections and roster choices. The constant indecision and lineup shuffles left the team struggling with consistency and looking for an identity. If it happens again and the team gets off to a slow start, Verdy might......no WILL...see a new head man. So the question is WWRD......What Will Ruy Do?
THE LINEUP 4-4-2
MF Diego-Nanami-Ze Luis-Ono
The first three to go
Shigenori Hagimura-Kazunori Iio-Masaki Saito (I predict Cerezo-Cerezo-Yokohama FC or Omiya)
With the additions of talent, these three are the first on the hot seat to go to another squad. Hagimura and Iio didn't appear in any of the training matches during the preseason and Saito was behind not only Funakoshi but the rookie Inoue during camp. If the strikers prove to be formidable, look for these two to move on to other clubs. Hagimura has fallen so far that even Cerezo might be a stretch. Rosso Kumamoto?
Prediction 1st place